Memorial Tournament Preview, Picks & Analysis
BRYSON DeChambeau is your archetypal Marmite golfer. You either love or hate his golf swing and the way he goes about his business. But the thing you can’t possibly argue about is his ability. Doubts persisted about him right up until the moment he holed a 12-foot putt to see off Ben An in a playoff at The Memorial Tournament last year. Nobody wins at Muirfield Village unless they can play a bit - and this boy can play a bit.
The Memorial was one of three victories he enjoyed in a 2018, along with nine top-10 finishes. And he has already tucked another victory under his belt this season. To say that his approach to the game and his golf swing are idiosyncratic is something of an understatement and it was always pretty obvious that he was going to be a player who will struggle if his timing and rhythm are not perfectly dialled in. For proof of that, all you have to do is look at his recent form. He began the campaign like a train, with three top-10 finishes, including a victory, in his first four starts. It seemed that he was going to carry on where he left off last year. But all has not going to plan for the American in recent weeks. He missed the cut at the RBC Heritage and again at the US PGA Championship, where he was critical of both the fans and the course set-up at Bethpage Black - funnily enough, neither of those things troubled Brooks Koepka.
Is he concerned? “People always kind of scrutinise me saying I'm too technical and whatnot,” he says. “It's all just to aid my feel. I am a guy that goes off of feel still, to everybody's surprise, probably.”
By now it’s well known that DeChambeau has reinvented the game of golf. He plays with a single-length set of irons, advocates a single-plane swing, and spends an insufferable amount of time consulting his yardage charts. What might easily be forgotten is that he won the Memorial last year while hitting just five fairways in the final round. Or that he missed 14 straight cuts in 2017.
“Other players go to the range,” says his caddie, Tim Tucker. “He goes to the range religiously.” On the eve of the final round last year, DeChambeau was the only one on the Muirfield driving range as the sun set. He refused to tell anybody what he had been working on. And Tucker wasn’t going to give away any secrets, saying only: “He’s happiest when he’s hitting balls.”
It may seem hard to believe now, but after all those missed cuts, DeChambeau began to question whether he had the game to survive as a tour pro. “I went back to the drawing board,” he said, “kind of figured something out, and ultimately wound up winning the John Deere four weeks later because of that hard talk to myself.” There were further stumbles along the way. The following week he missed the cut at The Open and he failed to make it to the Tour Championship in 2017.
So he gave himself another good talking to. It worked. He notched a top-20 finish at the Safeway Open, a top-10 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, a top-five at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, tied third at the RBC Heritage, and fourth at the Wells Fargo Championship.
When he won at Muirfield Village he led the field in scrambling and was ninth in Strokes Gained: Putting (+4.916). He nearly threw it away. He three-putted the 72nd hole to fall into a playoff with Kyle Stanley and An - and he was not a happy bunny. But he regrouped. For the second time in 20 minutes, DeChambeau split the 18th fairway with a three-wood, and he and An each missed the green before saving par. Stanley, who had birdied four straight holes on the back nine to make the playoff, dropped a shot. DeChambeau went back to the 18th tee, split the fairway again, hit a nine iron to 12 feet and, cool as a cucumber, rattled the putt home for a winning birdie.
“Sometimes that’s what you gotta do,” said tournament host Jack Nicklaus afterwards. “If your driver's not working, your putter better be working. And if your putter's not working, everything else must be working. But he had the right club working today and that was his flat club. Nice going.”
So will he be concerned at his recent form? Not a bit of it. He will probably have gone back to the drawing board once more. And you can bet your bottom dollar that he will find the answers again, and will be ready to make a sound defence of his title.
And if not DeChambeau, then who? It is always difficult to look much beyond Justin Rose on a course that requires some thought. And Muirfield Village certainly calls for that in spades. Like DeChambeau, Rose’s recent form has not been great. But after missing the cut at The Masters for the first time in his career, the Englishman finished third at the Wells Fargo and was in good shape at Bethpage Black until finishing with rounds of 73 and 75. He is still riding high in the world rankings, has already won in America this year and is returning to one of his favourite golf courses. Rose won here in 2010 with a total of 270, just one shot off the tournament record jointly held by Tiger Woods and Greg Norman. And he was runner-up in 2015.
Woods is a five-time winner. It was won in 2011 by Steve Stricker, in 2012 by Woods (who also won in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2009), in 2013 by Matt Kuchar, in 2014 by Hideki Matsuyama, in 2015 by David Lingmerth, in 2016 by William Mcirt, in 2017 by Jason Dufner and last year by DeChambeau. One thing you will notice is that, Woods apart, none of those past champions are big hitters. DeChambeau’s victory 12 months ago was unusual; generally speaking, to win at Muirfield Village you simply have to find the middle of the fairway, and that is why Rose will fancy his chances of picking up the trophy for a second time.
Woods missed the cut at the US PGA after failing to play any competitive golf following his sensational victory at The Masters in April. He also wasn’t helped by the fact that he arrived at Bethpage feeling unwell. It is well documented that he has to nurse his ailing body these days but he has entered Jack’s tournament and will be looking to get his game back in shape ahead of the US Open, which is being staged at Pebble Beach, one of Woods’ favourite course and the scene of his victory in the US Open in 2000, when he won by a mind-blowing 15 shots.
Justin Rose. Course is made for him
Hideki Matsuyama. Former champion coming back to his best again
Bryson DeChambeau. Hoping return to Muirfield will spark him up again
Justin Rose. Mr Consistency
Hideki Matsuyama. Looking for form ahead of the US Open
Bryson DeChambeau. Love him or hate him, but you can’t ignore him
Justin Thomas. Back from injury
Jason Day. Not quite at his best
Dustin Johnson. Seems to contend every time he plays
Ben An. Looking to go one better than 2018
Adam Scott. Improving by the week
Gary Woodland. Hits the ball a mile
Tyrrell Hatton. Should suit him
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