Golf

The Memorial Tournament betting preview: Niemann can rediscover the finishing touch

May 31, 2022

In recent years this tournament, played in Columbus, Ohio where Jack Nicklaus spent most of his early life, has been dominated by Patrick Cantlay and Jon Rahm. The American was the first to win there, claiming a two shot victory in 2019, and a year later the Spaniard ended the week three clear of the field.

Twelve months ago it looked as if Rahm would successfully defend his title when he was six shots clear after 54 holes, but as he left the course in that third round he was told he had failed a Covid test and would have to pull out. Next day Cantlay pounced.

Since that peculiar weekend the pair have found themselves somewhat linked. To begin with Cantlay, who won the FedExCup, narrowly beat Rahm, winner of the US Open, to the PGA Tour Player of the Year title. Shortly after they both took an extended winter break, both re-emerged having lost the knack if winning, both have rediscovered it since the Masters, and both were poor at the PGA Championship two weeks ago.

This looks like the ideal moment for them to reignite the form flame, but they have decent opposition at the head of the market – in theory at least. Rory McIlroy plays but has never been within four strokes of the lead with 18 holes to play in 10 previous visits to Muirfield Village, Jordan Spieth’s record is very similar (in his case never within three of the lead after three rounds), Collin Morikawa (a course winner in another tournament and play-off loser last year) is in something of a form funk (no top 25 since the Masters), and Cameron Smith has no top 60 in half a dozen tournaments starts.

Regular readers of the column will appreciate that Shane Lowry is a popular selection (admittedly with a decent record of picking him at the right time). He’s got a solid course record and has finished top three twice already this season on Nicklaus designs, but the compiler likes him too so “no bet” it is this week. Ditto Xander Schauffele, who could easily marry his occasionally blistering recent form with a course record that boasts four consecutive top 15 finishes. Instead, we’ll look elsewhere.

Each Way – Joaquin Niemann at 33/1
After starting the year in blistering form – landing three top 10s in a row, including a superb wire-to-wire win in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club – Chile’s Joaquin Niemann has been close to repeating that quality without quite ever finding the finishing touch.

He got off to bold starts in THE PLAYERS Championship and the Masters – tied third after 18 holes in both – before drifting back into the field, but he still recorded career-best tournament finishes. He followed that with T12th at the Nicklaus co-designed Harbour Town (after another quick burst from the blocks) and he was third with 18 holes to play in the AT&T Byron Nelson earlier this month before finishing T23rd in the PGA Championship.

The latter effort actually equalled his best effort in a major and he was also on hand to support compatriot Mito Pereira in his ultimately flawed attempt to win at Southern Hills. Now Niemann is back at a course where he shone on debut four years ago. He finished that week tied sixth, but had shared the 18 and 36 hole lead, and was second with 18 holes to play.

Each Way – Cameron Young at 40/1
The first reason to suggest rookie Cameron Young is straightforward: he’s in brilliant form this season with five top three finishes, three of them in his last three starts. They came at Harbour Town (which, has already been noted, is a Nicklaus co-creation), Potomac in the Wells Fargo Championship and then in the PGA Championship. The easy argument against his challenge is that he might be due an off-week. Had he been priced 25/1, fair enough. But there’s enough juice in this price to take the chance of a repeat.

To back up his case are two factors. The first, and slightly spurious, is that he has finished second and 10th in his only visits to Ohio on the second tier Korn Ferry Tour. I prefer that his recent good form is built upon quality with his drives. He ranked second, first and third in Strokes Gained Off the Tee in that recent trio of results and ranks behind only Rahm for the season. Nicklaus layouts offer width from the tee, but distance and smart placement are rewarded. Young should be suited.

Each Way – Sepp Straka at 160/1
Take a punt on Austria’s Sepp Straka for the third pick, a man who has had an up-and-down season but the eye is drawn to his two high spots. The first was PGA National in the Honda Classic, scene of his breakthrough PGA Tour victory. The second was third in The Heritage at Harbour Town. What links them? Nicklaus was an architect on both.

Form on Nicklaus tests is a decent pointer. Last season Cantlay and Rahm had been the 1-2 at Sherwood, ahead of his first win Cantlay excelled at Harbour Town, the year before Bryson DeChambeau had landed a top 10 there, before that Jason Dufner was excellent off the tee in the Heritage, and in 2016 rank outsider William McGirt had a pair of Nicklaus top 10s. Straka could emulate him.