THIS week the PGA Tour returns to Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio for the Memorial Tournament. It’s an old favourite on the schedule and the course is a familiar one which…
Hang on. Scrap that. Let’s start again.
Muirfield Village was a familiar venue and in many ways it will remain so. A bit like a Hollywood star (or cricketer) who’s had extensive plastic surgery, we’ll have a vague idea what we’re looking at, but we might also need a little persuading that something isn’t amiss.
What am I on about? Well, the course has not so much had a facelift as been handed over to Frankenstein. Take a read of what’s happened since last year’s event: eight tee boxes have been reversed into the trees, all the fairways have been re-surfaced, every bunker have been rebuilt, whole the putting surfaces have been both recontoured and re-grassed. The good news is: it’s still in Dublin, Ohio, although the next programme of changes are rumoured to have the first tee relocated to Cincinnati.
Startling stuff and the big question is: how much will it impact on the golf itself?
Each Way – Scottie Scheffler (33/1)
On one hand I suspect some players will be unaffected by the transformation. The notion of a course “fitting the eye” is a strong one, but it’s often rather wide in scope and doesn’t hone in on detail; it’s about the lie of the land and the framing of the shot. Others, however, will be more troubled. They will play to old spots, see old lines, and then become flustered that their ball bounces or rolls the wrong way. It puts me off backing the favourites because I’m wary there is great potential for a few demons to play tricks, and none of leaders in the outright market are attractive enough prices to make up for that.
Instead, first pick is relative newcomer Scottie Scheffler, who missed the cut on the course at last year’s Workday Charity Open and then finished T22nd a week later in this event. He spent most of that week in the top 25 and bounced off the confidence boost to go on a fine run of results in the World Golf Championship, majors and FedExCup playoffs. That excellent form has been maintain in 2021, peaking with fifth in the WGC Workday Championship and second in the WGC World Match Play. He was also a decent eighth two weeks ago at the PGA Championship, a fourth consecutive major championship top 20 finish. He’s a fine golfer and a significant breakthrough at the top level looks well within his grasp
Each Way – Sungjae Im (66/1)
When faced with a Nicklaus design I like backing fellows who’ve done well on others in the past, even if not the course in question. The great man provides lots of width from the tee, but one side of the fairway always has better options. Then he tests distance control with the approaches and likes to produce slick putting surfaces. Soren Hansen was a solid player anywhere in his European Tour heyday, but put him on a Nicklaus track and he became something like a world top 10 performer. They were an ideal, if unlikely, match.
That line of thinking takes me to Korea’s Sungjae Im, who at the end of 2019 won the Genesis Championship on his home tour at Jack Nicklaus Korea GC and then grabbed his first PGA Tour win at the Great Bear’s PGA National. The 23-year-old was all the rage for a while, and with good reason given he finished second at last year’s Masters, but he’s become a much more backable price in recent weeks. The reason for that is lost form so there’s always a counter, but it’s worth the risk this week.
Each Way – Charley Hoffman (50/1)
Final selection is The Hoff and I just can’t ignore him. It’s not just that he’s playing brilliant golf at the moment (eight top 20s in his last 10 starts), it’s also that he keeps playing career best golf on so many courses. His seventh at Pebble Beach was easily a personal best there, so too the T17th at TPC Sawgrass, the same result in the PGA Championship was comfortably his finest effort in that event, ditto his third last week at Colonial. In addition he’s been T10th at Bay Hill, second at TPC San Antonio and landed top 20s at Harbour Town and Innisbrook.
Last week he carded a superb second round 62 and flew home on a wet sail with a Sunday 65. He’s absolutely flying at the moment and in the perfect spot to make the most of an encouraging seventh on the course at last year’s Workday Charity Open. It helps that his approach play, key on a Nicklaus layout, is simply sensational at the moment: he’s ranked top three in the field in his last three starts.