By Dave Shedloski
The Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide always has been one of the premiere events on the PGA TOUR since its inception in 1976. Veteran CBS Sports golf announcer Gary McCord, who played in the inaugural edition, remembers Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio being “like nothing we had ever seen before.”
That was due to the influence of Jack Nicklaus, the founder and host, who wanted the Memorial Tournament to represent the best of golf in the fashion of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament.
The event is even bigger this year, for several reasons, starting with the elevated status it received last year. The purse has been raised to $8.5 million, and the winner receives a three-year PGA TOUR exemption instead of two years at other regular TOUR events.
But even without these enhancements, the Memorial Tournament has been on the radar of the world’s best players because of the excellence of the golf course and because the host is the Golden Bear, winner of a record 18 major titles.
The 120-player field this week is stocked with talent, including the top five players in the world and 30 of the top 50. David Lingmerth of Sweden is the defending champion, but much of the focus this week is on the world top three, respectively — Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
CBS Sports on-course reporter Peter Kostis takes a look at what to expect at this venerable invitational and who might receive the winning handshake from Jack Nicklaus at the end of the week.
The top three in the world each has won his previous start. Could we be in for a big showdown this week at Muirfield Village?
Not since 1912, when Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson all were born in the same year, have we had three really good players around the same age vying for the top. I think those guys pushed each other, whether they ever admitted it, and I think the three at the top now, Jason, Jordan and Rory, are pushing each other. I know we had the Big 3 of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, but Arnold is 10 years older than Jack. The three guys at the top today are of a similar age, and we could see an intense rivalry with them going back and forth and pushing each other for the next 10-12-15 years.
This week is a very strong field, with six of the top 10 and 30 of the top 50 in the world. The Memorial always draws a strong field, but this one seems particularly top-heavy.
I think it’s in part because of Jack Nicklaus, in part the date, where it comes in the schedule and in part the excellence of the golf course. Muirfield is a great place to play, but the U.S. Open is at Oakmont in a couple of weeks, and this would have to be seen as great preparation.
Muirfield Village Golf Club can be an extremely tough test. We saw five-time winner Tiger Woods shoot 85 in the third round last year. But it also can yield some good scores. We’ve seen both extremes.
It’s a great golf course, and Jack has set it up to where it’s a second-shot golf course, with it’s last line of defense on the greens. But if we get the predicted rains, we could be looking at some lower scoring. A lot always depends on the weather.
This week we’re at Jack Nicklaus’ event. Arnold Palmer still hosts his tournament. How important are these weeks with legends hosting PGA TOUR events?
Golf always has a way of paying homage to its past. That’s important. We don’t have Byron Nelson around anymore, but thankfully Jack and Arnold are still here. And it’s great we get to pay our respects to the men who made the game possible for the rest of us to enjoy to the level we do today. We always have to remind each generation of how great these players were and how great they are as individuals.
Who do you like for favorites? Do you like any of the top three?
I like all of them. You have to look forward to the competition among them. This golf course doesn’t favor any one type of player. So they can all bring their games and compete. If the greens get really fast, I think it favors Jordan very slightly. But at the end of the day, the best putter of the best ball strikers is the winner each week. So we’ll see how it unfolds.
What about dark horses?
I don’t know if they are dark horses, but I like Tony Finau. He has been playing really well. And Paul Casey has played well at Muirfield Village in the past, and I know he likes the golf course.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.