The sheer strength of field at this week’s Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club suggests it is very much being treated as the main warm up for the US Open in two weeks time.
That lofty field includes eight of the world’s top 10 (and 13 of the world’s top 20) as well as 12 of the leading 15 in the FedExCup all striving for precious preparation ahead of the year’s second major at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
In attendance will be world numbers one, two and three – Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose – as well as Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler.
Rose and McIlroy will be looking to build on their respective win (at the Fort Worth Invitational) and second place (at the BMW PGA Championship) last week whilst Thomas, Johnson and Jason Day will be hoping to boost their positions inside the FedExCup top 10.
If all that isn’t enough for you, then 14-time major champion Tiger Woods will be competing for a sixth title at this event. His last was in 2012 – cue reminders of that chip on the 16th – but he has failed to place inside the top 60 since then.
To exploit as much as possible out of the star-studded field, the Memorial has set up some pretty appetising groupings for the opening two rounds. How does Thomas, Fowler and Patrick Reed; Rose, Woods and defending champion Jason Dufner; Johnson, McIlroy and Day; and Spieth, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson sound?
With his win last year Dufner made the record books. His third-round of 77 was the worst Saturday round by a PGA Tour winner since 1990. It was thanks to his two opening 65s and a resilient final 68, interrupted twice by the weather, that Dufner was able to overcome the field by three shots.
Woods (1999, 2000 and 2001) is the only man to successfully defend this title so it will take more history making from Dufner if he is to do so himself this year. Alongside Dufner and Woods (who also scalped the 2009 and 2012 titles) there will be 11 more past champions in the field, including some prominent figures: William McGirt (2016), David Lingmerth (2015), Hideki Matsuyama (2014), Matt Kuchar (2013), Rose (2010), Kenny Perry (1991, 2003 and 2008), K. J. Choi (2007), Carl Pettersson (2006), Ernie Els (2004), Jim Furyk (2002) and Vijay Singh (1997).
Jack Nicklaus is the Memorial Tournament host so it’s fitting that the event is played on a course designed by the Golden Bear, Muirfield Village Golf Club. The par-72 course measures in at 7392 yards and provides a challenge to the field with the average winning score sitting at just 12.8-under-par for the last six years.
Despite the test, the players are all big fans. It was voted the sixth favourite PGA Tour course by tour members citing its similarity to major venues. Holes have been made longer over recent years but the fairways aren’t too tough to find; the only issue, though, is that the rough will punish any stray tee-shots.
2016 saw a monumental 37% increase in prize fund from $6.2million to $8.5million. This is now one of the biggest events on the PGA TOUR, ranking third in prize money outside the majors, WGCs and FedExCup play-offs, behind the CJ Cup and Arnold Palmer Invitational. The weighty prize pot does not affect the FedExCup points with a standard 500 on offer to this week’s winner, though.
The first round tees off tomorrow at 07:20am EDT.