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Fans were treated to a double dose of Muirfield Village Golf Club last year but we'll have to settle for one event this year.
The golfers will see a freshly renovated course when they step on-site this week. More about that in the next section below.
As an invitational event, the field is limited, with just 120 golfers pegging it this week. That means a relatively high percentage of golfers will make it through the cut line which is the standard top 65 and ties.
Muirfield Village Golf Club is a Jack Nicklaus design that opened in the 1970s and is a par 72 that can stretch out to 7,543 yards. That is 87 yards longer than the card yardage from last year's edition.
The increase in length is a byproduct of the 2020 course renovation which happened shortly after the 2020 Memorial.
The renovation was significant as most greens were completely recontoured and greenside bunkers were modified in the process. Only four of the greens will resemble the old greens (12, 13, 14, and 17). Greens also received updates to the grass (bentgrass), irrigation, and Precision Air systems.
With all that being said, course history may not be as useful this week, but the core of the course is still intact. The course is known for having generous landing areas off the tee, but also being restrictive in terms of forcing you to club down and take less-than-driver. It becomes a second-shot course in that regard with approach and around-the-green play being very important most weeks at Muirfield Village.
Historically, the fairway bunkers have been very tough at Jack's Place and there is water in play on half the holes. Known for hitting the high fade, many golfers have stated that ball flight works well here (and most other Nicklaus designs).
On approach, golfers see very small targets and they are targets you don't want to miss because the greens are some of the fastest they play all year. If you short-side yourself with the approach then you are going to have a very tough time trying to scramble because the greens roll out and your three-foot par savers suddenly turn into six-foot attempts.
Overall, this is a course that can play at a major championship level in terms of toughness, under the right conditions, but the weather is always a concern in the Dublin, Ohio area. Kuchar had this to say at the event back in 2016, "I always have a base layer and a ski cap coming here and make sure my rain gear is packed and ready to arrive and play."
We should keep an eye on the forecast and also keep an eye on the pre-tournament press conferences to get a good feel for how the changes to the course will impact the overall scoring environment.
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Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Adam Scott: "I like the fact it’s fairly generous off the tees here. That’s nice for me. I don’t hit the most fairways on the PGA Tour, so I get a little bit more room. There is a premium hitting into the greens then, and that is one of my strong suits. So when you’re on and you can put it in under the hole, and that’s important, because the greens are so fast."
Patrick Cantlay: "The golf course is really big, but the greens actually aren’t. They’re some of the smallest ones we play, and then also like for example on the 12th hole, it’s really like two greens. You’ve got the back right green and the front left green and it’s such a small area that the mistakes are magnified, and then you get in a wind like today and it’s even more magnified because if you’re not extremely precise, you can miss the green in a heartbeat."
Jordan Spieth: "As different as it looks, it plays pretty similar to Augusta. It’s a second shot golf course where it’s not the toughest off the tee, but playing to certain sides of the fairways have big advantages on angles to the pins. It’s tough to get the ball below the hole. Same as Augusta, unless you’re in the right spot where you’re attacking, and take your medicine if you’re not. "
Jamie Lovemark: "You have to be conservative off the tee. The fairways are pretty wide. But the greens are so fast and slippery that if you short side yourself you have no chance. 25-footer is not bad, though."
Jason Day: "It’s awkward because it’s a second shot golf course. The greens are quick. If you get yourself out of position on the golf course then you struggle to make par. And you have to hit a lot of fairways here.
And to me you have a lot of 3-woods in your hands. In the past I haven’t typically liked my 3-wood as much as the rest of my clubs. That’s why I hit driver or 2-iron. You get more drivers in your hands, you miss a few more fairways. The rough is up at least three inches, so you can’t get anything going."
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
TPC River Highlands
Bay Hill Club & Lodge
The theme this week is second-shot courses or courses with fast greens.
Thursday: Light Rain with a high of 76 degrees. Winds 8 to 12 MPH.
Friday: Sunny with a chance of rain and a high of 79 degrees. Winds calm at 6 to 9 MPH.
It looks like there will be plenty of rain in the lead-up to the event and potentially Thursday as well. The threat lowers from there and it should be good weather to finish things up this week.
Golfers to Watch
It was another close call for Spieth last week who now has top 15s in 8 of his last 10 stroke-play events. Now he heads to Muirfield Village, a course where he's grabbed top 15s in three of his last four visits. He should continue to be a popular click for weekly gamers.
The Spaniard is the defending champ this week. He missed the cut in his 2017 tournament debut and last year was just his second attempt at tackling the course. Rahm has failed to put himself in contention lately but he did backdoor top 10s at the Masters and the PGA Championship, gaining 6.6 strokes in round four of the Masters and 4.7 strokes in round four of the PGA Championship. Overall, he's gained strokes over the field average in 13 of 14 rounds played since becoming a new dad.
He's a past champ at Muirfield Village (2018) but has finished outside of the top 20 in each of his three other attempts. That includes a wild missed cut last year when he swallowed a '10' on the par-5 15th to drop from 1-over to 6-over with only three holes to play. Had he just carded a par there, he would have entered the weekend in a share of 31st place. Will that huge number haunt him this week when he returns to the scene of the crime this week or will he get revenge?
He got two looks at Muirfield Village last year, finishing third during the easy course setup (Workday Charity Open) but settled for 48th the next week when the rough was grown up and the greens were speedy. Now, the course has received an overhaul so he'll get to learn a new course for a third time in as many events played at Jack's Place. The young Norwegian enters the week with T3 finishes in two of his last three starts and a T30 at the PGA Championship. He's gained 10.9 strokes on approach in those three starts so his striking is solid at the moment.
The youngster rarely tries to hit a draw, leaning on the shot shape that works best for him. Perhaps it's no surprise then, that three of his four PGA TOUR titles have come on Nicklaus designs. That includes a win at this week's course when it hosted the Workday Charity Open last year.
Some say form is temporary but class is permanent. We've seen that come true lately when Jordan Spieth returning to his spot atop the golf world. Could Fowler be next? He hinted at a return to form when he posted a T17 at the Valero Texas Open before missing the next two cuts. Then he tossed together a T8 at the PGA Championship in his most recent start. Will he build on the momentum this time? His overall track record at Jack's Place is boom or bust, especially lately where he's traded three top 15s with four missed cuts in his last seven starts at the Memorial. He also added a T22 at the Workday last year.
It's a home game for the Aussie this week who is a member at Muirfield Village but has failed to translate his local knowledge to tournament success here in the past. The exception was last year when he posted a T7 at the Workday and followed it up with a T4 at the Memorial, his first two top 10s at his home course, in 13 total attempts. We know most golf courses were not able to do their normal maintenance last year due to COVID-19 policies so many of the PGA TOUR courses played a bit differently, or easier, shortly after the return of golf. Will Day go back to finishing outside of the top 25 at his home course, which he's done in 10-of-13 starts at MVGC? Or is this a good spot for him to snap out of his current slump?
Ranking the Field
1. Jordan Spieth
2. Viktor Hovland
3. Xander Schauffele
4. Jon Rahm
5. Tony Finau
6. Patrick Cantlay
7. Bryson DeChambeau
8. Justin Thomas
9. Collin Morikawa
10. Matthew Fitzpatrick
11. Patrick Reed
12. Rory McIlroy
13. Joaquin Niemann
14. Corey Conners
15. Hideki Matsuyama
16. Christiaan Bezuidenhout
17. Kevin Streelman
18. Charley Hoffman
19. Scottie Scheffler
20. Emiliano Grillo