(CBS Pittsburgh) -- The PGA Tour returns to Muirfield Village for the next event of the resumed season. This week is the Memorial Tournament, among the season's more popular events. Rescheduled from early June, it replaces the Open Championship on the calendar.
The Memorial is a worthy substitute for the canceled fourth major. It's the event Tour legend Jack Nicklaus started on the course he designed, with the hope it would one day be as exceptional as the Masters.
"Jack Nicklaus prides himself on getting as close to perfect as possible, condition-wise, practice facility-wise, attending to the players," says CBS Sports golf analyst Frank Nobilo. "In some respects, he modeled this golf course after Augusta National from a point of view of convenience and excellence. So you put it all together in one pot, and you have really the ultimate PGA Tour event."
>>STREAM: Memorial Tournament
The 45th annual Memorial certainly promises to be exceptional this year. And expectations heightened a bit after an epic finish at the Workday Charity Open. Collin Morikawa bested Justin Thomas in a three-hole playoff for his second Tour win. Many contenders return this week as part of the Memorial's strongest field in recent memory. Tiger Woods will be among them.
The Memorial generally attracts one of the best fields for a non-major. However, a three-month shutdown has changed the calculation somewhat, as more players take the opportunity to compete while they can. The first three post-hiatus events all boasted major-caliber fields overflowing with world-class talent. Even the one-off Workday was a nice surprise.
The Memorial field, expanded from 120 to 133 players, projects to be the best so far. Nine of the world's top-10 players, and 17 of the top 20, have committed. Of the missing three, Tyrrell Hatton (15th) is the only one to have competed since the Tour's return. Adam Scott (9th) and Tommy Fleetwood (12th) remain in Australia and England respectively, unwilling to commit to long stays in the U.S.
World number one Rory McIlroy returns from a week off to a course where he's had some success, with four top-10 finishes in eight appearances. His game the last month has seemed a bit rusty, however. "It's time that Rory McIlroy stepped it up," says Nobilo. "The good thing about Muirfield Village is it's a big golf course. So it's a golf course that you should see Rory McIlroy play well."
Bryson DeChambeau (7th), the world's best player over the last month, will join McIlroy after a week off as well. "Bryson's become a long, straight driver the golf ball," notes Nobilo. "What he did a couple of weeks ago in Detroit was just mind-blowing... He became the first player ever to average over 350 yards off the tee with a driver. I never thought I would see that in my day. So that works on any golf course."
Thomas (3rd) will look to shake off a stinging loss at the Workday that could've been a win had he not bogeyed two of the final three holes. Defending Memorial champion Patrick Cantlay (10th) and Workday champion Morikawa (13th), both of whom shot 19-under in their respective wins, will also tee it up.
The biggest story, of course, is the return of Tiger Woods (14th). As anticipated, Woods will play his first Tour event since February. (He also teamed up with Peyton Manning against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady in The Match: Champions for Charity in May.) He has won the Memorial five times in his career, most recently in 2012. On one hand, this will be the best competition he's faced at Muirfield Village. On the other hand, rest and health (of which he has both) are key to his competitiveness at this point in his career.
"A win is such a lofty expectation though," says Nobilo. "He hasn't won this since 2012. And I know, Ohio has been a great hunting ground for him, because he won eight events at Firestone and five at Muirfield Village. But his last win in Ohio was seven years ago. So, just to see him compete, I think we should be thankful. To see him contend, that would be icing on the cake."
Muirfield Village will endure its second tournament in as many weeks. The expanded 7,456-yard par-72 track will be adjusted for the Memorial, both to challenge players and protect the course from wear and tear. Look for relocated tee boxes and pins to go along with higher rough and faster greens. "The biggest change will be, providing the weather holds out, a firmer, faster, tougher golf course," says Nobilo.
The green speeds, which measured about 11.5 on the stimpmeter last week, will be closer to 13 this week. That introduces a little more caution into the equation. "All of a sudden the strategy changes," says Nobilo.
Predicting winners is a tall order in any PGA Tour event, let alone one with such a stacked field. Here are the favorites:
Bryson DeChambeau (9-1)
DeChambeau, with his added power, finally gets a crack at a longer golf course. He has finished in the top 10 in each of his post-hiatus events, including a win two weeks ago at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. His additional length will afford him some additional scoring opportunities at Muirfield Village, where he won the Memorial in 2018.
Justin Thomas (11-1)
Thomas narrowly missed a win at Muirfield Village last week. Instead he added his third top-10 finish since the return. It was also his third top-10 finish on the course; he was fourth and eighth at the Memorial in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Thomas, an experienced pro, should be able to compartmentalize the recent disappointing loss and contend once again.
Rory McIlroy (12-1)
McIlroy maintains his top ranking, but hasn't looked the part in his three recent events. His best post-return finish is an 11th place tie at the Travelers Championship. Muirfield Village, being a longer course where he's notched four top-10 finishes, should allow him to open things up a bit.
Watch the Memorial Tournament Saturday, July 18, 3:00 - 6:00 PM ET and Sunday, July 19, 3:30 – 7:00 PM ET on CBS.
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