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BlogPrelude to the Memorial

Memorial Tournament

July 16th – 19th, 2020

Muirfield Village G.C.

Dubin,, OH

Par: 72 / Yardage: 7,456

Purse: $9.3 million

with $1,674,000 to the winner

Defending Champion:
Patrick Cantlay

by Sal Johnson

Founder, Chief Data Officer, GOLFstats

E-mail me at:
sal@golfstats.com

Have to say that since the break we have had quite a list of winners. Starting with Daniel Berger, who at one time was considered a possible star of the future until he hurt his index finger on his right hand at the 2018 Travelers. He battled back and just short of his two year anniversary for the injury, Berger won the Charles Schwab. It was a perfect start for PGA Tour golf getting back after three months off for COVID-19. After that, it’s been nothing but a string of marquee names winning, from Webb Simpson at Harbour Town, to Dustin Johnson coming off his own injuries from last year to win at The Travelers. Then it was Bryson DeChambeau winning at the Rocket Mortgage to now the great battle in which Collin Morikawa won the Workday Charity in dramatic fashion beating Justin Thomas in a three-hole playoff.

Sunday’s ending at the Workday is probably the best finish of the year. First, you had the story of Justin Thomas, starting the final round with a two-shot lead. Now Thomas is one of the top ten players on the PGA Tour. At 27 years-old he has won 12 times on the PGA Tour and one of them, the 2017 PGA Championship is a major. The only problem with Thomas, just like he did on Sunday by blowing a 3 shot lead with just 3 holes left to play is not the sign of a really great player. Of course, we can say that even great players are only humans and will make that kind of mistake, but for Thomas over the last year and a half, he has spit the spinner more than once. At the 2019 Genesis Open, Thomas led after 54 holes and despite a shaky front nine, still held the lead but shot 75 to lose by one over J.B. Holmes. Five months ago Thomas had a one-shot lead going into the final round of the WGC-Mexico Championship, only to shot 73 and lose to Patrick Reed. So we have seen this happen and worry about it because to be great, you have to be able to close. On Sunday at the Workday Charity, Thomas again was the 3rd round leader, this time by 2 shots but when he bogeyed his 2nd and 3rd holes he lost the lead. This time it was to Collin Morikawa, who played his first five holes in four-under, and after his eagle at five, Morikawa led by three shots. But Thomas showed how great he is when he birdied 8, 9, 10 and 11, then when he birdied 14 and eagled 15 his lead over Morikawa grew to 3 and it should have been a done deal. Instead of the fat lady signing, Thomas bogeyed 16th, then dropped another shot when Morikawa birdied 17 and the lead evaporated with a Thomas bogeyed on 18, forcing overtime.
The three-hole playoff was a classic mano-a-mano battle as on the first playoff hole Thomas nailed a 50-footer for birdie, but Morikawa was able to make a 24 footer to match the birdie and they went to the next hole. Thomas had a golden chance to win but wasn’t able to make a 9-footer, so they went to a third playoff hole. Thomas hit a poor drive behind a tree and that led to a bogey and another disappointing loss, something that a player of his caliber shouldn’t experience. For Morikawa, it was his second win in a year. Hard to believe that Morikawa, who is only 23 turned pro 13 months ago and with a T-2nd at the 3M Open and then a T-4th at the John Deere secured his PGA Tour card Making it even sweeter, in his next start he won the Barracuda Championship. So in just 54 weeks, Morikawa has gone from 623rd in the Official World Ranking to 13th today.
In looking at the Memorial, have to say that Morikawa will be looking for that rare back to back win and making it sweeter it would be on Muirfield Village in back to back weeks. We never saw Morikawa’s victory coming, in his first event since the Pandemic break he finished 2nd at the Charles Schwab, missing a short putt in a playoff to lose to Berger. In his next start, he stumbled to a T-64th at the Heritage and after missing his first cut ever on the PGA Tour at the Travelers, we didn’t think much of him at the Workday. But we were terribly wrong. In 24 PGA Tour starts as a professional, Morikawa has more wins (2) than missed cuts (1). We should have seen the possibility of Morikawa winning despite missing the cut at Travelers because Morikawa has become one of the better players from tee-to-green. He is 1st in Strokes Gained Approach-the-Green and 8th in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green. But the key to Morikawa’s game is consistency, from his first hole to last, he always plays steady and doesn’t have too many high numbers, in his 24 starts he only has shot 74 or 75, his high round ever just four times, pretty good over 90 rounds of golf. So I guess many people won’t be forgetting Morikawa this week at the Memorial. As for Thomas, yes he will be a favorite this week despite the disappointment of not closing the deal.
Going into the Memorial the best player since the break is Bryson DeChambeau who in four starts has a win, T-3rd, T-6th, and T-8th. In that stretch, he is 69 under par and has been over par in just one round. With his Memorial win in 2018 that should end any debate on who the favorite will be for this week. So what did Bryson do on his break last week? Fly off to Denver and worked with his strength coach Greg Roskopf to see if he could gain any more yardage this week and in the future.
Another favorite will be Daniel Berger, returning after a three-week break, he won at Colonial and was T-3rd at RBC Heritage. After two weeks off Dustin Johnson will be playing at The Memorial, in 11 starts at Muirfield Village he has been in the top-ten, 3 times. But even better Johnson has the added confidence of his Travelers win that shows yes he can win again. His game was good from Tee-to-Green but he also had a great putting week finishing 4th in Strokes Gained Putting at the Travelers. In looking at players who are hot and also play well at the Memorial, Kevin Streelman may be a person to watch. In his last two starts was 2nd to Johnson at the Travelers and T-7th at the Workday Charity. At last year’s Memorial, Streelman was 4th. After DeChambeau, the second most consistent player since the break is Viktor Hovland. He has gotten better in every one of his starts, he was T-23rd at Charles Schwab, T-21st at RBC Heritage, T-11th at Travelers, T-12th at Rocket Mortgage and 3rd at Workday so he was great in his first start at Muirfield Village. Another surprising player after the break is Ian Poulter, he was T-29th at Charles Schwab, T-14th at RBC Heritage, 64th at the Travelers and T-5th at Workday, so a second week at Muirfield Village could be good for him.
Have to also like the defending champion Patrick Cantlay. He was T-11th at the Travelers and T-7th at Workday, which he was 11 under. For his last 12 rounds at Muirfield Village, he is now 44 under par, so he will be a person to watch this week.
A couple of players who are seeing there game come around, the first has to be Brooks Koepka. After finishing 7th at the Rocket Mortgage, he missed the cut at the Workday. The bad part of the week at Muirfield, Koepka shot 74 in the first round and was five over par after the sixth hole. But Koepka found some magic which has been missing for over a year, starting with a birdie at 9, he made six birdies in his last ten holes and just missed the cut by a shot. Also watch Rickie Fowler, after struggling with his game missing the cut at the Charles Schwab and RBC Heritage, Fowler went back to his seven-year-old irons and found some gold in them, finishing T-12th at the Rocket Mortgage and T-22nd at Workday. With his ok finish at the Workday, Fowler is now 36 under in his last 16 rounds at Muirfield Village, a course he has been runner-up twice on. Another player to watch this week is Jason Day, who finished T-7th at Workday Charity. Day has struggled, missing the cut three times since the break. But he has been pain-free since the break and seemed to play well at Workday which could prove good for this week.
As for Rory McIlroy, his restart has not been great. In his three starts since the break, Rory has been very inconsistent one of the reasons his best finish in three starts is T-11th. Could this be a good week for McIlroy, he has played good at Muirfield Village but I still think he is searching for something. The same for Jon Rahm who also has bouts in inconsistent play, he finished T-27th at Workday with rounds of 75-64 over the weekend.
Lastly, everyone will be wondering about Tiger Woods, who is making his first PGA Tour start since the Genesis Open. He looked so good at the Tiger/Michelson match at the end of May so have to think he will be ok this week. He hasn’t played in just about five months and has to think that he will be a bit rusty and won’t win, but will play well.

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