The Memorial Tournament Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE PGA Tour returns to Muirfield Village, with Jon Rahm defending The Memorial Tournament, which he won the hard way in July last year.
The Spaniard looked to be cruising towards victory at Jack’s place. He was eight shots ahead of Ryan Palmer at the turn but then it all started to go wrong. With the wind blowing and the greens like glass, Rahm’s lead was down to just three strokes by the time he got to the 15th.
He got up and down for clutch pars on the 15th, 17th and 18th holes and chipped in for what he thought was a birdie on the 16th hole, only to later receive a two-shot penalty. Rahm had made his ball move as he addressed the shot and hadn’t replaced it, turning his score into a bogey. In the end, it didn’t really matter. The magic had lasted long enough to stay three shots up and give Rahm a fourth PGA Tour title. It was good enough to see the Spaniard reach No1 in the world rankings, albeit pretty briefly. He is only the second Spaniard to achieve that status. The other, of course, was his hero, Seve Ballesteros.
“It was one of the best performances of my life,” Rahm said. “The third round was probably one of the best of my life and I finished with some clutch up-and-downs. And as a Spaniard, I'm kind of glad it happened that way. Every shot counts, and I tried every shot and got those two last up-and-downs, as a true Spaniard would.
“My short game was unbelievable all week. It's been so good, and I chipped in a couple times. You always hear about people saying champions make it happen, and at that point I made it happen.”
In the past Rahm admits he would not have made it happen in similar circumstances. Emotion plays a huge role in his golf and it has worked against him. But he says that he has now matured. That is open to debate but as a new father he now has other priorities in his life.
Rahm insists that he has found ways to grow and channel his emotions. “I'm a person who unfortunately I'm fully aware I learn from mistakes. I act, foolishly or not. I'll do my action, and I'll learn from it, good or bad,” he said. “Luckily I've been pretty good at learning from my mistakes and getting a little bit better each time and today was a clear example of it. I could have completely lost it many times. Maybe in the past I would have, but I didn't. I just kept fighting. It’s an honour to be the Memorial Tournament champion and to be part of Jack's legacy.”
Rahm was still in shock at his move to the top of the world. He’s never shied away from this being a huge goal despite the fact admitting in the past when the chance was right there in front of him, it affected his play.
“I made that deal with myself very young, I believe at 13 or 14 I started working towards that goal, and everything I've done golf-wise has been to become No. 1 in the world and become the best player I can be,” Rahm said after taking top spot from Rory McIlroy. “How many people get to achieve a lifelong dream in their mid-20s? It's incredible. To be a Spaniard, the second Spaniard to ever do it, given there's not many Europeans that have gotten to this spot, it's a pretty unique feeling, so I'm going to enjoy it for a while.”
He may have enjoyed it a little too long as his recent form has been pretty patchy and there has been little evidence to suggest that he really does now have his temperament under control. By his own incredibly high standards, this season has been a disappointment. And yet in 16 starts he had managed one runner-up finish, and a further nine top-10 finishes. By most people’s standards, that is an impressive body of work but 26-year-old is only interested in winning. And nobody will need to remind him that he is still looking for his first major. He tied for fifth at The Masters and for eighth at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, where he never figured until a superb final round of 68.
Rahm will return to Muirfield Village knowing that his best form is not too far away. And this would be the ideal place to turn it around. With the US Open just around the corner. Muirfield Village is the perfect place to tune up for the season’s third major.
Another man who needs a big week is Justin Thomas. Yes, he won the Players Championship, but he has achieved little else in 2021. The 28-year-old has 14 PGA Tour victories to his name and has captured at least one title every year since 2016. He won five times in 2016-17, and three times in both 2017-18 and 2019-20. He is also one of only eight men to have recorded a 59. It is a measure of his ability that, like Rahm, he will regard the year to date as something of a disappointment. His best result in The Memorial came in 2017, when he finished joint fourth, and followed it in 2018 with a tie for eighth. Last year he was 18th.
Rory McIlroy is back in action after his bitterly disappointing performance at Kiawah Island. It is impossible to know what to expect from the Northern Irishman, whose driving let him down once again. He won the Wells Fargo Championship despite his inaccuracy from the tee, and one thing he will know is that he will not get away with those wayward tee shots at Muirfield Village, which is one of the toughest tests on the PGA Tour. This will be his 10th start in the tournament and he has finished in the top 10 on four occasions. Despite the fact that he shot a 63 in the first round seven years ago, his record here is not especially inspiring. And without his A-game he would appear to have little or no chance.
It might be time for Collin Morikawa to reacquaint himself with the winner’s circle. He did, of course, have an outstanding season last year, winning the Workday Charity Open and PGA Championship and lost the Charles Schwab Challenge in a playoff. Muirfield Village rewards pinpoint accuracy and that is the strength of Morikawa’s game.
Hideki Matsuyama won here in 2014. It was his first season on the PGA Tour and this was his maiden victory. He beat Kevin Na in a playoff to become the first Japanese winner on the PGA Tour since Ryuji Imada six years earlier. He would go on to finish 28th in the FedEx Cup standings. He would win twice in 2016 and repeat that feat the following year. But then came something of a fallow period. There were plenty of near misses and some decent performances in the major but a sixth victory eluded him. Until April. His victory at The Masters was a surprise and he was swept off his feet by the reception he received when he returned home to Japan. He loves Muirfield Village. Don’t be surprised to see him go close again.
This is a tough golf course that generally favours accurate drivers and shotmakers, which bring men such as Matthew Fitzpatrick, Abraham Ancer, Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas into the frame. If Fitzpatrick is going to win on American soil it will be on a golf course such as this. And the same applies to Tommy Fleetwood, who was bitterly disappointed after missing the cut at Kiawah Island. Incredibly, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen has never won in America. His recent form indicates that may be about to change.
Muirfield Village was the dream of 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus, who hosts the tournament. It sits in 220 acres, measures 7,456 yards and was officially opened in May 1974. There are plenty of trees, thick rough and hard, fast greens. It is a fabulous test and remains the Golden Bear’s pride and joy. It has also undergone big changes since last year’s event.
The Memorial was won in 2015 by David Lingmerth, in 2016 by William McGirt, in 2017 by Jason Dufner, in 2018 by Bryson DeChambeau, in 2019 by Patrick Cantlay and last year by Jon Rahm.
Louis Oosthuizen finished joint runner-up to Phil Mickelson at Kiawah Island. The South African won The Open way back in 2010 and has finished second in all four majors. He is swinging the club as well as ever but, crucially, has finally find something on the greens. He enjoys tough layouts - and this fits the bill. If Matthew Fitzpatrick is ever going to win on American soil it will be on a course such as this. He keeps grinding out decent results (he was joint 21st at Kiawah Island) and hits plenty of fairways. Jordan Spieth’s runner-up finish at the Charles Schwab Challenge may leave you tempted to back him but his wayward driving means he is likely to struggle.
Jon Rahm. No better place to get back in the saddle.
Louis Oosthuizen. Glorious swing.
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Has performed well here before.
Five to Follow:
Jon Rahm. Looking for a win - and some peace of mind.
Louis Oosthuizen. Putting beautifully.
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Fabulous short game.
Bryson DeChambeau. Tamed Muirfield three years ago - and can do so again.
Xander Schauffele. Still looking for his very best.
Rickie Fowler. Whisper it, but there are some encouraging signs.
Bubba Watson. On the face of it, Muirfield doesn’t suit him but he is as creative as Mickelson.
Charles Howell III. The money machine is ready for another big week.
Russell Henley. Underrated.
Matt Wallace. Showing form in America.
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