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Pappas: Ready for memorable moments at the Memorial?

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By Pete Pappas

GolfWRX Staff Writer

The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village is one of my favorite events of the season.  And not just because it’s a stone’s throw down the road from me in Dublin, Ohio, one of just two times the Tour visits the “Buckeye State.”

It’s also because Muirfield is “Jack’s Place.”

You know you’re in for something special at Muirfield immediately when you’re greeted by a larger than life bronze sculpture of the 19-time major winner Jack Nicklaus instructing a young boy on the golf swing.

The child seems to hang on Jack’s every word but also appears mischievously eager to put the ball in play.

Jack points out towards the horizon as if to instruct his mindful pupil “now before you hit the ball you need to pick a spot out there and an intermediate target too …”  (referring to his meticulously famous pre-shot routine in picking primary and intermediate targets to establish aim).

When the “Golden Bear” created the Memorial in 1976 he envisioned an event that would draw the world’s top players to central Ohio. And it has not disappointed.

World No. 1 Luke Donald, World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, World No. 7 Tiger Woods (making his 13th appearance but absent since 2010), and defending champion World No. 8 Steve Stricker will all tee it up Thursday in Dublin for the 37th playing of the Memorial.

Last year Stricker shot a final round 68 but needed a couple of clutch par-saving putts at No. 16 and No. 17 to pull out a one-shot victory and hold off runner-ups Matt Kuchar and Brandt Jobe (both of whom carded final round 65s).

The field this week includes 18 of the 21 winners on Tour in 2012, 17 of the Top-20 in the FedExCup standings, and eight of the Top-10 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

“It’s on everybody’s short list of tournaments they would love to win,” said World No. 10 Justin Rose.  “And that comes down to Jack Nicklaus and what he represents.”

The Memorial is one of just five tournaments given invitational status by the PGA Tour and consequently only 120 players rather than the normal 156 are in the field.  The top-75 players on the previous year’s money list are guaranteed invitees.

Also making the event unique is a yearly induction ceremony and plaque presentation honoring golfers who’ve made significant contributions to the game.  The special plaques are displayed prominently near the clubhouse.  And this year’s inductee is eight-time major champion Tom Watson (who also won the Memorial in 1979 and 1996).

Memorable Memorial Moments

In 1976 Roger Maltbie won the inaugural Memorial Tournament defeating Hale Irwin in a sudden-death playoff, but not without a little luck.  On the third playoff hole Maltbie’s approach sailed left of the green, heading straight for the gallery. But his shot miraculously hit a stake and bounced back onto the green. Maltbie salvaged par and went on to win on the next playoff hole.

In 1977 Nicklaus defeated Hubert Green by two strokes after inclement weather forced the tournament to finish on Monday.

In 1984 Nicklaus became a two-time winner of his own tournament defeating Andy Bean in a sudden-death playoff.  The win turned out to be Jack’s last non-major victory of his illustrious career.

In 1994 Tom Lehman cruised to a five-shot victory over Greg Norman and established the tournament record shooting 278 (20-under).

In 2001 Woods won the Memorial for the third consecutive year dismantling Sergio Garcia and Paul Azinger by a sizable seven-stroke margin.

The House That Jack Built

Muirfield Village Golf Club is ranked as the sixth most popular course on Tour by the players.  It’s also ranked as the 19th most difficult on Tour in 2011.

Muirfield features some of the fastest greens on Tour, and the spectacular par-4 448-yard finishing hole is the toughest on the course.

More than 20,000 spectators gather at No. 18 to witness the tournament’s end and the traditional Nicklaus handshake greeting to the winner walking off the green.

The Greek Syndicate

The beautiful thing about this season is anyone can win any given week.  It’s also the horrendous thing about this season as it makes picking a winner all the more difficult.

Nevetheless, I remain undaunted.

With one week off I’m returning fresh and giddy with anticipation this weeks picks will pan out for me.

Here we go.

Top-25

Phil Mickelson (16/1)

Mickelson bounced back at the HP Byron Nelson Championship two weeks ago finishing in seventh place with a strong final round.  But he’s struggled overall this past month, particularly with inconsistent iron play.

I don’t think he finds consistency this week.  He’ll have a good opening few days, but fall off over the weekend.

Stricker (25/1)

Stricker’s silky smooth putting stroke helped him win here last year.  But he’s never played well at Muirfield before last season.

His victory here last year was driven in large part by a wildly hot streak in the middle rounds that I just don’t see him duplicating.

Top-10

Donald (9/1)

Donald has finished in the top-6 in five of his last seven starts.  And the new World No. 1 has 15 top-10 finishes in his last 17 events.  Sizzle!

Donald is on a roll and I always bet on the hot hand.

Top-5

Justin Rose (18/1)

I love what Rose has done this year.  Four top-10 finishes and a victory.  He won here in 2010 by three shots over Rickie Fowler.

For my money he’s come closer than any player to having three wins this season.  I like him and Fowler to battle it out on Sunday down the stretch.

Outside Top-25

Mcilroy (12/1)

McIlroy has two top-10 finishes at Muirfield the past two years.  But he’s struggled of late.

Even with all his talent I don’t see him turning it around this week.  However another poor finish might be the wake-up call he needs with the U.S. Open approaching.

Woods (16/1)

Woods has never missed a cut at Muirfield.  He has 10 top-10 finishes here.  And he has the best scoring average at Memorial of anyone in the field.

So why pick him to finish outside the top-25?

Because I believe Woods is an absolute wreck.  And he won’t be fixed until he reunites with Butch Harmon.

You heard it here first. Expect a Woods-Harmon reunion next season (I’m invoking my privilege to not reveal my confidential source).

And expect continued inconsistent and mediocre play from Woods the rest of this season (no source on this one, just common sense).

Missed Cut

Bubba Watson (22/1)

Watson’s admittedly rusty.  But he expects to “play good golf.”  I think the spotlight and attention is still a learning experience for him and growing pains are forthcoming.

Watson’s great for the game.  But he won’t be around this weekend.

Winner

Rickie Fowler (20/1)

People have been waiting for Rickie to break out for some time now and now that he finally has he’s a different player.

Fowler was a runner-up here in 2010.

He’s always had the talent.  It was just a matter of when.  Fowler picks up another win and puts himself into contention for “2012 Player of the Year.”

Groups To Watch

Kyle Stanley, Mark Wilson, Jason Day

Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley

Tiger Woods, Bill Haas, Fred Couples

Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose, Steve Sticker

Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson

Tiger Woods, Bill Haas, Freddie Couples

Ryan Moore, Spencer Levin, Greg Owen

Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott

Charley Hoffman, Ernie Els, Stewart Cink.

The Yellow Shirt

Before Fowler decided “Sing Sing Prison Orange” was a good look for Championship Sunday,  and before Tiger’s “Fire Red” became a reason for competitors to cringe in fear at Woods’ mere presence…

There was Jack’s “Yellow Shirt.”

Jack’s yellow shirt of course commemorates that remarkable day in 1986 when the 46 year-old “Golden Bear” in the twilight of his career won The Masters for his sixth and final time.  And in the process gave the game one of its greatest moments in history.

What Jack’s yellow shirt also symbolizes however is the even greater gift it gave to a young boy in 1968 who was diagnosed with a rare and terminal cancer at the age of 11.

That boy’s name was Craig Smith.

Craig loved golf.  Jack was his idol. And yellow was Craig’s favorite color.

After Jack learned of Craig’s diagnosis he met with Craig and promised him he’d wear yellow every Sunday as his way of saying “Hello Craig.”

“I wanted to bring as much joy into the last part of that boy’s life as I could,” Jack said.  “It was a mutual thing between us.”

It was mutual because Craig also wore yellow on Sundays.

Craig’s mother recalled watching Craig leaping off the sofa with excitement the first time he saw Jack wearing yellow on television, “Craig would say ‘hello to you too Jack’ when he watched Jack,” his mom said.

It was their secret, between Jack and Craig.

Tragically two years later Craig lost his courageous battle with cancer and passed away at age 13.

In 1986 Nicklaus’ game was in decline and his career on its last legs.  He hadn’t won a tournament in two years.  And it had been six years since he last won a major.

But something unbelievable would happen at the 1986 Masters.  And many believe it was because Nicklaus decided to wear the yellow shirt on Sunday one more time.

Yellow is the color of rebirth.  And Jack wore it again to inspire and honor the memory of his brave young friend with an unwavering spirit.

As Jack walked up the 18th fairway on Sunday about to win The Masters for the sixth time, he couldn’t help but believe Craig was watching from above.

“I looked up to sky and said wow, is this really happening?”  Jack said.

Today the Yellow Shirt Fund exists to support pediatric cancer patients nationwide including those in Ohio being treated at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

And Jack’s “yellow shirt” more than ever still inspires us all to continue in the fight against pediatric cancer.

Notes

Tickets for the event are always some of the biggest sellers for any non-major on the PGA Tour.

Purse: $6.2 million; Winner’s share: $1.116 million

Television Coverage

Thursday and Friday: Golf Channel 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. EST

Saturday and Sunday: NBC 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. EST

Radio Coverage

Thursday through Sunday: SiriusXM Satellite Radio 12:00 – 6:00 pm ET

Odds

Odds provided by Las Vegas PGA Tour Golf Betting Odds.

You can follow Pete on Twitter @TheGreekGrind

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum.

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Pete is a journalist, commentator, and interviewer covering the PGA Tour, new equipment releases, and the latest golf fashions. Pete's also a radio and television personality who's appeared multiple times on ESPN radio, and Fox Sports All Bets Are Off. And when he's not running down a story, he's at the range working on his game. Above all else, Pete's the proud son of a courageous mom who battled pancreatic cancer much longer than anyone expected. You can follow Pete on twitter @PGAPappas

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. cjoel

    Jun 4, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Woods is an absolute wreck?? Ha. Feeling a little foolish over those comments yet?

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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