The Memorial: Ortiz makes strong case for FRL

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The PGA Tour heads to Dublin, Ohio for this week’s Memorial Tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus. While a routine stop on the calendar, players will need to contend with a new-look Muirfield Village. As players were wrapping up their 2020 Memorial Tournament, Nicklaus and company had begun their renovations. That will be a biggest question mark heading into the week as we try to figure out just how differently Jack’s Place will play.

In the past, Muirfield Village rewarded strong ball-strikers with an emphasis on iron-play. I doubt that changes much this week as Nicklaus’s major changes to the golf course occurred on and around the greens. Having redone the majority of the putting surfaces and surrounding bunkers, the need to put the ball in play is still prevalent.

From the fairway, players may face smaller landing areas on the greens than they have grown accustomed to over the years. The newly contoured greens will likely wreak havoc on players the first couple of days. Whichever player is able to adjust quickly and throw out previous intuition may be the most successful by week’s end.

For our purposes, this player needs just one solid round, so while course history tends to factor into first-round selections, it won’t as much this week. I’ll be treating it as if the players are playing a brand-new course, such as The Concession Club or the Ocean Course earlier this season.

As of now, rain is forecasted for the majority of Wednesday and there is a slight chance of scattered thunderstorms on Thursday. That has been a common theme at Muirfield Village as a weather delay has almost become an integral part of the tournament. We will continue to monitor the weather, but softer conditions may take some bite out of these new, firm, and fast greens.

The oddsmakers at PointsBet Sportsbook have priced the first-round leader market ahead of The Memorial Tournament. Leading the way at +2200 is tournament-favorite and defending champion, Jon Rahm. The world No. 3 will look to get off to a fast start as he tries to capture his first victory of the season.

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Odds to Lead After the First-Round (odds via PointsBet):

+2200: Jon Rahm

+2500: Bryson DeChambeau, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy

+2800: Hideki Matsuyama, Viktor Hovland

+3000: Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele

+4000: Corey Conners, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowry, Tony Finau

+5000: Adam Scott, Jason Day, Joaquin Niemann, Keegan Bradley, Patrick Reed, Scottie Scheffler, Sungjae Im

To Lead After the First-Round (odds via PointsBet):

Keegan Bradley (+5000):

Another week, another selection of Bradley to lead after the first-round. I mentioned last week that Cameron Tringale was becoming close to an “auto-bet” on Thursdays, but the force is even stronger with Bradley. Here was in the mix for us at the PGA Championship, posting a 3-under 69 alongside a number of other players.

It appeared as good as gold before Corey Conners posted 5-under, but the strong Thursday form is clearly intact. It was the same story for Bradley as he posted 2.0 Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, 2.4 SG: Approach, and 1.7 SG: Around-the-Green. The putter let him down for the first time in a while (on Thursday) and I am hoping that was just a small blemish on a rather spotless first-round resume.

Between the Workday Charity Open and the Memorial last year, Bradley lost a whooping 11.9 strokes on the greens. With newly revamped putting surfaces and a resurgence with the flat stick, Bradley should be able to leave those bad vibes in the past. Long-term, he does his best work on bent grass and hopefully that is the case in Round 1.

Billy Horschel (+6000):

Horschel was one of the few players to play well at both the Workday Charity Open and the Memorial last season. A T-7 at the softer, more receptive Workday was followed up with a T-13 on a firmer and faster Muirfield Village a week later. Granted, the course will likely play different than years’ past, but it's comforting to know Horschel has shown an affinity to Jack’s Place in various conditions.

He got off to a quick start last week at the Charles Schwab Challenge, only to falter on his back-nine. He ended up losing 2.8 SG: Approach in his first-round, which is baffling as I type it out. I’ll overlook such an outlier as his recent iron-play has been impressive. Combine that with Horschel’s ability to roll in putts with the best of them and that’s enough to get me over the edge.

When players faced a new course at The Concession, Horschel opened with a 5-under 67 to trail by one after the first-round. With some unfamiliarity arising this week, I’ll look to that performance rather than his past first-rounds at The Memorial as he has never broken 70 on a Thursday here.

Carlos Ortiz (+10000):

For whatever reason, Ortiz and Muirfield Village do not mix. He’s had little to no success in Dublin, Ohio, but how he finished in Fort Worth, Texas could change his fortune this week. Gaining 6.6 strokes tee-to-green at the Charles Schwab Challenge, Ortiz’s game looks to be in a similar spot to where it was before he won the Houston Open in November.

Ortiz gained 4.1 strokes tee-to-green in his final round of the Charles Schwab, 2.8 strokes of which were with his irons. And when looking back at his last performance on a Jack Nickalus design, the ZOZO Championship at Sherwood CC, Ortiz posted 6.4 SG: Approach for the week, but was hampered by putting woes.

As you can infer, the putter let the Mexican down at Colonial CC, but I wouldn’t expect him to make a habit of it this week. The last three times Ortiz lost more than two-strokes on the greens, he has followed it up by gaining 1.8, 5.1, and 6.1 strokes putting in his next start. He’s shown the ability to bounce back and with the ball-striking in tune, I’m hoping the putts pour in on Thursday.

Max Homa (+10000):

It hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies as of late for the internet’s favorite golfer, but I believe this week could provide yet another turning point for Homa. While he does typically struggle on bent grass, his ability to catch a hot putter puts him above his counterparts in this range and deservingly has garnered my attention.

In his last six starts, Homa has three rounds where has had gained more than four-strokes putting. One of those instances occurred in the first-round of the Valspar Championship about a month ago. Homa arrived there with no previous success at the Copperhead Course, similar to how he arrives to The Memorial.

It’s true, it appears that he is in the midst of some sort of slump, but I think he’s done a good job of hiding just how close he is to return to top-notch form. The Wells Fargo was skewed by a poor first-round in his first title defense and the PGA Championship fails to mention Homa chipping into the water on the 17th hole of his first-round. He’s proven to be a class player and at triple-digit odds, I like him to start fast.

Jason Dufner (+12500):

When looking at past first-round leaders at Muirfield Village, they appear to come from one end of the spectrum or the other. While you have seen first-round leaders such as Dustin Johnson, Finau, and Morikawa, you’ve also had your fair share of longshots like Ryan Moore, an unknown Niemann, and Dufner.

So, we’ll go back to the well with the 2017 Memorial champion as his putting performance last week at Colonial CC offers a glimmer of hope. It’s long been known that Dufner’s putter has held him back, but outside of a few really poor performances, it hasn’t been all that bad this season. Maybe I’m grasping at straws, but at +12500 I’ve done much worse.

Over his last two first-rounds, Dufner has gained 3.9 SG: Putting. Yes, you read that correctly, as the full-tournament statistics appear skewed due to an inevitable poor putting round or two. While he has struggled to marry the solid ball-striking with a cooperative putter, if there’s a place to do it, it’s at a new-look Muirfield Village that should provide comfort tee-to-green and a new sense of hope on the greens.

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