We find ourselves a mere three weeks away from the Open Championship for the United States, with this upcoming 123rd edition of the U.S. Open to be held this year at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island in New York. With the chance at major championship glory on the horizon, players will find themselves in the position of fine-tuning their games over the next two weeks – at the FedEx St. Jude Classic next week, and this week at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide.
The Memorial carries a deep field that reads close to a major, with eight of the worlds top-10 golfers and 12 of the top-15 in the FedEx Cup standings all descending on Dublin, OH. The Memorial Tournament has been hosted at Muirfield Village Golf Club, or “Jack’s Place” as it is affectionately known, for the last 42 years.
The Jack Nicklaus design is an undulating parkland design, measuring at 7,392 yards over its Par 72 layout. With tight, narrow tree-lined fairways and penal rough, accuracy off-the-tee will be paramount this week. It’s no wonder a list of former champions feature noted ball-strikers like Matt Kuchar, Hideki Matsuyama, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, and Justin Rose.
Aside from that, the greens here are smallish in nature, and the Golden Bear added a whopping 77 bunkers and water in play on 11 of 18 holes in his design, which is sure to test players mental strength in preparing for shots. This also highlights the need for an overall game in which approach shots and work around-the-greens need to be in-tune. There will be no rest for the weary this weekend around this venerable track that has also hosted Ryder, Presidents and Solhiem Cups, so that should provide a certain measure of the challenge that awaits the field this week. Before we get into the Must-Haves, here are our key stats for Muirfield Village…
-Strokes Gained: Approach
-Driving Accuracy/Fairways Gained
-Greens in Regulation %
-Birdie or Bettter %
After noting the variety of skills that it will take to conquer Muirfield Village this week, we turn to the Ironman himself – the machine-like Swede and major champion, Henrik Stenson. At a course that will hardly ever require driver off-the-tee, Stenson possesses a quality weapon and advantage with his beloved Callaway 3-wood. It is no surprise that he is either at or near the top in almost every driving category, ranking 2nd in the field in Fairways Gained, 1st in Good Drives Gained, 9th in Drive Lefts Avoided, 2nd in Drives Right Avoided, and 1st in Greens In Regulations Gained. Consistent off-the-tee stats across the board like that is seldom to see on Tour, and that’s great to see given how tight these fairways at Muirfield are.
His ability to keep the ball on the fairway should find him with great chances to attack the small Bentgrass greens, a task that he should be up to given his ball-striking proclivities. An expertly precise iron player, Stenson ranks 3rd in Strokes Gained: Approach and 11th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking. It might be a tad concerning to some that Stenson hasn’t played this tournament since 2013, when he finished 41st. In fact, he has only played the Memorial three other times, carding a 46th in 2012, missing the cut in 2011, and finishing 60th in his debut effort in 2010. But that was then, and this is now. And Stenson seems to have a renewed vigor to his game as we approach major season.
His all-around game seems to be in a great place since turning his focus to the United States and PGA Tour events. After missing the cut at the Valspar in his maiden tournament this year on American soil, he has been on a heater ever since. A week later at the Arnold Palmer he finished solo 4th, and followed that up with a 6th at the Houston Open, a 5th at The Masters, and a 23rd his last time out at THE PLAYERS. With a game that seems to be clicking on all cylinders and a course in Muirfield that seems to fit his style of play, we recommend starting your lines with Stenson with a good bit of confidence this week.
It has been quite the stretch for this 25- year old Argentinian, who is arguably playing the best golf of his relatively young and already successful career. For those of you who don’t know much about Grillo, here’s a quick summary. The 2016 PGA Tour Rookie Of the Year was a finalist at the US Junior Amateur in 2008 when he was just 15. He turned pro in 2011 and promptly finished 10th in his first event at the Africa Open. He then proceeded to win the Web.com Championship in 2015 to secure his PGA Tour card, and quickly added his name to the winner’s circle with a victory in only his eighth start on the PGA Tour, winning the 2016 Frys.com Open after beating Kevin Na in a sudden death playoff.
This season however, has finally found him playing the consistent golf that his talent hinted promise of all those years. He comes into the Memorial with a sizzling 16/16 cuts made on the season, with a form line that features 6 top-10’s and 8 top-20 finishes. His tournament finishes line reads (recent tournaments to start): 3, 37, 9, 16, 3, 50, 26, 6, 8, 57, 12, 47, 9, 40, 54. Simply put – the kid is on fire this season. A solo third last week surely has him wanting to go two better and add his second PGA Tour win this week, and we feel like Muirfield might be the course that suits his fancy to do it. In fact, his two turns around this tournament have produced a 40th in 2017 and an 11th in is debut turn in 2016.
He checks just about every key box this week, ranking 5th in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach, 7th in Fairways Gained, 8th in Birdie or Better %, 12th in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking, and 24th in Greens In Regulations. And given his great touch around-the-greens, where he ranks 12th in field in Sand Saves Gained and 22nd in Scrambling, we could have the makings of a winner this week. His precise iron play and accuracy off the tee, much like Stenson’s, should prove key to unlocking Muirfield. Once again, we should find him in contention come Sunday afternoon.