Inside the ropes – The Memorial Tournament
By TOM LaMARRE
The Sports Xchange
Tiger Woods has won the Memorial Tournament a record five times, but the iconic moment at Muirfield Village comes from none of those victories. The most enduring image from the events at Jack Nicklaus’ course in Dublin, Ohio, is of Seve Ballesteros of Spain spraying champagne from a giant magnum on his European teammates after they won the Ryder Cup for the first time on American soil in 1987. It rubbed many of the Americans the wrong way, but it was a turning point in Ryder Cup history, and not only because the Euros won on the course of the greatest player of all time while he was serving as captain.
The United States had dominated the Ryder Cup until that time, but the Euros started an 8-4-1 run on that Sunday and the passion that originally came from Seve has permeated the event since, making it a major sporting event on both sides of the Atlantic. The Presidents Cup, which hasn’t produced nearly the same emotion, is hoping for the same type of boost when it comes to Muirfield Village in September. That’s why a number of players who figure to be on the U.S. and International teams in a few months, and others who hope to be, are in the field this week for the Memorial. Captain Fred Couples, who plays mostly on the Champions Tour, also will tee it up at Muirfield Village, where he claimed the title in 1998 by four strokes over Andrew Magee. Among those who figure to be in his team room, or at least be in the running, come September are defending champion Woods, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Hunter Mahan, Zach Johnson, Nick Watney, Bill Haas and Kevin Streelman.
Nick Price of Zimbabwe, captain of the International team, isn’t in the field but also will be at Muirfield Village to scout some of the projected members of his squad. “I think it’s a spectacular golf course for match play format,” Price said of Muirfield Village. “I think we saw that in the Ryder Cup back in ’87, and I know the changes that have been made. “In fact, I have to come up and start checking and see all the changes because it’s been a while since I’ve played, but all the players really love the changes. ” … But I think it’s a spectacular back nine for match play.” Adam Scott, the Masters champion, leads the International contingent, which also includes Ernie Els of South Africa, Jason Day of Australia, Sang-Moon Bae of South Korea, Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, Y.E. Yang of South Korea, Branden Grace of South Africa, Geoff Ogilvy of Australia, Brendon De Jonge of Zimbabwe, George Coetzee of South Africa, K.J. of South Korea, John Senden of Australia, Angel Cabrera of Argentina and Marc Leishman of Australia.
The players on both sides will get a feel for the course, but they will not get a taste of the atmosphere Nicklaus expects for the Presidents Cup in September. “It’s going to get a little bit loud and raucous,” said Nicklaus, a four-time captain of the U.S. team in the Presidents Cup. ” … I’m very pleased with what has happened here. We’ve had the Solheim Cup, and Ryder Cup, and now the Presidents Cup. It’s pretty neat.” Of course, this week it’s about whether Woods can win at Muirfield Village for the second consecutive year and the sixth time overall. His other titles came in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2009. His average margin of victory in his five victories is 3.4 strokes. Not only that, he has won four times in six stroke-play events on the PGA Tour this season, including the Players Championship in his last outing. “I always look forward to playing in Jack’s tournament,” Woods said when he committed to the Memorial. “It’s a wonderful course, and we are always treated well. “We, as players, are very appreciative of what he has meant to the game.”
Last year, Woods closed with a 5-under-par 67 to win by two strokes over Rory Sabbatini and Andres Romero, carding three birdies in the last four holes to erase a two-shot deficit. Tiger, who has won five times since, tied Nicklaus with his 73rd PGA Tour victory and did it after running a temperature of 102 degrees on Friday and Saturday. When Woods hit his tee shot on the par-3 16th hole over the green in the final round, it appeared his chances to win were slipping away, but he holed a remarkable chip shot from 50 feet for birdie. “He had one place to land the ball,” said Nicklaus, who was watching from the television booth. “He’s playing a shot that if he leaves it short, he’s going to leave himself again a very difficult shot. If he hits it long, he’s going to probably lose the tournament. “He lands the ball exactly where it has to land. Going in the hole was a bonus. But what a shot. I don’t think under the circumstances I’ve ever seen a better shot.” It’s the kind of shot in the arm the Presidents Cup could use.