The Majors are coming thick and fast as we only have two stops on the PGA Tour before we get to the US Open in the middle of June. This week it is the Memorial that is the focus of the golf universe and as always our golf tipster Jamie Worsley is here with his in-depth preview and selections ahead of the tournament…
the Memorial Tournament 2023 Tips
- Jason Day – 1/5 6 places – 2 pts ew – 25/1
- Tyrrell Hatton – 1/5 7 places – 2 pts ew – 22/1
- Hideki Matsuyama – 1/5 6 places – 1.5 pts ew – 33/1
- Kurt Kitayama – 1/5 8 places – 1 pt ew – 100/1
With majors now coming thick and fast, we’re just two weeks away from our third of 2023: the US Open at Los Angeles Country Club. The players head north to Canada next week as the prelude to that trip to L.A but first it’s to Muirfield Village for the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio.
Launched in 1976, the Memorial Tournament is an invitational event that was the brainchild of Jack Nicklaus, who hosts the event every year at his Muirfield Village Golf Club, in his home state of Ohio.
Roger Maltbie won that inaugural edition, defeating Hale Irwin in a playoff, with Jack Nicklaus following up the year after, winning at his own course – one of two victories in the event for Nicklaus, who followed up on that with a win in 1984.
Nicklaus is one of a group of five who have twice won here (the others: Greg Norman, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin and most recently Patrick Cantlay). They are one behind the second most wins, Kenny Perry, on three and a further two behind Tiger Woods, who owns five victories at Muirfield Village – the most recent of which came in 2012.
Tiger also holds the record for the highest winning margin in the event, as he blitzed the field by seven strokes on his way to victory in 2001, whilst Tom Lehman’s -20 in 1994 is the lowest winning score in the history of the Memorial Tournament.
Billy Horschel returns as our defending champion this week, one year after producing an impressive display to see off Aaron Wise by four strokes with a score of -13. He is joined by an always stellar field, as the best players in the world all descend on this newly ‘Designated Event’.
Muirfield Village Golf Club was designed by Jack Nicklaus in 1974 and then extensively renovated by the same man in 2020; a renovation that saw all greens and bunkers being rebuilt, most greens recontoured, some tees repositioned and fairways marginally tightened.
The course has been altered slightly again ahead of this year’s event, with new tees added to the 16th and 17th holes; the par 72 course now stretching out to 7571 yards.
The largely tree-lined fairways are smartly designed and despite the length of the course and generosity of some of the landing areas – which are balanced by plenty of tighter fairways – they don’t set up for someone to simply overpower it.
Many of the fairways narrow the further up you go and leave players asking the question of whether to lay it a little further back and leave a longer approach shot into the small, bentgrass greens or to attack and risk finding trouble off the tee. Trouble which lurks throughout with thick rough, strategically placed bunkers and water in-play on thirteen holes; all contributing to Muirfield Village ranking as the most difficult course on tour on which to find greens when having missed the fairway.
Getting into a good position off the tee is difficult, though things don’t get any easier and Muirfield lives up to that phrase typically associated with Nicklaus designs, of being a “second-shot course”. Said small greens are firm, sloped and often set at an angle to your position in the fairway. They rank amongst the five most challenging greens to find on the PGA Tour and are as well-protected as the fairways.
Deep, penal bunkers which are regularly much below the level of the green cover part of this protection, with run-off areas and more of that sticky rough providing added difficulty. This aiding Muirfield Village in providing a major-like scrambling test, as it ranks as the toughest scrambling course of the regular season events on the PGA Tour.
This is a challenging course – possessing an average winning score of -13.7 in the latest ten renewals – but a fair one. The par 5s are gettable, with none overly long though they are all risk/reward holes, with penalty areas protecting each of them.
The par 4s are pretty demanding, this is no more on show than the closing two holes at 480-yards plus, though there are a handful of better scoring opportunities, including two below 400 yards.
Whilst the par 3s are all challenging, two protected by water and all are well-bunkered, with some of the tightest potential pin placements at the venue.
- SG: Approach
- Proximity 175-200 yards
- SG: Around-the-Greens
- Scrambling from the rough
The course renovations in 2020 haven’t brought about any major changes in the way the course plays, besides it appearing more penal for missing fairways. No surprise considering the rough has been grown to 4 inches those last two years.
It’s always been important to do most things well around here, particularly showing a strong tee-to-green performance, with additional emphasis placed on your iron play and your around-the-green game.
Billy Horschel produced an excellent all-round display when winning last year but excelled particularly with the short game, ranking 1st in scrambling, 2nd in scrambling from the rough and 3rd around-the-greens; whilst also leading the field in GIR and ranking 12th in approach.
His nearest challenger, Aaron Wise, was at his best in approach, ranking 3rd; an area closely followed by scrambling, in which he ranked 6th. Six of the top 10 ranked top 10 in GIR, five were top 10 in scrambling and four were top 10 in approach.
Patrick Cantlay was by far and away the best tee-to-green player in the field when winning in 2021, which included him ranking 3rd around-the-greens and 5th in approach, complimenting that by leading the field in GIR and being the second-best scrambler from the rough.
Collin Morikawa in 2nd excelled in approach and scrambling, ranking 4th in both areas, whilst Scottie Scheffler in 3rd was at his best around-the-greens, ranking 4th and in approach, ranking 8th. This was a year where strong iron play was the most decisive factor, with six of the top 10 ranking top 10 in approach and five ranked top 10 in GIR.
Much likely Cantlay in 2021, Rahm annihilated the field T2G in 2020, looking particularly good around-the-greens, ranking 1st and was 8th in approach. Also ranking 1st in scrambling, 2nd in scrambling from the rough and 5th in GIR. Whilst runner-up, Ryan Palmer, excelled in approach and scrambling, ranking 1st and 2nd respectively.
We find more prowess in these areas in 2019, with the first of Cantlay’s Memorial victories engineered yet again by excellence across the board; including top 5 rankings in scrambling, around-the-greens and approach. Adam Scott in 2nd was the best approach player in the field and also ranked 2nd in GIR; seven of the top 10 ranked top 10 in approach, six ranked top 10 in scrambling and five were top 10 in GIR.
Further to this, instead of focusing purely on strong iron players, it could pay to specifically target those who excel at between 175-200 yards, with approaches in these distances becoming the most prevalent since the 2020 renovation.
- SG: Off-the-Tee
- Good Drives Percentage
- Driving Distance
- SG: Putting (Bentgrass)
- Par 5 Scoring
Though not quite as important among contenders as the above stats in recent years, there’s no denying that with each of the last four winners of the Memorial Tournament ranking 8th or better off-the-tee, that it is another area to pay close attention to; with good drive percentage – a stat that the last three winners: Horschel, Cantlay and Rahm have ranked 2nd, 1st and 8th in – another stat to look at.
Further to this, whilst average driving distances here are down on tour averages, it could favour to side with those who can get the ball out there, with big hitters: Patrick Cantlay, Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau making up four of the five most recent winners.
Additionally, few players manage to go well here with a poor putting week, therefore we’ll be looking for those who perform well on bentgrass greens, whilst players best able to navigate the risk/reward par 5s will go some way to being the best scorers in the event.
Correlating Events (Courses)
Arnold Palmer Invitational (Bay Hill)
Outside of the large bermudagrass greens, most other aspects of play at Bay Hill compare well with Muirfield Village. A similarly lengthy par 72 with fairways that aren’t overly tight on the whole, it is a course that often favours bigger hitters; whilst it also ranks closely to this week’s host in average percentages for GIR, GIR when missing fairways and scrambling.
Ignoring Tiger’s dominance of both events over the years – as he was likely to perform just about anywhere – Bryson DeChambeau is also a winner at both courses, whilst Marc Leishman has won the API and recorded two top 5s in the Memorial.
Billy Horschel was 2nd at Bay Hill last year before winning here, Kevin Na has finished 2nd at both courses and Kevin Kisner – who has two top 8s at Muirfield Village – has finished 2nd at Bay Hill.
Honda Classic (PGA National)
I’m going to stay in Florida and with another Nicklaus course in PGA National, host of the Honda Classic. It’s another watery course that whilst providing a challenge off the tee is more about how you play the holes from fairway-green; possessing similarly challenging averages in GIR and scrambling to here at Muirfield Village, that makes it one of the tougher tests on tour.
Rickie Fowler, who has an excellent record there, with a win and runner-up finish has twice finished 2nd in the Memorial Tournament. Ryan Palmer has finished runner-up at both courses, Gary Woodland has multiple top 5s at both, Billy Horschel has recorded finishes of 4th and 8th at the Honda and Byeong Hun An has top two top 5s there to go with his runner-up finish in the 2018 Memorial Tournament.
RBC Heritage (Harbour Town Golf Link)
Nicklaus also acted as a consultant to Pete Dye on Harbour Town Golf Links which hosts the RBC Heritage and despite the course being much shorter, it has some strong form-ties with the Memorial, with the most prominent similarity being the difficulty posed in approaches into its small greens.
Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk and Carl Pettersson have recorded wins at each course, whilst two-time Memorial winner Patrick Cantlay has finished 2nd at Harbour Town and 2016 winner, Will McGirt has recorded finishes of 3rd and 9th. Kevin Kisner has finished 2nd there; Kevin Na has two top 4s and Kevin Streelman has multiple top 10s across both.
Wells Fargo Championship (Quail Hollow Golf Club)
Quail Hollow is another long, testing golf course and with similar levels of difficulty into and around its putting surfaces, has developed some strong form-ties with Muirfield Village.
Rickie Fowler has won at both courses, whilst Aaron Wise has finished runner-up at both. Max Homa is a past winner at Quail Hollow and has recorded two top 6s in the last two Memorial renewals; Gary Woodland has multiple top 5s there, Kevin Streelman has multiple top 10s and Kyle Stanley – who finished 2nd at Muirfield Village in 2018 – has finished 6th and 9th at Quail Hollow.
Phoenix Open (TPC Scottsdale)
On paper, the Phoenix Open isn’t an overly similar test but it threw up as many strong form-ties as any other course I looked at this week.
Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler and Kenny Perry have won both events; Gary Woodland and Kyle Stanley are other past Phoenix winners with a strong record in the Memorial, as is Scottie Scheffler, who was 3rd at Muirfield Village in 2021. Patrick Cantlay has finished 2nd there and so has Branden Grace, who was 4th in the 2021 Memorial Tournament.
2022 Wells Fargo Championship & 2018/2017 AT&T National (TPC Potomac)
I’m going to finish with last year’s Wells Fargo host and host of the 2017 and 2018 AT&T Nationals, TPC Potomac. It has many similarities with this week’s host despite the shorter length, in particular with small bentgrass greens ranking as some of the most difficult to hit from on and off the fairways last year, whilst also possessing some of the toughest greens to scramble around in 2022.
Each winner of those last three events at TPC Potomac, Max Homa (2022), Francesco Molinari (2018) and Kyle Stanley (2017) all have good records at Muirfield Village. Whilst Rickie Fowler has a 3rd at TPC Potomac and 2015 Memorial winner, David Lingmerth has a top 5.
It’s set to be a hot, dry week in Dublin Ohio, with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees predicted over each day and accompanied by a mild breeze throughout the week. Though that currently forecast breeze shouldn’t cause too many problems, the dry heat should toughen this course up plenty, getting it to the firm nature the event organisers would be hoping for.
Our second invitational event in succession brings us another smaller field of 120 players and it’s no surprise to see this Designated Event attract a top-class field. Each member of the world’s top five will be teeing it up at ‘Jack’s Place’, headed by world #1 Scottie Scheffler.
They are joined by a further fourteen of the world’s top 25. Included in this is South Korea’s Tom Kim, who will be one of 25 debutants teeing it up in this week’s field, which comprises of – to name a few – last year’s leading player on the JGTO Kazuki Higa, two-time DPWT winners Nicolai Hojgaard and Thriston Lawrence and uber-confident star-amateur Sam Bennett, who shone at Augusta with a 16th place finish this year.
Though largely struggling with the putter this year, the standard of Scottie Scheffler’s tee-to-green game is so high that he has yet to finish worse than 12th in 2023. He’s a worthy 6/1 favourite here and will take all the beating if able to find just a modicum of improvement on the greens.
Past Memorial winner Jon Rahm is second favourite at 15/2, looking to bounce back from an underperformance at the PGA Championship, whilst Muirfield Village expert Patrick Cantlay is third favourite at 10/1; Xander Schauffele at 12/1 and Rory McIlroy at 14s making up that top 5 in the betting.
Scheffler is short enough for me to leave him alone, although I fear him enough that I’m not keen to go all-in on any of them just behind him in the betting ‘win only’. Instead I’ll fish for some value a little further down the betting and though I was tempted to give Collin Morikawa another try this week, I’ve sided with a different duo in the 20-something/1 section of the betting, starting with recent AT&T Byron Nelson winner, Jason Day.
Jason Day – 25/1
Jason Day trending towards a win was one of the worst-kept secrets in golf this year and he finally delivered on the promise he’d shown for much of the year by grabbing that victory in Texas.
Prior to his win at TPC Craig Ranch, Day had recorded seven straight top 20s to start the year, with the best of them a 5th at the Phoenix Open. That run came to an end when 39th at Augusta, which he followed with a missed cut in the Wells Fargo following a month-long absence, before his victory on his next start.
Though he will need to be forgiven a missed cut and worst approach display of the year on his last start at the PGA Championship two weeks ago, there has been little wrong with Day’s game over the last six months. He ranks 6th in this field in strokes-gained total over that time period, which is replicated on current form too, as he ranks 6th again over the last fifty rounds played.
Whilst every area has been firing, the standout has been his short-game, in which he ranks 2nd in scrambling, as well as 20th around-the-greens and 20th in scrambling from the rough.
Further to this, the ball-striking’s been strong, ranking 17th in GIR, 20th in approach and 30th off-the-tee. As a good par 5 scorer with decent length and who has proven himself capable of transferring his overall excellent putting ability to these bentgrass surfaces, he looks an ideal candidate for this test.
This was indeed on show here when finishing 4th in 2020, ranking 4th on the greens. Day also finished 7th at Muirfield Village that year in the Workday Charity Open – part of a double-header at the course due to covid cancellations elsewhere – with these two performances suggesting he’d finally got the hang of a course that he had found tough going in the past. No surprise that he was finally able to get a handle on the test as he’s a past winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.
There are more than enough reasons to forgive the Australian his lethargic display last-time-out and he can build on his more lowkey win at the Byron Nelson, by taking a more high-profile title this week.
Tyrrell Hatton – 22/1
Tyrell Hatton is one of the form players on tour right now and with his game currently displaying little in the way of weaknesses, he can end the wait for a second PGA Tour title this week.
Hatton has barely missed a beat on the PGA Tour this year, missing just one cut in eleven starts and recording five top 6 finishes. The best of these was a 2nd in THE PLAYERS Championship, whilst in recent weeks he followed a 3rd at the Wells Fargo and 5th in the Byron Nelson, with a 15th place finish in the PGA Championship on his latest start.
Every facet of his game has been clicking, shown by him ranking an excellent 7th T2G over the last three months and a strong 34th on the greens.
The ball-striking in particular has been impressive, where Hatton ranks 10th in approach and 14th OTT. Further top 20 rankings of 16th in good drive percentage and 17th in scrambling are a positive in relation to this week’s test, whilst he’s also been good on the par 5s, ranking 30th and is a top 40 bentgrass putter. His profile looks ideal.
We saw eye-catching evidence of his ability to perform here when 33rd in 2019 on his one-and-only previous visit. He shot every round in level par or better, closing with a 2-under 70, his best round of the week.
His 2020 victory at Bay Hill increases my confidence, as does his runner-up finish there in 2022 and with top 5s at the RBC Heritage, Quail Hollow and Honda Classic to boot, Hatton completes a compelling case to be a major player this week.
Hideki Matsuyama – 33/1
Though he’s not been threatening the top of the leaderboards, Hideki Matsuyama’s T2G game has been ticking over nicely and if he can match that with some improved form on the greens, he’d look ready to pounce this week.
Hideki’s form has been largely forgettable since the end of last year, though he’s started to produce some consistently solid performances in recent weeks.
Following missed cuts at Bay Hill and Riviera, Matsuyama burst into life with a 5th in THE PLAYERS Championship and hasn’t missed a cut since, recording four top 30s in a row over the last month-and-a-bit.
His T2G game has been excellent over that recent run of form, ranking 8th in this field over the last twenty rounds played. Approach and around-the-green stats have been particular standouts and it’s in these areas that he’s performed best season-long.
Matsuyama ranks 4th on tour in scrambling this season, as well as 8th ATG and 26th in scrambling from the rough; whilst in approach he’s currently the 38th best player on tour and ranks 16th in proximity from 175-200 yards. Areas which he uses to his advantage to eat up the par 5s, on which he’s the 18th best scorer. As ever the putter has been the issue and part of his game that has stopped him hitting the very top of leaderboards.
Having said that, the majority of his wins come with, at best moderate gains on the greens. Indeed when he won here in 2014, he barely put up positive strokes-gained numbers with the putter and has since gone on to record further finishes of 5th, 6th and 13th in the Memorial Tournament, despite largely average – or worse – performances on the greens.
This ability to win without producing overly positive putting stats is something he’s also managed in two victories at the Phoenix Open and with the strength of his T2G game recently, he looks well placed to follow suit in becoming a two-time winner of the Memorial this week.
Kurt Kitayama – 100/1
Kurt Kitayama continues to impress following his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational earlier in the year, recording his best major finish to date when he was 4th in the PGA Championship two weeks ago. Having shown an ability to follow up on wins pretty swiftly from his days on the DP World Tour, I’m taking him to make a good run at victory #2 of the year this week at Muirfield Village, after a missed cut at the event on his debut last year that offered more promise than initially thought.
We saw plenty of evidence of Kitayama’s ability to perform at this level in his rookie season last year, as he recorded finishes of 2nd in the Scottish Open, 2nd in the Mexico Open and 3rd in the Honda Classic; evidence that was once again on show at the start of the new season, as he finished 2nd in the CJ Cup at Congaree at the end of last year in the PGA Tour’s wraparound events.
He made good on that promise at Bay Hill back in March with an impressive victory, in which he bounced back from some final-round adversity to hold off a star-studded leaderboard to gain his first PGA Tour title and first win anywhere since the 2019 Oman Open on the DPWT. That was a win that came just four months after his opening success on the tour in the Mauritius Open; similar to the feat I’m hoping he can achieve this week.
Kitayama’s form had been a little in-and-out since the win at Bay Hill, though he did reach the last 8 in the WGC – Match Play and then produced that excellent 4th at Oak Hill, before a solid 29th place finish last week at Colonial.
The biggest key to his success has been approach play, where he ranks 32nd on tour this season and is 24th in proximity from 175-200 yards. He’s also an excellent top-10 bentgrass putter, solid around-the-greens and possesses that power that many who go well here do.
Kitayama missed the cut on his first start at Muirfield Village last year, though only did so by one and responded to a 3-over 75 in round one by shooting a respectable level par in the second round.
We know he has the ability to perform on firm, championship tests from his win at the API, whilst his 3rd at the Honda last year gives me added encouragement and I’m expecting a big performance from the Californian this week.