In every sport, there are certain names synonymous with their disciplines, and in the world of golf, no-one epitomises the culture of class, competition and sportsmanship better than Jack Nicklaus. As always, the 18-time major winner hosts the event this week, and the fact he’s affiliated with the event consistently draws the game’s best out to compete and pay their respects to the man who pathed their way to fame and fortune.
Eight of the world’s top 10 golfers are on show, including former champion and winner last week Justin Rose, plus Tiger Woods – a five-time winner of the event. It promises to be quite the tournament and certainly a hotly contested betting heat.
As an invitational, the field is limited to just 120 runners, so for those that like their top 20 betting, it’s a nice event to get stuck into.
Once again, Muirfield Village, in Dublin, Ohio is the venue for the event, and, in somewhat of a break from the norm, the 7,392 yard par 72 features no significant changes in from last year’s tournament; the Golden Bear clearly deciding he’s happy with the challenge being presented to the players. The tree-lined track is reasonably straightforward off the tee, with generous fairways allowing some room for manoeuvre, but the Bentgrass greens present a different challenge, as they are not only some of the smallest on Tour but they’re also undulating meaning that approach shots need to be played onto the correct areas of the greens in order to make the ball hold the putting surface, and also to enable gettable birdie putts rather than lag putts to save par.
On courses with smaller greens, I always look at strokes gained: approach and scrambling as the two key stats but I think it’s particularly essential at Muirfield, where you expect to see players hitting a high proportion of fairways.
Jason Dufner’s performance in victory last year highlights this, as he led the field in greens hit and strokes gained tee-to-green. Indeed, three of the last four winners have ranked in the top 6 of the proximity to the hole stat for the week of their win, a true indication that this is very much second shot course and that a good long game, setting up birdie opportunities, is crucial.
The betting market on Matchbook is headed by Dustin Johnson (15.0) at the time of writing, with Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy all within two ticks of that price. Whilst you can never write DJ off, his record at Muirfield is mixed with a couple of top fives amongst some more non-descript finishes include a missed cut last year, and his recent form hasn’t set the world on fire, resulting in him slipping off the world number 1 perch for the first time in 18 months.
The man who replaced him, Thomas, was fourth here last year after a couple of prior missed cuts at the course and looks priced about right given his winning record over the past couple of years. Whilst it’s hard to say a course doesn’t suit his swash-buckling game, there are probably others that suit more so we’ll have to be content to let him win at the odds.
Let’s look at the main contenders
Rory was sublime through 36 holes at Wentworth last week but seems to find winning difficult at the moment. In his pomp, you feel he’d have accelerated away and won by 6 or 7 there but having struggled over the weekend, a runner-up finish felt strangely disappointing. There’s no doubting the talent but the mental side may need a slight adjustment and he looks priced appropriately to me.
Justin Rose, on the other hand, slammed the door when in contention last week and was imperious in securing a three-shot victory at Colonial.
The quality of his approach play shone out as he led the field in strokes gained tee-to-green and he was making putts for fun. Coming back to a course where he’s won previously (2010), and has a pair of runner-up finishes (2015, 2008), he’s very hard to discount.
Jason Day arrives in fantastic form but the Aussie has only recorded one top 20 finish (last year’s tie for 15th) in nine previous tries. As with all world-class players, you can never truly rule them out but it does seem that the course doesn’t suit his eye so I’m happy to ignore.
Further down the list, Jordan Spieth merits interest at 20.0 – a longer price than he is for the remaining three majors. Despite impressive approach (8th in strokes gained approach) and scrambling numbers (6th), and some positive noises about his putter, his woes with the flat stick continued at Colonial last week and he now ranks 192nd of 206 players in the strokes gained-putting stat on the season.
However, this could well be the week he turns it around as he’s traditionally strong on bentgrass greens, leading the Tour with 3.09 strokes gained on the grass type since 2014. Last year, Jason Dufner won despite finishing just 47rd on the week for strokes gained-putting so it wouldn’t take a lot for Spieth to repeat the trick.
Henrik Stenson (currently 33.0) is another warranting some attention, given he sits 1st in both the strokes gained approach and scrambling stats on the season to date. However, he was relatively mediocre in finishing T23 at the Players given his previous course form at Sawgrass, and his history at Muirfield is poor, with nothing better than a 41st place finish to show for his efforts. It’s not a stretch to see him in contention but the price is probably about right pre-event.
If he starts well, he’s one I’d be looking to get onside with though as Muirfield really looks the right sort of course for him.
Emiliano Grillo also deserves a look, given a resurgence in form that has seen the man from Argentina secure three top 10 finishes (including a pair of thirds) in his past five events. The diminutive world number 52 was impressive en route to a solo 3rd last week at Colonial and was 11th on debut at Muirfield two years ago when in far worse form.
He’s been super consistent in his approach play this year, ranking 17th in strokes gained approach for the season, and has been scrambling very well as demonstrated by his leading the field in that stat last week. Even in a strong field, odds of 61.0 look generous.
- Justin Rose – 2.5 points @ 16.0 (lay 2.5 points at 3.5)
- Jordan Spieth – 1.5 points @ 21.0 (lay 1.5 points @ 5.0)
- Emiliano Grillo – 1 point @ 61.0 (lay 4 points @ 8.0)