Memorial Tournament a “Bear” of a warmup for the U.S. Open


Jack Nicklaus has always drawn respect from golfers for what he has accomplished both on and off the course. This week, his Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, will once again play host to The Memorial.

“It’s a big year for us, here obviously with the Memorial Tournament and the President Cup later this year,” Nicklaus said. “The golf course is in good shape. Spring came a little late here in Columbus as most of you know. We had a little bit of struggles getting though the weather, but I think everything is in good shape.”

Despite the spring weather coming a bit late to the golf course named after the famed British Open venue, both Nicklaus as well as the players say that all 18 holes are ready to go.

14-year-old Guan Tianlang, who has made two of three cuts thus far in the PGA Tour, hits a tee shot in his Tuesday practice round.

“The condition of the course is great,” qualifying amateur Steven Fox said. “Everything is  green and I haven’t seen that in a while.”

The event, won last year by Tiger Woods, is always used in preparation for the U.S. Open, which this year will be held at Merion Golf Club in Philadelphia.

With Muirfield Village hosting the President’s Cup in the fall, the field drew a lot of players that are fighting for spots on the team. This includes Lee Westwood who is making his first appearance at the tournament since 2003. Because of this, he is playing catch up in an effort to do well in the tournament and likely The President’s Cup.

“I can’t really remember that much about the golf course,” Westwood said. “I think it changes a lot – probably changed a lot over the years, as well. I’m looking forward to it this week. Obviously with Jack’s name associated with the tour, it’s a very prestigious one to win and that’s why it attracts such a good field.”

The course has made changes in preparation for the President’s Cup including a new clubhouse. The project Nicklaus said ‘started small’ and started July 1st but instead turned into a big project that now includes attached suites. The course will be the first to host a Ryder Cup, President’s Cup and Solheim Cup.

Big story lines include whether Tiger Woods can defend his title and win his sixth Memorial Tournament, how Adam Scott will play in just his second start since winning The Masters and if Rory McIlroy can get into form and start another run as he usually does during this time of the year. The stories below have all of that information and more.

Inside the clubhouse:

Respect for Jack

As already mentioned, a lot of these players hold Nicklaus in high regard and it makes entering the tournament a no-brainer.

“Tiger and him are the two best golfers to play this game,” Billy Horschel said. ‘He’s raised the level of this game from taking it seriously and the level of play to the business side.”

Tiger Woods also gave Nicklaus words of praise while showing appreciation that he showed support even at the beginning of his playing career.

“Jack always was one of the best course managers that’s ever lived, and how he managed not just the emotions, but just managed the golf course and the strategy behind how he played it,” Woods said. “He gives you options and shots to shape to play his courses. He played very disciplined, and at times he was very aggressive, but those were at the right times.”

Tiger Woods on a roll again

Tiger Woods seems to have everything going his way right now. Once again the world’s number one player, Woods most recently won for ‘just’ the second time at the TPC Sawgrass and The Player’s Championship. Now Woods returns to the place that he has won five times defending his championship once again this year.

“If you look at his form on this golf course and look at his form recently, you’ve got to think that he’s going to be up there on Sunday,” Rory McIlroy said. “He’s played really really well this year, four wins. Obviously five wins here, defending champion, so you wouldn’t bet against him being up there on Sunday afternoon.”

For the first time in a long while, Woods seems to have that aura again that makes it tough for players to keep up with him.

For his first two rounds of play, he will be paired with major winner Keegan Bradley and previous Memorial champion and President’s Cup Captain Fred Couples.

Woods and Couples have a great relationship and the world’s number one player looks forward to his 36 holes.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of needling, that’s a given, both directions, and we’re going to have a good time,” Woods said. “Freddie is one of my best friends and obviously Joey [LaCava] was on the bag with him 21 or 22 years. There’s great chemistry there, and it’s all fun.”

Bradley though appeared very confident and ready for the challenge.

“I’m excited, it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Bradley said.

First time winners still hungry for success

Billy Horschel and Derek Ernst each have won events on tour this year and that helped both get into The Memorial.

“The goal every week is to win, so to finally get a victory is huge,” Horschel said. “Being able to finally play Jack Nicklaus’ tournament is great. It’s a great golf course and a great tournament. It would be an honor to join the prestigious list of champions here.”

Ernst though was tougher on himself knowing the win was a launching pad of sorts but that he needs to prove the victory was not a fluke.

“I’m not thinking about it now,” Ernst said. “It’s a new tournament. I won in the past. It definitely does help though know I can beat these guys.”

Hoping for a good ‘Day’ at home course

Australian Jason Day once again found himself in contention during the final round of The Masters this year. A win would have made him the first Australian to win the tournament, however in the end he lost to fellow Aussie Adam Scott.

“I obviously would have loved to see myself there and win, but to see an Australian finally come through and win was a dream come true. I’m very proud of him.”

Day has playing privileges at Muirfield and was upbeat when asked about his chances on the course.

“I feel good,” Day said. “The swing is coming along nicely. The short game is pretty good and I feel good about my game.

Putting the work in

Kyle Stanley, Scott Stallings and Vijay Singh put in extra effort throughout the practice round.

Stanley saw a deficiency in his game which was his short pitch and chip game and on Monday spent two hours in the chipping zone and an extra hour on Tuesday.

“I thought I was struggling with it a bit and I wanted to make it better,” Stanley said.

Just a day after blowing his lead on the 15th hole at The Colonial, Stallings was in Dublin, Ohio playing an 18 hole practice round with Scott Brown and Ben Kohles.

Despite the miscue being fresh in his mind, Stallings reflected on the moment where a double bogey ended a chance at the winner’s circle.

“I played it exactly the way I wanted to,” Stallings said. “I just did not execute. I did not let it affected me and I parred my last three holes, so I feel good going into this week.

On Monday, it was poaring down rain yet Singh was on the putting green for an hour working on his game. Singh spent just as much time chipping and putting before repeating the process the next day.

Rickie Fowler hopes to get back in contention

Rickie Fowler has not exactly had the start to the year he desired. He is outside the top 20 in The President’s Cup rankings and in addition is back at a golf course he loves.

Last year Fowler had a great opening three rounds and was paired with Woods in the fourth round. All of a sudden things went wrong and shot a final round 84 to fall into a tie for 52nd place. Still Fowler is ready to play in Ohio again.

“I’m definitely excited about this week,” Fowler said. “Been struggling the last month and a half so looking forward to being in a place I’ve had good finishes. I’ve made a lot of birdies here before and looking to draw off past rounds here.”

Guan Tianlang and other amateurs ready for the week

14 year old Guan Tianlang was given a spot in this week’s Memorial and already has earned respect out on the tour making two of his first three cuts.

He will be paired with Justin Bolli and fellow amateur Peter Williamson.

“I played with him in New Orleans, so I know what to expect,” Bolli said of Tianlang. “There’s a lot of crowds, but it’s fine and he’s a good kid. He’s really good around the greens and a good putter.”

When told that he was paired with Tianlang, Williamson was surprised but excited.

“I played with him for nine holes today and he’s a good kid,” Williamson said. “He’s a great talent and when he gets bigger, he’s going to be fun to watch.”

Williamson played at Bay Hill earlier this season and shot a first round 83, but still the experience helped him.

“I would say the biggest thing was how to play tour conditions,” Williamson said. “If you’ve got a good number you can go after the pin and make birdie.”

Steven Fox is the reigning US Amateur champion and he hopes to do something he has not done yet in his limited tour appearances.

“I’m still trying to make a cut,” Fox said. “I played well last week and came up one stroke short. It’s what I’ve needed to have a good week out here. I know I have the game but it’s good seeing my name up there.”

Checking in with the Mylan Classic winner

You may remember Robert Streb from his win in last season’s Tour Mylan Classic held in Washington County. Since then, Streb has ‘done what everyone else tries to do’ by finishing in ‘The 25’ while earning an automatic PGA Tour card.

“Things have been good and I got off to a good start this year, but the last few weeks have been a little rough,” Streb said. “It’s nice being it here, it’s a really good spot.”

Streb was the fourth alternate in the field and ultimately did not play in the tournament but did come up to Muirfield to play a couple of practice rounds and try to fine tune his game.

Brandt Snedeker ranked fifth in the world

Brandt Snedeker is the reigning FedEx Cup champion and has been a model of consistency. He is tied for the lead in top 10 finishes this season and also won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am despite an injury.

Now healthy, Snedeker is back at The Memorial where last year he was just one of 12 players to finish under par.

“It’s tough,” Snedeker said. “You have to drive the ball in the fairway or it is tough to hit the greens. It’s really hard to make a lot of putts here.”

With that said Snedeker knows he is ready for the test this week will provide.

“Jack’s done a good job to make sure that every part of your game is tested,” Snedeker said.

Oh captain my captain

Today it was announced that President’s Cup Captain Fred Couples has asked most recent Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III to be one of his assistants.

“I was kind of surprised because he kind of did his own thing the first couple of times he did it,” Love III said. “I really actually wasn’t expecting it because we hadn’t talked about it. Obviously, to be around a team again so soon is really great for me because we had a great experience for two years.”

Raymond Floyd honored

Every year it is a tradition at The Memorial to honor at least one player and media person. The players then have hall of fame plaques that together form an area that fans can go down and view.

This year Raymond Floyd and Dave Kindred were honored in a ceremony this afternoon.

Floyd told a story about how he did not fare well after a round of golf and had been convinced to withdraw to go see a fight. His wife Maria though would not have any of it and he stayed for the tournament. That, he said made him into the golfer people such as Nicklaus know him as.

“Raymond and I started – Raymond is like two and a half years younger than I am and we started roughly the same time,” Nicklaus said. “Raymond won when he was 19 years old on the Tour, I believe at St. Petersburg. Raymond was a good young player. He started slowly and even though he won it took him a while to build up to being a good player. What I remember about Raymond, it his competitiveness. When he got in contention, generally speaking, he won. If you ever want to have a short game to copy, he has a short game to copy. He had a great short game.”

Among those on the committee that voted was Tony Jacklin, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and winner of both the US Open and Open Championship.

“We looked across the board and seeing who was in, did things that weren’t in and who was most deserved,” Jacklin said. “Raymond was right there and we agreed with that. It was unanimous. I think next year’s choice is already pretty unanimous.”

Merion all the talk at The Memorial

At the press conferences, many media members asked about Merion Golf Club, the site of this year’s US Open. Many players including Fowler, Woods and Scott have played the course.

“I love Merion,” Fowler said. “A lot of us on the ’09 Walker Cup team played well that week and it’s a really fun golf course. Hopefully the weather cooperates and they’ll be able to set the course up the way they want to. If they’re going to do that, it’s going to play tough.”

“Yesterday I played Merion and I don’t think it will play quite as long as it played yesterday,” Woods said.It was nice to see and get an understanding of what I need to visualize and my prep next week and get ready for that.”

“It’s a great golf course,” Scott said “It’s a bit fiddely is what I’ve come to so far, but that opinion could change the next time I play just because you don’t see where the ball finishes off all your tee shots and there’s camber on the fairways and some movement on the fairways that make it fiddley.”

Scott also went on to say that The Memorial helps prepare for the US Open because the rough is so thick and ‘the thickest on tour so far this year.”

Of note: Robert Garrigus has withdrawn from The Memorial. “Sorry fans had to W D from memorial my wife went into labor last night and thanks to net jets I might make it home to see my 2nd child born,” Garrigus tweeted. Daniel Summerhays now joins the field and will tee off with Ken Duke and James Hahn at 8:59 tomorrow morning. He tied for fourth in last year’s event.

On the golf course:

It’s a beautiful course, with narrow fairways, although not as narrow as it appears. Guys were using woods and maybe experimenting. There was more of a foreign presence with guys such as Guan Tianlang here. I could definitely see challenges on a couple holes such as the 12th. It’s a lot of carry with water on the front, there is not a lot of room to work with. It’s going to present challenge. Accuracy is going to be a very important part of this week. The weather is going to dry out the green but as the week goes on there likely will be faster greens. Coming in will be tough as holes 16-18 provide daunting tests.

They said it:

Scott Stallings on The Memorial- ““Outside of The Masters, this is my favorite tournament of the year.”

Lee Westwood on how long it took him to get over this weekend’s loss at the BMW PGA Championship-
On how long it took to get over losing the BMW PGA Championship: “Not long, gone now. Only lasts about three beers.”

Rickie Fowler on his love for Jack Nicklaus courses- “For some reason I enjoy a lot of Jack’s courses. I’m not sure if it’s a visual thing or what it is, but I’ve definitely made a lot of putts here and that’s one thing that has been – the hole has been a little small and covered lately.”

Rory McIlroy on success in Ohio [The Memorial and Bridgestone Invitational]- “Both golf courses are two of my favorites that we play all year. Here at Muirfield Village and at Firestone also. Both are really good golf courses, good tests. You’ve got to hit the ball well. Just two great courses and two great tournaments.”

Adam Scott on his game coming into The Memorial- “I think my game is in as good of shape as it’s ever been, but I think the best round of golf I ever played was here. I think it was a Friday in 2006, I shot a 62. I think it was the best score by five that day and it was an incredible round of golf.”

Picks to win:

Chris Dazen: Brandt Snedeker. He’s got five top 10s with a win and is top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings. He’s 10th in driving accuracy and can hit the greens. He’s consistent and if he does that he has a good chance.

Matt Popchock: Brandt Snedeker. He flew under the radar in the last couple big name events. He is coming off a great showing at The Players and just now getting healthy.

Zachary Weiss: You have to go with Tiger Woods. All the guy does here is win and he is going into this event with a lot of confidence. His personal life is more together than ever in recent memory and he seems to have moved on from the whole Sergio Garcia debacle. In addition he has the lowest scoring average on tour in addition to first in strokes gained from putting. It is just hard to see anyone but Tiger winning this.

Chris Dazen and Matt Popchock also contributed to this report