5 Who Can Challenge Tiger Woods At The Memorial
Who can challenge Tiger Woods at The Memorial?
Muirfield Village is simply all things Jack Nicklaus. The stunning venue, like the great man himself, oozes class. The club, course and tournament were all founded and designed by Nicklaus, even its name harks back to the site of the Golden Bear’s first British Open victory in 1966.
Ever since the inaugural playing of the Memorial Tournament in 1976, the event has consistently produced high class victors. Nicklaus himself reigned here in 1977 and 1984, and other multiple winners include Tom Watson, Greg Norman and Hale Irwin. An impressive roll of honor to say the least.
Then, along came a kid from California. With three consecutive victories from 1999-2001, Tiger Woods owned this event. It took him until 2009 to regain the title, a feat he repeated once again last year in typically spectacular Tiger fashion.
As always at The Memorial, there is surely a great week of golf viewing ahead, so who’s going to come out on top? A five-time champion of any event, particularly one who is still very much in his prime, simply must be favorite to come out on top next Sunday. But, as always, there are plenty of others who’ll be waiting to take their chance should it come.
I’ve had a close look at leaderboards from recent years to try to identify some who like Muirfield, and to select a few potential obstacles for the world No. 1. If you’re looking for someone other than Woods to do well this weekend, the following five could well be in the shake up on Sunday afternoon.
Jonathan Byrd has been having a torrid time recently. With five missed cuts from seven starts, Byrd’s stats for this season do not make pleasant reading. Literally the only stat that offers any ray of hope is the fact that he tends not to miss left, probably little solace as he watches his ranking drop like a stone.
His decline in form began mid-summer last year, having started the season well. Notably however, one of his three Top-10 finishes last year came at The Memorial where he tied for sixth place. One of five Top-10 finishes in 2011 also came at the Memorial, and it was the site of his best finish in 2009, when he tied for third.
When you’re struggling like Byrd is, you need a course that fit’s the eye, and clearly for this player, Muirfield Village does just that. Positive memories may be just the thing to spark his ailing career into life again.
Having won here in 2010, and finishing eighth last year, Justin Rose will fancy his chances this weekend. The Englishman’s season had been progressing well before a missed cut at The Players Championship. Rose then took a couple of weeks off, including a shopping trip to New York, to recharge the batteries ahead of what will be a hectic summer schedule.
A disappointing final-round 74 at Wentworth on Sunday took the gloss off what could have been a reasonable week, but Rose will be ready for the Memorial. Muirfield is a course that suits his ever-improving game.
Matt Kuchar is another whose game seems to suit Muirfield Village. Top-10 finishes here in 2010 and 2011 will give Kuch plenty of positive mental fodder this weekend.
Having played 13 events already this year, a lot more than most of his fellow top-tanking pros, he seems to have found a very satisfying groove. His most notable performances this season include victory at the WGC Accenture Matchplay in February, a top-eight finish at The Masters and solo second place at last weeks Crowne Plaza Invitational. Everything points to another good performance from Kuchar this week.
Rory McIlroy’s year so far has been turbulent to say the least. Getting to grips with his new equipment, a walk-off at the Honda Classic and recent speculation about new management arrangements are just some of the star’s woes.
His play at Wentworth last week doesn’t inspire confidence either, but he’s returning to a course where he’s had two top-10 finishes in the last three years. If he wants to maintain his status as the main challenger to Woods, he must cope with the pressure that comes with the job, and in time I’m sure he will. I expect a big performance from McIlroy this weekend as he returns to American soil.
Luke Donald surprised many, himself included, with his poor performance at Wentworth, having won the BMW PGA title the last two years. He is usually a model of consistency, and we can expect a return to stability this week. He finished just outside the top-10 here last year, and tied for seventh in 2011.
Extremely fast greens are expected at Muirfield this week, and Donald’s prowess around the greens will serve him well, especially his exceptional short-range putting and bunker play.
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