the Memorial Tournament Preview

the Memorial 2021 Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know About Muirfield Village Before Tee Off

In a world where tournaments like THE NORTHERN TRUST and THE PLAYERS shout their way to the forefront, I personally appreciate the nice, subtly of “the Memorial”. I don’t understand why we’re not capitalizing “the”, but I’m here for it, and if I see anyone referring to this event as “The Memorial”, I’m coming after you!

It’s a loaded field as we’ve usually come to expect at Jack’s place; the timing of the event fits perfectly, two weeks after the the PGA Championship, two weeks before the US Open. As such, we’ll see 7 of the top 9 OWGR players in the field this week. Absent from that list are Dustin Johnson, who has head-scratchingly chosen to prioritize the inaugural Palmetto Championship in his native South Carolina next week over this star-studded event, and Brooks Koepke, whose restraining order from Bryson DeChambeau seems to have kicked into place already. Even still, the fire power of elite names this week including Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Bryson DeChambeau, and Collin Morikawa give me pause to back the William McGirt’s of the world, as a majority of the game’s best are showing form with wins over the last several months.

Muirfield Village has notably gone through some ambitious renovations since we last saw action here at the Memorial in 2020 (you can read in detail all of the renovated course changes here). They actually began the renovation on the Front 9 once the final group made the turn on Sunday last year in order to keep pace to have the complete redesign in place for this week’s action. Jack Nicklaus is on record as saying his desire for the renovation was to make the course better, not necessarily harder, but looking into these changes, it does seem there will be some new challenges. They’ve pushed back certain tee boxes to play up to 100 yards longer in total, tightened up a handful of fairways, and planted 140 new trees. They’ve also completely redesigned all of the greens and bunker complexes and revamped the irrigation systems, which in theory should keep the course firmer and dryer even if rain is in the forecast. It remains to be seen how different the course will play with these renovations in place, but I’m expecting a difficult scoring week on especially firm and fast greens, and estimating a winning score in the range of -9 to -13.

The cliff notes preview is to emphasize Approach, Around The Green, and Bent Putting, with a slight de-prioritization of Driving Accuracy and Course History, given the renovation changes. But I’m not usually one for brevity, so here’s a longwinded expansion on those premises!

Muirfield Village Course Specs

  • Yards: 7,543
  • Par: 72 (4x 3’s / 10x 4’s / 4x 5’s)
  • Scorecard
  • Greens: Bent
  • Architect: Jack Nicklaus
  • Historic Cut Line: +4
  • Comp Courses: Innisbrook (Copperhead), TPC Twin Cities, Glen Abbey GC, The Concession, PGA West, PGA National, Valhalla GC
  • Recent Past Winners: Jon Rahm (20), Patrick Cantlay (19), Bryson DeChambeau (18), Jason Dufner (17), William McGirt (16)
  • Other Past Winners In The Field: David Lingmerth (15), Hideki Matsuyama, (14), Matt Kuchar (13), KJ Choi (07)

Normally a look back at the recent crop of winners can paint a pretty clear picture of the type of game it takes to win at a given event. Take the Charles Schwab Challenge for example, where recent winners Daniel Berger, Kevin Na, Justin Rose, Kevin Kisner, and Jordan Spieth each fit the profile of players able to control their ball off the tee and excel with their short games. But look at the list of recent winners at the Memorial and it is absolute chaos. This event has been won by the game’s most elite talents the last three years, with victories from Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay, and Bryson DeChambeau. But before that? Three straight wins from Jason Dufner, William McGirt, and David Lingmirth. So suffice to say, there’s not a particular type of player you can completely rule out to win from the jump.

I left myself one note after watching the Memorial in 2020. “These are the most firm greens I have ever seen. Good approaches go unrewarded with no chance of holding the greens on approaches from the rough or with long irons.” Now, much of that is a product of playing Muirfield Village for two consecutive weeks after following the Workday the week prior. There is some slight rain in the forecast, so if the conditions soften up at all, we should go back to a heavier emphasis on approach and lower score in general. But, if the greens are anywhere near as firm as they were for last year’s tournament, we should expect difficult scoring and a strong emphasis on SG: ARG, similar to what we saw at the firm Bent greens of the 2021 Masters.

Looking at Course History, there are quite a few players with multiple T15 finishes over the last 5 years. That lengthy list includes Patrick Cantlay, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Byeong Hun An, Tony Finau, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Matt Kuchar, Billy Horschel, Marc Leishman, Kevin Streelman, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Xander Schauffele, Jason Dufner, Emiliano Grillo, and JB Holmes.

Just as we have Pete Dye specialists, there is such a thing as Jack Nicklaus course specialists. Nicklaus tends to design his courses to be a bit more forgiving in the fairways to let players reach back with their drivers, but the trade off is difficult green-side complexes that will put an emphasis on strong Approach play and a premium on Around The Green and Scrambling. With these qualities in mind, the top 5 players SG: TOT at Nicklaus Courses are Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, and Justin Thomas.

Collin Morikawa won here last year, just not at the Memorial, proving that if you put him at a Workday-sponsored event on a Nicklaus designed course, he cannot lose (he went on to also win the WGC Workday at The Concession later this season). Since this is a Nationwide-sponsored event, I’ll have to fade Collin this week. Just kidding, he’s a great play and stacks up well at most any Nicklaus designed course (or just most courses in general). It’s worth noting however that the 2020 Workday Charity Open was set up to play much easier than the Memorial in the following week. The Workday played a bit shorter in overall length and the greens were grown out just a tad more to roll more slowly and hold more approaches. For the purpose of my models, I’m not going to include performance at the 2020 Workday given the changes in set up, but it should not go completely ignored.

Key Stats

  • Recent Form (SG: T2G)
  • SG: APP / SG: BS
  • Driving Distance
  • Par 5 Scoring / Par 5: 550-600
  • Par 4: 450-500
  • Birdies or Better Gained
  • SG: SG / SG: ARG / Scrambling
  • Bogey Avoidance
  • SG: Putting (Bent)
  • Course History (T2G)

Stats To Avoid

  • Fairways Gained
  • Course History (SG: P)
  • Prox 200+

Given the significant overhaul of the greens, I’m going to decrease my weighting on Course History in my models this week, but still maintain some importance behind historic T2G, as the course layout changes have been less significant. The top 5 players SG: T2G at Muirfield Village are Patrick Cantlay, Jason Dufner, Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott, and Collin Morikawa. Generally speaking though, brand new conditions should level the playing field for players with less course experience, such as Will Zalatoris, Scottie Scheffler, Viktor Hovland, and Matt Wallace.

The correlation charts are popping very similar to Quail Hollow’s in that the top SG categories across Tour average are very similar for the profile to success at Muirfield Village. That would suggest that similar to Rory McIlroy’s victory, we should expect the best players in the world to shine over the average players, like we’ve seen from the last 3 winners here.

Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT
Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT at Muirfield Village

A week after stressing Par 4 Scoring 350-450 as the end all be all at Colonial CC, the same range a week later is now rendered completely inconsequential. There are just 3 holes that fall within that range this week, so instead, the premium scoring range shifts to Par 550-600 and Par 4 450-500. There are 7 players in the field who rank Top 20 in both of these scoring ranges: Xander Schauffele, Patrick Reed, Cameron Tringale, Louis Oosthuizen, Collin Morikawa, Sungjae Im, and Sam Burns.

The most important categories I’m looking to narrow in on this week are SG: APP, SG: ARG, Scrambling, SG: P – Bent, and Driving Distance. There are just 9 players this week who rank above average in each: Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas, Cameron Tringale, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Talor Gooch, and Gary Woodland.

Spotlight: Jason Day

Memorial a home game only by location for Jason Day

It’s rare to find a PGA professional, let alone an internationally born PGA professional, take up residency in the great state of Ohio. But Jason Day chose the Buckeye State lifestyle while his colleagues fled to the greener pastures of Florida, California, and Texas. The Ohio base makes this a once-per-year homecoming for Day, who is a member at Muirfield Village. He hasn’t exactly capitalized on this home course advantage, however, with just two T20 finishes in 9 starts dating back to 2012. The story with Jason Day and Muirfield Village has always come down to the irons. Inexplicably, he has lost 2+ strokes on Approach every single year from 2012 through 2019, but otherwise his OTT, ARG, and Putting stats have always been there. I noted with Sung Kang at TPC Craig Ranch that being a member of the course should give players a distinct advantage on the greens where they are familiar with all of the breaks, undulations, and intricacies, and even around the greens where they’ve gotten ample practice time. Assuming Day has had a chance to check out the latest renovations, that should give him an even bigger leg up on the rest of the field who have not been here post-renovation.

So assuming Day has some familiarity around these new greens and knows where to position himself off the tee, then Approach play is what will ultimately depend on recent form. Truthfully, the Approach numbers have not been great recently, ranking 76th over the last 24 rounds. But if he can maintain his strength OTT (6th) and ARG (6th) over the same span and rely on his putting prowess at Muirfield village, which ranks 2nd in this field over the last 24 rounds on this course, then these can help mask a mediocre display on Approach. Day had gained strokes on Approach in two straight measured events at THE PLAYERS and Wells Fargo before regressing back to the usual at the Byron Nelson and PGA Championship, but we at least know the potential is there. All the stats and narratives favor Day, aside from Approach, so if he can at least flash to field average in that category, he’ll continue to build on the T7 at Workday and T4 at the Memorial which were held in successive weeks on these grounds last summer.

What To Look Out For at the Memorial in 2021

The wedge behind Jon Rahm's controversial chip-in bogey

Jon Rahm blitzed the field and won this event by 5 strokes last year, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. He was assessed a bogus 2 stroke penalty for grounding his club on a blade of grass that moved his ball one millimeter, thanks to the multiple 4K, slow-mo cameras that followed him, and only him, around on Sunday. Jon Rahm has not been exactly the same player in 2021 as he was when he won this event. You can make a case to blame the Callaway club change in part, but ultimately it’s just come down to the putter with Rahm. Since his 2020 Memorial win where he gained 3.9 strokes putting, he’s only gained 1.5-or-more strokes putting on 4 occasions since. In those cases, he finished 6th at THE NORTHERN TRUST, 1st at the BMW Championship, 9th at THE PLAYERS, and 8th at the PGA Championship last week. It’s doubtful you’ll find a price discount on Rahm this week, since he’s coming off of a Top 10 finish at a Major, but a bet on him this week is simply a bet on the putter showing up. We know the T2G game is primed to compete once again at Muirfield Village.

Shane Lowry is another player to watch this week. The last time he made a Tour stop in Ireland, he won the Open Championship, and now he gets to tee it up in Dublin?? Okay fine not quite the same, but any chance I have to back an Irishman in Dublin, I’m at least going to consider chasing the narrative. Lowry is 12th SG: T2G, 25th SG: BS, and 6th SG: ARG over the last 36 rounds, so is just a lukewarm putter away from making a push up the leaderboard this week. Over his last 6 starts he has no MCs and 3 T10s, most notably a T4 last we saw him at the PGA Championship, despite losing 1.1 strokes putting.

With all the course fit profiles in mind this week, I’m leaning early towards the below player pool, broken out by projected pricing/odds tier.

All the heavyweights in the field this week have found their way at the top of my model, but the #1 spot goes to a player who has still yet to win the Memorial: Justin Thomas. He did lose in a playoff to Collin Morikawa at the Workday here in 2020 for what that’s worth, but his combination of Distance, Approach, Around The Green, and Bent Putting should do him wonders, even if he is coming off of a few recent disappointing showings. To round out the rest of my model’s Top 10, we have Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau, Matt Wallace, Rory McIlroy, and Viktor Hovland.