The Memorial Tournament 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis
The renovation of Muirfield Village Golf Club began during the final round of last year’s Memorial and the course reopened to the membership only two weeks ago, a hundred yards or so longer and featuring significant changes to most of the greens and a redesign of several holes.
Jack Nicklaus has never been unafraid to tweak the best course he ever designed – and one of the best stops on the PGA Tour. Based on photographs and reports, the renovation produced additional hole locations on many greens and more closely mown chipping areas around them.
The course is a par 72 that can stretch over 7,500 yards and will demand sharp strategy, command of approach shots and a deft touch around the greens. Often at Muirfield Village the best place to miss a green is in a bunker and high, soft shots are required to stop the ball close to the hole.
The tournament has produced an elite roster of champions, with the occasional surprise thrown in and while distance and a high apex on approach shots are useful tools this week, finding the generous fairways is also imperative. There are seven par 4s between 450 and 500 yards, two or three par 3s longer than 200 yards, depending on tee selection and some beefy par 5s with trouble lurking around the greens.
The weather – rain – seems to always play a role in the tournament as well. There’s a chance of rain on Thursday according to the early forecast with sunny skies expected for the weekend and temperatures in the low 80s. Keep an eye on the details before setting your roster.
- Byeong Hun An, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Troy Merritt, Kyle Stanley, Danny Willett
Those who have performed well at Muirfield Village and other Nicklaus courses in the past rose to the top of our models this week and we gave a special emphasis to strong bunker players. New greens are usually firm but may be a touch slower than expected. Definitely not as slippery as last year when they were minutes from being gassed.
A great course in immaculate condition and a legendary host has attracted an elite 121-man field. The changes to the par-5 15th appear to be a significant improvement and I’ll be surprised if there’s a surprising champion come Sunday afternoon. As always, good luck.
Golfer power rankings
25. Matt Kuchar – Shocked the golf world with a fresh mustache in Fort Worth but uncharacteristic poor driving produced only a T-50. He’s enjoyed Memorial through the years, though, making 13 of 15 cuts with seven top 10s. Elite bunker player.
24. Brendon Todd – In good form after a tie for eighth last week at Colonial and his combination of finding fairways, a strong sand game and sizzling putting on fast greens puts him in position for another good finish at Muirfield Village (three top 25s in four starts).
23. Christiaan Bezuidenhout – Starting to emerge on the world stage, making the last nine cuts, including both majors this year. Short game is his strength – leads the Tour in putting – and gained shots on approach last time out at Kiawah.
22. Kevin Streelman – In the last six years at Memorial, has two top 10s, two other top 20s and hasn’t missed a cut. Has gone 26-8-20 in his last three starts. He’s 13th in the field in par-5 scoring (550-600 yards).
21. Justin Thomas – Certain this is Thomas’ lowest spot in the history of these rankings. That being said, he can turn it around anytime and Muirfield Village suits him (18-4-8 in his last three starts and runner-up in the Workday played on the course the week before last year’s Memorial). Struggled with his short game in T-40 last week. Easy fix.
20. Joaquin Niemann – Struggled out of the bunkers all season and has lost at least 2.9 strokes around the green each of the last three tournaments. On the bright side, he’s top 20 in the field in scoring on 450-500 yard par 4s and 550-600 yard par 5s.
19. Corey Conners – He’s finished in the top 20 13 times in the 2020-21 season. If you made a model for a tournament in the arctic, desert or anywhere this side of the moon he’d land near the top of it. Can he just ballstrike his way around Jack’s place for four days? Outside the top 100 in the field in SG: Short Game and SG: Putting.
18. Emiliano Grillo – Having a terrific season (four top 10s, 39th in the FedEx Cup standings) and has an equally impressive record at Muirfield Village (T-9 and T-11 among three top 25s in five starts).
17. Louis Oosthuizen – I’m sure it’s occurred but I’ve never seen him hit a poor bunker shot. Played great at Kiawah, recording a third top 10 in the last five tournaments and has rediscovered the gym in recent months. T-13 is his best effort at the Memorial in four efforts.
16. Marc Leishman – Excels out of bunkers and on fast greens and possesses the high ball flight required to attack the corner hole locations at Muirfield Village. Errant tee shots proved costly in a short week at the PGA but is 11 of 12 making the Memorial cut with a pair of top 5s.
15. Billy Horschel – His game has been solid in every department over the last three months and he’s thrived at Muirfield Village in his career, finishing in the top 15 in four of seven starts. Ranks top 20 in the field in scoring on 550-600 yard par 5s and 450-500 yard par 4s. Elite putter on fast greens, likes Nicklaus courses.
14. Gary Woodland – The 2019 U.S. Open champion is quietly regaining form, closing with 69 at Colonial to finish in the top 20. I’m encouraged by his top 5 at Wells Fargo last month, seeing similarities between the challenges Quail Hollow and Muirfield Village present. Has made 8 of 10 cuts at the Memorial with two top-10s.
13. Rickie Fowler – He’s back. And what better place for Fowler to build on his top 10 at Kiawah than Muirfield Village, where he was the runner-up in 2017 and has two other top 10s. Just like Spieth, Matsuyama, Woodland, etc., he didn’t lose his talent, just his confidence. Four good rounds on a brutal golf course should help him forget his recent slump.
12. Matt Wallace – Finished T-4 at Memorial last year and he’s been on a steady roll for most of 2021. Slotted high in the models this week because of his success on and around fast, firm greens, Nicklaus courses and the strong tee-to-green game needed to solve Jack’s masterpiece.
11. Patrick Cantlay – The cool Californian has burned us a time or two this season and hasn’t been sharp since the West Coast. Again, he’s too good to stay off the leaderboards for long and would love to build momentum heading into the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Won here in 2019 and T-4 in 2018. Sneaky good value in the fantasy formats.
10. Collin Morikawa – Capitalized on the softer, slower conditions and outlasted Justin Thomas in a thrilling sudden-death playoff last year to win the Workday at Muirfield Village. Finished T-44 on the icy surfaces the following week. A left-to-right ball flight fits nicely on any Nicklaus track and he dominated at another Golden Bear design, Concession, earlier this year.
9. Jordan Spieth – Sunday slowed Spieth’s momentum slightly. He drove his ball like it was 2019 and squandered the 54-hole lead in Fort Worth. That hiccup aside, he leads the field in SG: Total over the last 24 rounds on Tour but is only 93rd in scoring on 450-500 yard par 4s, which is a concern. Has four top 20s (two top 10s) in eight Memorial appearances.
8. Jon Rahm – Perpetually frustrated is the young Spaniard and his backers of late. Sure, he grinded through the backdoor for a T-8 in the PGA – his eighth top 10 in the last 12 starts – thanks to excellent ballstriking, yet his putter has been more enemy than friend of late. The defending champion and Vegas favorite.
7. Patrick Reed – Strong numbers on firm greens, in particular avoiding bogeys, and ranks second in the field in scoring on 450-500 yard par 4s. Always seems to find a way to get it around Muirfield Village, posting a pair of top 10s and never missing the cut in five attempts. Loves bentgrass and difficult scoring conditions, which are likely.
6. Bryson DeChambeau – He won here in 2018. He’s finished MC-22-37 in his other three starts. It’s a second-shot golf course and that’s the least predictable aspect of his game. He lost 5.5 strokes on approach at Wells Fargo and finished ninth. He gained a shot at the PGA and finished 38th. If the irons are dialed, he’ll contend. I like his chances.
5. Viktor Hovland – I was surprised to learn that Hovland ranks top 20 on the PGA Tour in sand save percentage. Seems unfair when combined with his ridiculous ballstriking cats. The Norwegian Forest Cat is going to strike again soon and I’ve already backed him in two weeks at Torrey Pines. Gained strokes around the green in four of last five starts. T-48 in last year’s Memorial.
4. Rory McIlroy – Has been a consistent contender at Muirfield Village (four top 10s in nine starts) and nobody is better in ballstriking on courses measuring 7,400 yards or longer. Only seems fitting that he wins Jack’s tournament during his career. This could be the week if putter cooperates (lost 2.9 strokes at PGA, T-48).
3. Tony Finau – Mauls the long par 5s (best in the field), avoids bogeys on long golf courses because he’s 11th in the field in SG: Around the Green on firm surfaces. Has four top 15s in six Memorials. Finished T-20 last week for the third time in four starts despite losing 4.4 strokes on the greens.
2. Xander Schauffele – There’s no doubt that Augusta National was an inspiration when Nicklaus designed Muirfield Village and Schauffele has finished in the top 3 of the last two springtime Masters. He leads the PGA Tour in sand save percentage (69.5), handles the par 4s and par 5s he’ll face this week and is fourth in the field SG: Tee-to-Green on 7,400-yard plus golf courses.
1. Hideki Matsuyama – He’s won here before. He’s a chipping machine and he’s had time to let the Masters victory settle in. Besides all that he’s a tremendous value, falling just outside the top 10 salaries. In one of the two models we ran this week, he ranked in the top 10 in six of nine categories. Gained 6.4 strokes on approach at Kiawah in a T-23 but struggled on the slowish greens. Let the celebration continue.