Jack’s Ohio Gem: Previewing The Memorial Tournament

May 29, 2019
Justin Ray

The name Jack Nicklaus has been synonymous with excellence for more than six decades. His masterpiece Muirfield Village is no exception – in addition to hosting the Memorial Tournament since 1976, the venue has been the site of the U.S. Amateur, Presidents Cup, Solheim Cup and 1987 Ryder Cup.

When Tiger Woods won his 15th major earlier this year at Augusta National, it also re-energized talk of Woods’ pursuit of Nicklaus’ record total of 18. Hopefully, it can also get fans reacquainted with The Golden Bear’s remarkable array of on-course achievements.

Like this one: Jack finished his career with 46 top-three finishes in majors. Tiger is second all-time on that list, with 26. The only other player besides Woods with even half as many as Nicklaus is Phil Mickelson, with 23.

Or this: from 1960 through 1980, Jack finished in the top-five in majors 61 times. That was 24 more than anyone else in that stretch – Gary Player was second, with 37.

Or how about his runner-up finishes? Jack had a ridiculous 19 second-place finishes in majors, eight more than anyone else in history. Mickelson is second all-time with 11, while Arnold Palmer is third, with ten.

Jack has 73 top-ten finishes in majors. Not only is that 25 more than anyone else in men’s professional golf history, it’s as many as Ben Hogan (40) and Walter Hagen (33) had combined.

Nicklaus played in all forty professional majors contested from 1970 through 1980. In that span, he had ten wins and finished outside of the top-ten just six times.

Maybe Jack’s longevity is best explained by the diverse company he kept on major championship leaderboards.

Nicklaus’ first top-ten finish in a major came at the 1960 U.S. Open, when Jack was still an amateur. That week, Ben Hogan finished tied for ninth. His last top-ten in a major came at the 1998 Masters, when Woods finished tied for eighth.

TIGER RETURNS TO MUIRFIELD VILLAGE

Woods, a five-time winner of the Memorial Tournament, returns to competition this week. He missed the cut his last time out, at the PGA Championship – in his entire professional career, Tiger has never missed the cut in back-to-back starts.

Memorial TW GIR

Last year at Muirfield Village was one of the more polarized statistical performances of Tiger’s entire professional career. While Woods led the field in strokes gained tee to green, strokes gained approach and proximity to the hole, he was 72nd of 73 players to make the cut that week in strokes gained putting. It added up to a T-23 finish, six shots out of the playoff won by Bryson DeChambeau.

Woods enters this week having hit 74 percent of his greens in regulation this season – the best percentage he’s had in a season entering the Memorial Tournament in his entire career. The closest he’s ever been was in 2000, when Tiger was hitting them at a 73.6 percent clip heading to Jack’s place.

Incredibly, this is one of SEVEN different PGA Tour events that Woods has won five or more times. Nicklaus and Sam Snead have won three different tournaments five or more times, tied for second most in the history of the Tour.

NOTES ON THE COURSE & THE HEADLINERS

*After a dreadful start to the PGA Championship, Rory McIlroy played his last 51 holes at Bethpage Black in 6-under-par. In that span, he gained 7.18 strokes tee-to-green and 5.58 strokes putting. McIlroy has a scoring average this year of 69.03, by far the best of his career through the first ten starts of the season. McIlroy is second in the 15th Club Performance Index, trailing only Dustin Johnson.

*More McIlroy: his 4.81 birdies/eagles per round at the Memorial Tournament is second best of any player in this event over the last thirty years (among players with 20 or more rounds played). The only player with a higher average per round? David Lingmerth at 4.88.

*Matt Kuchar has the best cumulative score to par of any player at the Memorial over the last five years, at 43-under. The next three names on that list are Lingmerth (-38), Marc Leishman (-32) and Tony Finau (-31).

Kuchar has a scoring average of 69.85 at Muirfield Village since 2008. Among all players with at least ten rounds played during that span, he is the only player with an average better than 70.

*Murifield Village is consistently one of the most difficult courses on the PGA Tour to make putts inside ten feet. Five of the previous six years, it has ranked among the ten-toughest courses on the PGA Tour in that statistic. Correspondingly, it’s also yielded some low scrambling percentages from the field – 51 percent in 2017, the second-lowest percentage of any course that season on Tour.

*Justin Rose has seven top-ten finishes at the Memorial Tournament since 2004, tied with Matt Kuchar for most of any player in this event during that span. Rose currently ranks sixth in the 15th Club Performance Index.

Memorial most times winning 5+

*Justin Thomas returns to action this week, hoping to break through with his tenth PGA Tour victory at the mere age of 26. Over the last thirty years, the only players to win ten or more times on the PGA Tour before age 27 are Woods (34 wins), McIlroy (11), Phil Mickelson (11) and Jordan Spieth (11).

*Speaking of Mickelson, he makes his 19th career start in the Memorial with his best finish a tie for fourth in 2006. Phil has played only three PGA Tour events 20 or more times without claiming a win: the U.S. Open, BMW Championship, and WGC-FedEx St. Jude (formerly Bridgestone).