Top field assembles for Memorial Tournament
The greens are fast, the course is long and the field includes the best players in the world.
Ernie Els is back to defend his title heading into Thursday's opening round of the Memorial Tournament, but he's under no illusion that what he faces at Muirfield Village is the same as what he'll see in two weeks at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
``This is a quality event. It stands very high on the PGA Tour calendar. The field is great,'' said Els, who held off Fred Couples and Tiger Woods to win a year ago. ``But majors are different. You're never going to change that.''
Woods took it a step further when asked to compare the Memorial to a major.
``Apples and oranges,'' he said. ``Still, this golf course is one of the best tour stops we have all year 'round. All the guys look forward to playing here each and every year.''
There's a reason why over the last decade the Memorial has been won by Els, Woods (three times), Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Couples and Kenny Perry.
``You have to hit every single golf shot,'' said Woods, playing for the first time since his record 142-tournament cut streak ended at the Byron Nelson Championship. ``On top of the swirling winds that usually happen here each and every year, quality ball strikers seem to win here. Also, on this golf course you have to manage your game so well. The majority of the winners who have come through here are major championship winners.''
Players with a major victory on their resume have won 11 of the last 12 Memorials.
Even though the Memorial's rough isn't nearly as high nor the greens close to being as slick as the Open, many are still using the tournament to tune their games for the challenges that lie ahead.
``The way everything is set up, it's great to play this golf course and this tournament two weeks before the U.S. Open because you can really get the feel of getting into big tournaments,'' Els said.
Another reason so many players annually make the trek to suburban Columbus is to play in the tournament founded by Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus, a native of the area, is set to play in his 30th Memorial -- the only player to tee it up in all of them -- in what might be his last show in the United States playing against the best on tour.
``I think, as a host here, I may play, I may not play, but I'll reserve that right and try to be able to play here,'' the 65-year-old Nicklaus said of his plans after this year's tournament.
He's planning on making his final appearance in a British Open next month at St. Andrew's.
Almost two decades removed from his last major title at the 1986 Masters, Nicklaus is still revered whenever he puts a tee in the ground here. He received a standing ovation when he was introduced during a ceremony near the 18th green Wednesday.
Els said he would miss seeing Nicklaus play when he decides to end his career.
``Whenever these legends stop playing, that's a sad moment,'' he said.
The top seven players on the tour money list, with the exception of No. 2 Phil Mickelson, are in the field. Mickelson withdrew on May 16 because of a scheduling mistake which he said would have prevented him from adequately preparing for the Open.
Singh, the world's No. 1-ranked player, said putting is at a premium in the race for the $990,000 first-place check at the Memorial.
``You've got to putt well here,'' he said. ``Ernie had 100 putts last year (in four rounds). If Ernie has 100 putts, who's going to beat him? Hardly anyone can beat him.''
Davis Love III, feeling good after battling neck pain, has never finished higher than a tie for fifth in his 14 appearances at Jack's tournament. He said the depth of talent in the field almost eliminates the possibility of an upstart or unknown winning.
``We've seen some low rounds, especially when it's soft,'' he said. ``But this course will make you pay if you make mistakes. I think the best players come out on top more the harder the golf course is.''
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