THE MEMORIAL: The PGA Tour finally escapes the heat this week and heads north to Ohio, where an invitation-only field of 120 players is set to take part in one of the most eagerly anticipated events on the schedule, Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament.
The Golden Bear’s fingerprints are all over this event, as it was originally conceived by him and has always been held at what is commonly referred to as “Jack’s Place”– Muirfield Village Golf Club, just outside Columbus. Designed by Nicklaus in the mid-70s and renovated several times over the past 40 years, Muirfield Village is a parkland-style course that measures nearly 7,400 yards and is generally a stern test, as only twice in the past ten years has the winning score been lower than 15-under, and it hasn’t happened since 2011. The rough is long and lush, similar to what players normally face at a U.S. Open, and the undulating, lightning-fast bentgrass greens require one’s full attention. The fairways are spacious and the landing areas are generous– that’s really the course’s one saving grace from a scoring perspective– but if you get a little crooked off the tee, Muirfield is an absolute bear.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the list of recent champions is full of dependable fairways-and-greens types, players like Jason Dufner (2017), David Lingmerth (2015), Hideki Matsuyama (2014), and Matt Kuchar (2013). You simply have to put the ball in the fairway to succeed at Muirfield, and there are certain spots around the greens where you can’t miss it. Water comes into play on several holes and much of the course is set up to favor a left-to-right ball flight, but the number one priority is finding the fairway. This can’t be stressed enough.
Dufner is back to defend, but his current price of 108.0 suggests that not many people have faith in a guy who has missed four cuts in his last eight starts and is coming off a Friday 77 at Colonial. He did finish 5th at The Players, however, so we know good golf isn’t too far off… it’s always tough to defend on the PGA Tour, but a bet on Dufner at better than 100/1 probably isn’t the worst idea in the world. That being said, we’ve decided to go in a different direction this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Henrik Stenson (38.0)- Stenson has been in fine form over the past few months, finding the top-25 in 7 of his past 8 PGA Tour starts and logging four top-6 finishes in that span. He doesn’t play this tournament much– this will be his first stop at Muirfield Village since 2013– and that could be because he has a decidedly mediocre record here, making the cut in 3 of 4 appearances but never finishing in the top-30. He just ticks so many boxes though… I mean, is there anyone in the world striking the ball better than Stenson right now? He leads the PGA Tour in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation and ranks 6th in scoring average. He absolutely stripes that old Callaway 3-wood he’s been carrying around for years, and Muirfield gives him the chance to use that club repeatedly. Plus, he’s comfortable working the ball from left-to-right, and he’s always been someone who plays difficult courses well. Stenson is due for a breakthrough in this tournament (he almost had one in 2012, but shot 80 on Sunday), and he’s hitting it as well as he ever has. He should be enthusiastically backed at the current price.
Emiliano Grillo (56.0)- At some point, people are going to stop saying that Grillo is “hot” or “on a good run” and start figuring out that, hey, maybe this is just who he is. The young Argentinian is having a terrific season, missing only one cut in 17 worldwide starts– and that was at a team event, the Zurich Classic. He’s been a fixture on the first page of the leaderboard in recent weeks, finishing 16th or better in 4 of his past 6 starts, a stretch which includes third-place finishes at the Houston Open and last week’s Fort Worth Invitational. Over the past few months Grillo has registered top-10s in Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Mexico, and India… no matter the location, no matter the style of golf, this guy has been getting it done. He’s played this event twice, making the cut both times and finishing 11th in 2016, so he clearly knows his way around Muirfield Village. It’s much more difficult finding reasons NOT to back Grillo at 56.0 than it is finding reasons to back him.
Patrick Cantlay (78.0)– Cantlay may be flying under the radar this week after missing the cut at last week’s Ft. Worth Invitational, but he barely missed the cut, shooting a pair of 73s at a tougher-than-usual Colonial, and prior to that he had been playing very well, registering five top-30s and three top-10s in the six starts spanning from February’s Genesis Open to the Players Championship. He’s an excellent ball-striker, ranking 11th on Tour in Strokes Gained- Off the Tee and 17th in Strokes Gained- Tee to Green, and Muirfield Village is a ball-striker’s track, so he seems like a good fit. He debuted in this tournament last year and was solid, finishing 35th despite struggling a bit on the greens, but something tells me that bigger and better things are on the way for Cantlay at this tournament. I don’t think a player of his caliber really qualifies as a “longshot”, but he’s certainly saddled with some long odds this week and I’m more than happy to get involved at the current price.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Rory McIlroy (1.93) vs. Dustin Johnson (1.77)
Johnson has now been eclipsed by Justin Thomas atop the world rankings, and that may serve as motivation for him this week. It certainly seems like he needs something to shake him out of his slumber– while his recent results would be more than acceptable for most touring pros, DJ hasn’t really contended since February’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which was his last top-5 finish. For a player of his caliber, that qualifies as a bad stretch. And while he’s played well in this tournament before, his record at Muirfield is far from perfect and he did miss the cut here last year. McIlroy, meanwhile, is coming off a runner-up finish at the BMW PGA and seems to be swinging with plenty of confidence. He last played this tournament in 2016, finishing fourth. Recommendation: McIlroy at 1.93
Hideki Matsuyama (1.89) vs. Patrick Reed (1.87)
Muirfield Village is a place where Matsuyama excels– this tournament was the site of his first career PGA Tour victory back in 2014, and he followed that up with a T5 in 2015. He’s had some struggles lately, however, badly missing the cut at The Players and failing to log a top-15 finish over the past four months. Reed, on the other hand, has shown no signs of a post-Masters hangover, as he’s registered two top-10s in three starts since his triumph at Augusta. And while he can’t match Matsuyama’s record in this tournament, he did finish 8th two years ago, and he’s simply playing better than Hideki is at the moment. Recommendation: Reed at 1.87