Memorial Preview: Tiger Returns to Competition

July 15, 2020
Justin Ray

For the first time in more than 60 years, the PGA Tour is playing back-to-back events at the same golf course.

In 1957, the All-American Open (won by Argentina’s Roberto de Vicenzo) was held at Tam O’Shanter Club outside of Chicago. The following week, the World Championship of Golf was held at the same course, marking the last time the PGA Tour hosted consecutive tournaments at the same venue.

Both of those events were run by the same man, George S. May. May was a significant pioneer in the world of sports broadcasting: in 1953, the World Championship of Golf became the first golf tournament to be broadcast live on national television. May’s championship also offered players enormous prize money – 1957 tournament winner Dick Mayer received a $50,000 check for his victory. The 1958 PGA Tour season-long money leader, Arnold Palmer, won about $43,000 for the entire year.

In 1957, there were five players who finished in the top-ten in both the All-American and the World Championship: Sam Snead, who finished third and second, among the group. Mayer finished tied for 23rd at the All-American the week before his victory on that same course.

In a year where the abnormal has become routine, add this scheduling quirk to the list. It’s different, sure, but not entirely without historic precedent.

COURSE CHARACTERISTICS

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For last week’s Workday Charity Open, Muirfield Village was given some mild makeup changes to differentiate it from the Memorial Tournament. Greens were set up a bit slower than normal, which yielded one interesting statistic: players made a higher percentage of putts from four to eight feet on the quicker setup at the 2019 Memorial (69.3%) than they did on the slower greens at Workday (67.2%)

Players also hit a higher percentage of greens in regulation at the 2019 Memorial, 70.1% to a 63.6% clip at Workday. This most likely indicates players being more aggressive attacking pins at last week’s setup, while opting for more conservative approaches in the tougher scoring conditions at the Memorial.

Over the last five years, the 18th fairway at Muirfield Village has been the most penalizing to miss, at more than half-a-stroke. All but four fairways on the course have an average penalty of 0.4 strokes or more, making wild tee shots especially penalizing.

Last week’s final grouping was a perfect embodiment of what it takes to win at Muirfield Village. Since the beginning of last season, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Viktor Hovland rank one, two and three on the Tour in strokes gained approach. That is exactly how they finished on the leaderboard for the tournament. Expect another stripe show out of this week’s winner at Jack’s place.

NOTES ON PLAYERS IN THE FIELD

*Viktor Hovland is the only player to make the cut in all five events since the restart. His tee to green performance has forged an even more impressive stat, though – Hovland has led the field in strokes gained tee to green in each of the last three weeks. Since tracking began more than 15 years ago, Hovland is the first player to pull off a streak of that nature.

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*Rory McIlroy could use a bit of that Hovland iron magic. Since the season restart, Rory ranks 83rd in strokes gained approach (-0.01 per round). Entering the hiatus, McIlroy was among the elite in approach play, gaining more than 1.2 strokes per round, ranked third on the season. Consider this, though: McIlroy has finished outside the top-ten in each of his last three tournaments. The last three times he did that, his subsequent finishes were first, second and fourth. You can’t keep Rory down for long.

*It has been relatively tough sledding for Jon Rahm since the season resumed – the world number two has finished outside the top-20 in all four of his starts. Rahm only had five finishes outside the top-20 worldwide in all of 2019. But there’s reason to be bullish on him this week: Sunday at Muirfield Village, Rahm shot a closing 64 – spurred by terrific ball-striking. Rahm gained 6.29 strokes tee-to-green in the round, a career-high on the PGA Tour and the third-best single round performance by anyone since play resumed.

*By the way, a certain 15-time major champion is back in action this week. The Memorial Tournament is one of seven different PGA Tour events Tiger Woods has won five or more times. The next two names on that list – Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead – did it in three different tournaments apiece. For more on Woods’ most dominant venues, check out our piece on PGATOUR.com.

*With a win this week, Tiger would become the second player in PGA Tour history to win the same event in four different decades (1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s). Snead won in Greensboro in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

*Who would you guess is the leader in strokes gained total since the season restarted? Bryson, right? Maybe Hovland or Webb Simpson? Nope: it’s Daniel Berger, he of the 32 straight rounds at par or better. With four more of those this week, Berger will run his streak to 36, making it the third-longest in recorded PGA Tour history. Berger’s last round over par on the Tour was on October 11 in Houston, 280 days ago this Thursday.

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*Patrick Cantlay set off some alarms with his closing 65 last week at Muirfield Village. Over the last decade, Cantlay leads all players at the Memorial Tournament in strokes gained total, scoring average, birdie average and strokes gained approach.

*Collin Morikawa’s thrilling win last week gave him an incredibly unique distinction: since turning pro, he has more wins (two) than missed cuts (one). The last player to get his second win before his second missed cut as a pro was Woods – who won an insane 43 times on Tour before missing his second at the 2005 Byron Nelson.

TIGER WOODS STAT OF THE WEEK

Tiger won 13 PGA Tour events in Ohio from 1999 to 2013. Besides Tiger himself (72 wins in that span), only Vijay Singh (29 wins) and Phil Mickelson (27) won more than 13 PGA Tour events overall from 1999 to 2013.