the Memorial Tournament preview and best bets

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Ben Coley expects Rory McIlroy to continue his excellent run of form by contending in the Memorial Tournament, hosted by Jack Nicklaus.

Golf betting tips: Memorial Tournament

4pts e.w. Rory McIlroy at 9/1 (Boylesports 1/5, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, 9,10)

1pt e.w. Brendan Steele at 100/1 (Boylesports 1/5, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)

1pt e.w. Patrick Rodgers at 150/1 (Boylesports 1/5, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook


We get to see Muirfield Village for the fourth time in little more than two years as the Memorial Tournament again serves as the bridge between the PGA Championship and the US Open. Some of these events from April to July get lost a little, others act as practice grounds for the major to come, but the Memorial stands up on its own: this is a fabulous tournament hosted by one of the finest players in the sport’s history in Jack Nicklaus, and the course he designed is presented to a standard no major can hope to surpass. Throw in those famous milkshakes, and you have yourself a party.

While Justin Thomas and Scottie Scheffler are both absent, this is a suitably strong field and it’s increasingly hard to envisage the sort of result which has been thrown up here in the past. David Lingmerth seeing off Justin Rose and William McGirt holding firm against the likes of Dustin Johnson reminds us all that no golf tournament can be limited to a select group of elite players, but there are some leaderboards which feel harder for the lower-ranked player to penetrate than others. This is one of them, and Sunday’s will be packed with top-class golfers.

Such a likelihood is underlined not just by the recent Muirfield Village roll-of-honour, which reads Collin Morikawa, Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay, but for how it should probably read: Thomas, Rahm, Rahm. First, Thomas somehow opened the door for Morikawa to beat him in a play-off in the one-off Workday Charity Open, and then last year we witnessed something perhaps even more dramatic, as Rahm walked off the 18th green on Saturday with a six-shot lead, only to be told he’d tested positive for Covid-19 and would be withdrawn from the event.

Not that Rahm should feel any regret. None of us can say for sure, but there is at the very least a very strong chance he would not have come out and won the US Open on his next start but for the harsh penalty he received here. Rahm dealt with it fantastically well, regathered himself, and arrived at Torrey Pines feeling somehow like he was meant to win his first major at the site of his first PGA Tour win. Then he went out and made it happen.

Given his impeccable course credentials and perhaps even the sense of unfinished business he’ll still feel, Rahm’s holds obviously strong claims. He has to bounce back from missing the cut in the PGA Championship but remember who he played with over the first two rounds, in the worst of the weather? Scottie Scheffler, who came out and very nearly won the Charles Schwab Challenge to confirm that one bad week in bad circumstances really doesn’t change anything as far as the bigger picture goes.

Rahm might do the same and saving on him to cover the week makes some sense, but I think this is a really good chance for RORY MCILROY to add his name to a list of world-class winners this spring, and he’s preferred each-way.

Muirfield Village has always looked a good course for McIlroy. Like so many former winners, ranging from the surprising (Lingmerth) to the obvious (Rahm), he’s an exceptional driver of the ball who relishes the visuals and the width of a Nicklaus design like this one. It’s a course McIlroy can go out and attack, and there’s no doubt victory here can be built on the strongest club in his bag.

We often describe Nicklaus courses as ‘second shot’, owing to the space he and his design team generally afford off the tee, and it’s a fair description of this course for all that it probably does underestimate the benefits of driving it long. Morikawa beating Thomas in a play-off is a very strong pointer in that direction, and Rahm’s approach play last year had been out of this world until he was told he would not be able to return for the final round.

Approach play is often the area of McIlroy’s game which is the most exasperating, and clearly it has been less impressive in recent years than it was during his dominant run in the middle of the last decade. But there are encouraging signs at the moment that his work with long-time coach Michael Bannon is helping, as he’s ranked 13th, 12th and 15th across his last three starts. These have been his best three performances of the year and in terms of his bottom-line numbers, they’re improving: +3.24, +4.66, +4.85.

If he continues to move in the right direction, it’ll be hard to keep McIlroy out of the frame at a course where he boasts four top-10 finishes, two of them when putting badly. He’s generally putted these fast, contoured greens well, and has shown several times how much he enjoys the test which Muirfield Village presents off the tee. The missing ingredient in recent years has been his approach play, but seldom has he arrived with that aspect of his game so healthy as it is now.

We know he’s highly motivated having felt he’d blown a good chance to post a competitive number in the PGA Championship, as well as making a mess of his second round from the front. He said during that event that he feels his game right now is where it was in 2019, when he won four times to set up a return to the top of the world rankings just before the pandemic, and at a big, parkland par 72 where conditions are in his favour, he’s fancied to at the very least extend a run of top-10 finishes to four.

Dangers are everywhere you look, including course specialist and 2021 opportunist Patrick Cantlay, plus Morikawa and Hovland. Morikawa in particular is respected given how immediately at ease with this layout he’s proven himself to be, although Hovland’s third place in the Workday Charity Open behind his old college rival was a strong indication that he’ll win this title at some stage, too.

Xander Schauffele is a player to set your watch by and has done very little wrong since the Masters (1-5-13) and while Cameron Smith’s course form is terrible, his long-game has never been better. That’s probably also true of Sungjae Im who, like Smith, hasn’t yet been a factor here, but does boast a win at the Nicklaus-designed PGA National and may yet adapt this challenge. The fact I’ve not yet come to Will Zalatoris, Hideki Matsuyama, Shane Lowry, Matt Fitzpatrick and Cameron Young says much about the strength of this field.

Who are the best outsiders?

But I’m very happy to go into bat with just one of the big names and will supplement the headline selection with a couple of each-way plays, starting with BRENDAN STEELE.

His record here might not leap off the page, but Steele has made nine cuts in 11 and has only missed one edition since earning PGA Tour membership. That’s likely because he knows how well suited he is to what’s a big, fairly difficult course, and he’s done everything but put four rounds together, leading at halfway in 2016, sitting third after round one in 2020, and again making a solid start last year.

All told he’s been inside the top 30 at halfway six times, more than half of his appearances, and his winning form in the Texas Open and at Silverado in his home state of California lines up pretty nicely with this challenge. Ultimately, I think he’s got a game made for Muirfield Village, having been among the most reliable drivers of the last decade and capable of quality approach play when at his best.

Encouragingly, that best may not be far away. Steele’s long-game has really turned a corner this spring, to the extent that he’s ranked inside the top five in strokes-gained tee-to-green in three of his last five measured starts. That includes the US PGA where he ranked fourth in approach play, when finishing 13th at Sawgrass despite a balky putter, and when that club also cost him a chance in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Form figures of 26-13-4*-51-9 (the asterisk marks the Zurich Classic, a pairs event in which he and Keegan Bradley went well) underline the state of his game and two top-five finishes in the last three editions of the Honda Classic give us some additional Nicklaus form. That helped point to Aaron Wise at a big price last year, when he proved that modest-looking course form was misleading with a breakthrough top 10, and Steele’s record here is also better than it first appears.

Wise is respected again and so is Erik van Rooyen, who took a shine to the course on his sole visit in 2020, playing beautifully from tee to green. Since then, the South African has won his first PGA Tour title and at a Nicklaus-designed course, too, while his patchy recent record includes good performances at Sawgrass and Harbour Town not too long ago. That said, the 2020 renewal of this tournament was a little freakish as organisers let the greens drift beyond their control, so it may not be as useful a pointer as first appears.

Instead, I’ll take a real chance on PATRICK RODGERS, who is still seeking his PGA Tour breakthrough having once been spoken of in similar terms to Thomas after the pair had been star amateurs.

Seeing Thomas win another major is bound to remind Rodgers how far he is from where he was meant to be, but in his own way he’s offered plenty of encouragement lately. Rodgers finished 10th in Mexico and 32nd in the Byron Nelson, both times driving it well, and making the cut at Colonial last week is another positive as he’d missed the cut in four of his previous five starts there.

Muirfield Village is certainly a better fit, as he was ninth through 54 holes here in 2020, eighth in 2018, and fifth at halfway on debut back in 2015. Despite being unable to quite see that through, Rodgers’ performance on an invite was enough to earn Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour, and therefore played a big part in those early stages of his professional career.

No, things haven’t panned out as expected but he’s shown the qualities required to win, going very close in the John Deere and in the RSM Classic when beaten in a play-off. Much of his best form has been produced in the northern states, too, including that performance in Illinois, several good efforts here, and third place in the Travelers Championship in Connecticut.

That performance aside, Rodgers has also generally saved his best for longer courses which require plenty of drivers such as when second at Quail Hollow, fourth at Torrey Pines and seventh in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and if you look at his career-best performances in terms of world ranking points earned, two of them have come in this tournament.

With his 30th birthday coming up at the end of this month and opportunities here, in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Connecticut, the Indiana native might feel that this is the summer that ignites his career. It’s of course a big ask but he’s a fascinating each-way player back where he knows he can score, and has always had the talent to rub shoulders with the likes of McIlroy.

Posted at 1730 BST on 30/05/22

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