THE MEMORIAL: We’ve come to expect a strong field at The Memorial, as I imagine it’s pretty difficult to turn down an invite from Jack Nicklaus to spend a week at Muirfield Village, not to mention the sizable purse and boosted FedEx Cup points. But this year, thanks in part to the truncated schedule, the field is major championship quality, with the top 9 players in the latest world rankings all in attendance, plus some guy named Tiger. It should be a fun week.
Of course, there is something undeniably strange about the PGA Tour holding events at the same venue in back-to-back weeks– Thursday morning might have a Groundhog Day or “do-over” vibe, and Collin Morikawa’s victory at last week’s Workday Charity Open may be cheapened in the eyes of those who regard that tournament as something of an appetizer for this week’s main course (that’s assuming Morikawa doesn’t pull it off again this week, which, based on what we’ve seen out of him thus far in his brief career, is far from a safe assumption). But that’s the hand we’ve been dealt after the worldwide health crisis, and considering the difficulty that some sports are having in scheduling and operational matters, I think the Tour deserves a lot of credit for the way they’ve handled the last few months, and for the nearly flawless restart.
Besides, Muirfield Village won’t be exactly the same course this week– some tees will be moved, the greens will supposedly be firmer and faster, and the rough will surely be thicker, as it has apparently not been cut since last week. Muirfield is traditionally a fairly stern test for this tournament; finding the fairways is always a priority on account of the severity of the rough, and the segmented, super-slick greens require precision with the mid-to-short irons and, should you miss the greens, magic with the wedges. Last year’s champion, Patrick Cantlay, reached 19-under, which is the same score Morikawa shot to win last week, but prior to Cantlay’s performance it had been 8 years since a player had finished the week of The Memorial better than 15-under, and I expect a difficult setup this week to rein in the scores.
The game’s hottest player, Bryson DeChambeau, heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 13.0, with Justin Thomas, who fell to Morikawa in a playoff last week, sitting right behind him at 13.5. Morikawa himself can be had at 25.0, and as is always the case with a field of this caliber, there are plenty of intriguing options a bit further down the board. We’ve yet to land a winner since the restart despite a couple of close calls, but there are some tasty-looking options this week, and I feel good about the three we’ve settled on:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Xander Schauffele (33.0)- There are several good-looking options near the top of the market this week: Dustin Johnson (18.5) is fairly priced coming off his win at the Travelers; Morikawa (25.0) is a bit too fat in my opinion, as folks are apparently assuming that he won’t have enough in the tank after last week; and it’s hard not to be tempted by DeChambeau at 13.0, considering what we’ve seen out of him lately and his history in this event, which includes a victory in 2018. But for my money, the best value on the board appears to be Schauffele, who can be had at better than 30/1 despite a record that suggests he’s likely to contend this week. And when I say “record”, I’m referencing both his current form– top-25 finishes in 7 of his last 8 starts, including a T3 at Colonial last month, when he finished just a shot out of a playoff– and his history at Muirfield Village, which includes a T14 in this event last year and, coincidentally, a T14 in last week’s Workday Charity Open. Given his excellent recent play, his obvious comfort with the course, and the fact that he’s shown the ability to conquer elite fields with his wins at the Tour Championship and the WGC-HSBC Champions, Schauffele should be at or near the top of everybody’s list this week. The price makes it an easy call.
Sergio Garcia (92.0)- Sergio has been so consistently good for so long that most seem to take him for granted, save for the occasional week that he breaks through. But the guy is still a ball-striking dynamo who contends with regularity– he finished 5th at the RBC Heritage just two starts ago, and he tasted victory in Saudi Arabia back in February, which was a mere six starts ago. He’s certainly better than a 90/1 shot to win any given week, so I don’t see any reason to avoid him here, despite the fact that he hasn’t played this event in over 10 years, which would lead one to suspect that he may not have a great deal of affection for Muirfield Village. But it’s a true shotmaker’s course, which would seem to suit Sergio, and his record was pretty decent when he used to play this tournament, as he made the cut in each of his last four appearances and logged three top-25s in that span. He hasn’t made much noise stateside yet this season, but maybe his performance at the Heritage was a harbinger of things to come. I’m happy to back him at a price like 92.0.
Rory Sabbatini (255.0)- It’s been quite awhile since Sabbatini hoisted the hardware on a Sunday afternoon– you have to go all the way back to 2011, to be exact. But he does have six PGA Tour wins under his belt as well as runner-up finishes in the Masters and a pair of WGC events, so he’s certainly no stranger to the big stage. More importantly, he’s been playing some terrific golf lately, finding the top-25 in 3 of 4 starts since the restart, including a T17 in last week’s Workday Charity Open, where he dominated Muirfield for 3 rounds before a disappointing Sunday 73. It wasn’t Sabbatini’s first taste of success at Muirfield, either– he’s made 10 cuts in 11 career starts at The Memorial, with 8 top-30 finishes and a runner-up showing back in 2012. Doesn’t sound like the profile of someone who can be had at better than 250/1, does it? My thinking exactly.