May 28, 2014 2:52 pm
Updated: May 28, 2014 2:59 pm

Jack Nicklaus’ course is the lure for Memorial Tournament


WATCH: Preview of this week’s stop on the PGA TOUR, The Memorial Tournament.

As Arnold Palmer is to the Bay Hill Invitational, so is Jack Nicklaus to the Memorial Tournament.

And maybe there’s even a deeper connection between the game’s greatest golfer and his Ohio tournament because “The Golden Bear” actually designed Muirfield Village, the course where the event is held each year. Arnold has tweaked Bay Hill, but the design remains, at its core, the creation of the mind of Dick Wilson.

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Nicklaus has spent years tinkering with Muirfield, making improvements and changes in preparation for tournaments like last year’s Presidents Cup. To many, it is one of the most intriguing tests the PGA Tour faces each year.

Maybe that’s why when young superstar Jordan Spieth called the course and its practice facilities “a joke,” he meant that they were so good they make everything else pale in comparison. At least that has to be what he thought considering he called the course “incredible.”

“It’s a big golf course,” he says. “I remember the Memorial last year being the fastest greens I ever putted on until Augusta this year, so they’re up there. I enjoy that. It’s a lot of risk-reward. You have to strike the ball extremely well.”

In many ways courses like Memorial separate great ball strikers from those that are simply average, and separates the most resilient golfers from the pack in the same way the U.S. Open does. That’s why Matt Kuchar, who is defending this week, calls Muirfield a “championship test of golf.” It may not be a major, but it has the feel of one.

“I think this course demands you to do everything well,” says Kuchar. “These greens seem to get every bit as fast as Augusta National.  You have to be on your game.

Driving is certainly a premium here.  I tend to hit more than most.  I tend to challenge some of the shorter holes knowing those are opportunities for me to turn into real birdie-able holes and know that my driving is one of my strengths, so I tend to challenge those a little more than most…But I think in order to do well, you just have to have all parts of your game working,” Kuchar concluded, stating the obvious.

The past winners look like a who’s who of the best of the game. Tiger Woods took the title home five times, but won’t be in the field this week as he is recovering from back surgery. But other great ball strikers, like U.S. Open champ Justin Rose, Steve Stricker and Kenny Perry, have all had success at Memorial, where the course can’t be overwhelmed by length off the tee.

Interestingly, Muirfield is a course that even those who haven’t been successful in the tournament enjoy. Take Masters winner Bubba Watson. He has a number of average finishes at the tournament, but certainly nothing to suggest the course fits his game. In many instances a tour pro might skip a tournament at a course where he’s not been successful. But Jack and the lure of Muirfield bring Watson back time and again.

“I love this place,” he says. “Coming back here, it’s one of the places that you always see a great field, good golf course. For me, I love the look of it.  I don’t think I’ve ever played very well here, but I love coming back and challenging myself.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a real high finish, but I look forward to the challenge.”

But like all golfers, Watson is optimistic that this will be his week.

“Hopefully now that I’m playing a little bit better, making my way a little bit better, hopefully it will show Sunday afternoon,” he says.

This week on the PGA Tour: The Memorial Tournament

  • Television times: Saturday May 31 2-6 p.m.; Sunday 2:30-6 p.m. on Global TV
  • Canadians in the field: David Hearn, Mike Weir
  • Note: Graham DeLaet isn’t playing this week after injuring his foot at the Colonial last weekend. His agent says he’s taking the week off to be certain he can be ready for the U.S. Open. DeLaet finished in a tie for 21st last year

Players to watch:

  • Matt Kuchar: The defending champion of the Memorial, the human ATM has been in the Top 10 at the tournament practically every year since turning pro. He had a rare missed cut last week at Colonial. Expect a different result this week.
  • Mike Weir: Coming off a second-place showing at the Byron Nelson, Weir will want to show his rebound is for real. He tied for second at the Memorial in 2008, and it’ll be interesting to see if his strong play continues.
  • Justin Rose: Memorial is a shotmaker’s course, and defending U.S. Open champ Rose seems primed to play well at Jack’s place. A past winner at the Memorial, no one will be surprised to see Rose’s name at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the week.

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