After a low-scoring affair at the Fort Worth Invitational, where Justin Rose held off Brooks Koepka, the PGA Tour rolls into “Jack’s Place” for the 2018 renewal of The Memorial Tournament.
Due to its invitational status the field is reduced to just 120 players, as opposed to the usual 156, and the event does not have to fill the field via the PGA Tour Priority Ranking System. There is also no Monday Qualifying for this event.
Another big factor at this event is the three-year PGA Tour exemption the winner receives, which is on par with WGC events, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Tour Championship. This is a year more than a player receives for winning a standard PGA Tour event.
The Course and what it will take to win
Muirfield Village Golf Club, 7,392 Yards, Par 72
This is the epitome of a ball-strikers course, rewarding accurate off the tee and to the greens.
The small, tough-to-hit Bentgrass greens run at 13 on the Stimpmeter which is akin to the greens at Augusta, so players will need to be comfortable with quick surfaces.
If you miss these generous fairways, you’re going to penalised by some pretty horrendous rough. If you do find the rough here, expect to make bogey or worse.
Most of the Par 5’s here at Muirfield Village are birdie holes, so if you don’t take advantage of them, you are going to be left behind, unless you can pick up shots elsewhere, which is a lot tougher, given the long and tough Par 4’s littered around this course.
In contrast to the scoreable Par 5’s, not many of the Par 4’s are simple here, with six of ten Par 4’s here stretching over 450 yards. Avoiding bogeys on these holes will be massive and pivotal to winning this week.
This week I will mainly be looking at Strokes-Gained: Approach and Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 Yards, with the usual sprinkling of SG: Putting (particularly on fast green – 12+ on the Stimp.
Given the oppoitunity to score on the Par 5’s here, Par 5 Scoring Average will also be worth a look, even if not the most essential part of the winning formula.
Here are how the last five winners here ranked in SG: Approach, SG: Putting, Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 Yards and Par 5 Scoring Performance the week they won.
SG: App SG: Putt P4 450-500 P5 Scoring
J.Dufner (2017) 1st 47th 5th 3rd
W.McGirt (2016) 10th 16th 8th 5th
D.Lingmerth (2015) 7th 3rd 5th 37th
H.Matsuyama (2014) 2nd 46th 2nd 34th
M.Kuchar (2013) 7th 2nd 1st 10th
As you can see, in terms of Putting and Par 5 Scoring there is some variation and to a certain extent you can counteract these by good SG: Approach numbers, as well as taking care of the long Par 4’s, which looks far and away the most important stat. The last five winners here have averaged a score of 3.82 on the six long par-4’s here, meaning an under-par average is vital to winning at Muirfield Village.
Unsurprisingly there is a stellar field here again this year, making for an intriguing affair. Justin Thomas will have to be on red-alert as Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth all have the World No.1 spot in their sights. Thomas only assumed his #1 position at the Players Championship three weeks ago, so I am sure he wants to sit upon the throne for a little while longer yet.
Here are the top five in the betting this week.
Dustin Johnson 12/1
Jason Day 14/1
Justin Rose 14/1
Justin Thomas 14/1
Rory McIlroy 16/1
Such is the strength of the top-5 in the betting here, that Spieth is available at 18/1 here, a bigger price than he is to win any of the remaining three majors.
With such a strong field, there is plenty of value available, if you are brave enough to take on the top-5 in the betting. Given that the odds of the last four winners has ranged from 66/1-400/1, it certainly strikes as an event where an outsider can win, despite it being a demanding test, with a previously elite-level honour roll.
Jordan Spieth 18/1 (Bet365 & SkyBet 5places 1/4 odds Betfred 6 places 1/5 odds) 2pts e/w:
I can’t remember the last time I put up Spieth, generally because I find him hard to gauge and almost always short or about the right price, this week I think it may be different.
Whilst we do have to factor in his recent struggles with the putter, which now sees him rank 192nd out of a possible 206 in SG: Putting this season, I think he still looks a decent prospect at the right price.
So why do I have faith in him this week?
Simply, the greens here are different. Fast greens change everything, and the last time he played on greens similar to this week’s, he finished 3rd at Augusta behind Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler.
Since then, his form has made for pretty dismal reading (41-21-32) but his elite level of ball striking has held up in that time. Spieth currently ranks 2nd in SG: Tee-to-Green and 8th in SG: Approach-the-Green, whilst also 12th in Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 Yards, all vital areas for this week.
Pinning my hopes on him turning it around on the greens this week may well be optimistic, but on this type of surface (Fast Greens 12+ on the Stimp) only Dustin Johnson (3.082 SG: Total) ranks higher than Spieth (2.952 Total) since 2014.
Thunderstorms throughout the week threaten to soften the greens if a lot of rain occurs, but hopefully the greens will still run somewhere near their quoted speed and Spieth can make a run on his preferred putting surface.
Of course Spieth is not putting anywhere near the way he needs to be, but he’s bound to turn it around eventually, and if he does so whilst still hitting the ball the way that he is, he is going to find his first win of the season.
Simply put, the only thing that can hold Spieth back from winning on a course he’s finished 3rd, 13th and 19th as well as never missing a cut in five starts, is his putting. The flat stick woes are the only reason he’s drifted out to an attractive price, and I have decided to bite the bullet this time.
Emiliano Grillo 50/1 (Coral 5 places 1/4 odds Betfred 6 places 1/5 odds & Ladbrokes 7 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Emiliano Grillo is on a great run at the moment, with his last missed cut coming at the Wyndham Championship last August. Since February in particular though, he’s been doing more than making cuts, finishing top-10 in five of his last nine events.
The most recent of those top-10’s came last week at the Fort Worth Invitational, where he finished 3rd on his own, one shot behind Koepka in 2nd and a further three shots shy of winner, Rose.
With three top-9 finishes in his five events, picking him this week almost writes itself, but I will add a little more meat to the bone, particularly from a statistical standpoint.
Grillo ranks 17th in SG: Approach-the-Green, 26th in SG: Tee-to -Green and a very impressive 15th in SG: Putting. I highlight his putting especially, because in recent years this has been his Achilles Heel, ranking 139th in SG: Putting in 2017, and 108th in 2016.
If he keeps putting like this, I would fully expect him to add to his lone PGA Tour victory, which came at the 2015 Frys.com Open.
One dampener statistically for Grillo is that he currently ranks 76th in Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 Yards, but last time he faced a course with six holes of this type was at the Houston Open and he finish in a tie for 3rd, so I am happy to put this negative to the wayside for now.
Grillo simply looks a player destined for multiple Tour victories, and there is every reason to suspect he can do it here, where his fine ball striking will be rewarded. He finished 11th on his debut here in 2016 and whilst he could only follow that up with a 40th place finish last year, it could have been a lot better, barring a final round 77. He fell 21 places on the Sunday, so he was a steady round away from another top-20 here.
The Argentine comes into the Memorial this week in much better form than he did in the last two years, so a career-best finish at this course in no way looks out of the question – neither does a win.
Kevin Na 66/1 (General) 1pt e/w:
Not content with an opening round 62 last week, Na shot a course-record tying 61 on Sunday, good enough only for a 4th place finish in the end.
Not many players if any (willing to be proved wrong) have shot rounds of 61 and 62 and not won that week, you normally don’t even see two low rounds like that from any player in the same week, such was his stupendous play on Thursday and Sunday.
The 4th place finish was so typical of Na, who’s rounds of 73-70 on Friday and Saturday, after leading on Thursday sum up his whole career.
Na simply doesn’t win, despite his ability suggesting he should, it is clearly what goes on between his ears that is his only real stumbling block.
Last week’s 4th place finish followed a T6 at the Byron Nelson, and Na will be keen to ride this form to Ohio, where he finished 2nd in 2014, when losing to Matsuyama in a play-off. This was Na’s second of three play-off losses on the PGA Tour, the most recent coming at the hands of Grillo in 2015.
Still just one win on Tour, there is obvious reason for concern regarding Na, but he’s hitting the ball wonderfully at the moment, ranking 2nd last week (to Justin Rose) and 7th at the Byron Nelson in SG: Approach.
Five out of six made cuts here as well as 2nd and 13th place finish in his three most recent starts here, there is every reason to believe Na can keep his form going and place inside the top-5 once again, even if you can’t see him winning.
At 66/1 there is plenty of value in him when in this form, and he must surely win again, so why not at a course where he’s gone close before?
For now I am going to stick with these three, but I am still mulling over a couple of players who may still make the cut. If there are any more added, I will update and confirm on Twitter.
Total Points Staked this week: 8
Profit/Loss for 2018: -72.4