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What to Watch for at Jack Nicklaus’ Star-Studded Memorial Tournament

Nine of the world's top 10 golfers are in action at Muirfield Village this week, as Tiger Woods returns after a five-month break from golf and Patrick Cantlay looks to defend his title.

Week two of the PGA Tour’s 14-day stay in Ohio is upon us, and this week the tour is expected to kick things up a notch with the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village. After a solid field played the Workday Charity Open last week at Muirfield Village, an absolutely loaded field will come together in Dublin, Ohio.

Nine of the top 10 golfers in the Official World Golf Rankings will be in action as players vie for one of the most coveted titles outside of the majors…a win at Jack Nicklaus’ place. Patrick Cantlay returns as the defending champ, a year after firing a final round 64 to come from behind and defeat Adam Scott by a couple of strokes.

This week also marks the return of Tiger Woods to the PGA Tour. After sitting out the past five months, Woods will tee it up in search of his sixth Memorial Tournament title.

Here’s a look at what to keep an eye on this week at Muirfield Village.

U.S. Open-like conditions?

Due to the COVID-19 shutdown, tour players won’t face a major championship test until the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in early August. Coming out of the layoff, players have been handed some fairly cupcake-style set ups and accordingly, the scores have been extremely low. Throw away the tight tree lined test at Colonial, the first event of the restart, the average winning score over the last four weeks as been a whisker below 21 under par.

This week that number should come back down to earth. Two weeks at Muirfield Village has presented tournament setup staff a unique opportunity to create two different golf courses out of one. Compared to last week’s Workday Charity Open that played short and slow, Muirfield Village is expected to play long and fast for the Memorial. The tour is letting the rough continue to grow out all week and plans on quickening up the green speeds by as much as two slots on the Stimpmeter. Length, rough, fast greens…sounds more like a U.S. Open set up and one that will be welcomed by the players. World No. 2 Jon Rahm told reporters he’s actually looking forward to more of a test this week, saying the birdie barrages we’ve seen have gotten kind of boring.

What to expect from Tiger

It’s been almost five months to the day since we last saw Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour. What we last witnessed certainly wasn’t what we’d come to expect of the 82-time winner over the last year. Woods finished 68th at the Genesis Invitational in February. That is, dead last of players that made the cut at Riviera. Following a three-month hibernation we then saw Tiger competing in The Match, alongside Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. His swing looked very sharp, and most importantly his back looked healthy, but hey…this was an exhibition on his home course in Florida, not a Sunday round at Augusta National.

So, what can we expect from Tiger, who re-enters the fray ranked 14th in the world and one-win shy of breaking Sam Snead’s all time PGA Tour wins record? Well he’s clearly rested and seems healthy which should bode well for the back-end of this golf season. It’s no surprise Tiger is making his return at The Memorial. It’s an event he’s won five times. He has never missed the cut and has earned more $5 million here over his career. Bottom line, it’s one of Tiger’s happy places on Tour.

On Tuesday Tiger talked about how he’s going to have to maximize the condensed version of this season, much like he’s done since coming back from a fourth back surgery. “I think that unfortunately over the last few years that I've been used to taking long breaks, long time off and having to build my game and build it to a level where it's at a Tour level at home and then come out and play and play a few tournaments here and there,” he said. “This was a forced break for all of us but also one that I'm excited to get back into playing again.”

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An excited Tiger equals a motivated Tiger. The last time we saw him take an extended break was in between last year’s Tour Championship and the ZoZo Championship, over a stretch of two months. He won in his first event back. Don’t be surprised if he contends immediately this week.

Brooks vs. Bryson feud brewing?

Like it or not, Brooks Koepka is a straight shooter. So, the shots he recently fired at the new beefed up Bryson DeChambeau should not come as a surprise. The two players have traded barbs in the past…and this time it was Koepka poking DeChambeau about his new physique. Following DeChambeau’s dustup with a CBS Sports cameraman two weeks ago, Koepka sent out a tweet hinting that DeChambeau may have bulked up with some artificial assistance.

This isn’t the first time Koepka and DeChambeau have exchanged shots. A year ago, Koepka took issue with DeChambeau’s pace of play, saying at the time, “I just don’t understand how it takes a minute and 20 seconds to hit a golf ball. It’s not that hard.”

And in January, DeChambeau fired across the bow after Koepka poked fun at his appearance in ESPN the Magazine’s Body issue. DeChambeau—who’s vaulted to seventh in the world after his win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic—has said the sparring is all in good fun, but anyone can read between the quotes and realize there is a legitimate beef brewing. Has DeChambeau used it as motivation to bulk up and push the limits of distance on the PGA Tour? With both players in this week’s field at The Memorial, it sure would be fun to see a Brooks-Bryson pairing on Sunday.

Picks

Win: Patrick Cantlay

After a slow start in his return to Muirfield Village at last week’s Workday, Cantlay closed with a 7 under par 65 to finish T-7. The round was reminiscent of last year’s finish at the Memorial. The world No. 10 has finished inside the top-11 in five of his last six starts and has a win and a fourth place result in his last two trips to Muirfield Village.

Value: Hideki Matsuyama

The 2014 Memorial champ struggled on the un-characteristically slow greens at the Workday. The return to true Muirfield Village conditions should bode well for Matsuyama who has a win, a sixth- and a fifth-place finish over six starts at the Memorial.

Sleeper: Kevin Streelman

Streels has seen a career resurgence since the re-start as he now heads to place where he’s racked up three top-15 finished over his last four starts. A second place at the Travelers backed up by a T-7 at the Workday has vaulted Streelman 78 spots in the world rankings since the end of 2019.