The PGA Tour does a very good job of involving legends of the past in present-day golf. The best players over 50 in the world strut their stuff on the PGA Tour Champions and the very biggest names get to host their own tournaments. Jack Nicklaus is one such golfing star who gets to host a PGA Tour event in the form of the Memorial Tournament.
The Memorial takes place at Nicklaus’s own Muirfield Village, which he named after the site of his first Open Championship win. Nicklaus’s pulling power, a top-class golf course and a handsome prize pot combine to attract strong fields to the Memorial every year.
2023: Viktor Hovland
The 2023 edition of this event in Ohio produced a thrilling conclusion. Behind throughout the final round, Norwegian star Viktor Hovland drew level with leader Denny McCarthy on the 72nd hole, before mastering the 30-year-old American in a playoff. McCarthy will have to wait a little longer for that breakthrough PGA Tour success, but for Hovland, this was a fourth PGA Tour title, and the first since claiming the World Wide Technology Championship in Mexico back in 2021.
This win certainly shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Widely respected as one of the best ball-strikers in the game – particularly off the tee – Hovland had regularly been let down by his short game in the past. However, the work put into tweaking his strategy around the greens had been producing a number of promising results – most notably a tied-seventh finish in the 2023 Masters and a tied-second in the following PGA Championship. A win looked just around the corner on the back of those displays, and it arrived at Muirfield Village.
With the course playing fast and tough, Hovland began steadily with back-to-back 71s – sitting behind early pacesetter Davis Riley at the end of Day One and Hideki Matsuyama, who led at halfway. By the end of Day Three, Rory McIlroy had made an ominous move into a share of top spot alongside Si Woo Kim and David Lipsky – the trio sitting one shot ahead of Hovland and Denny McCarthy.
With others in the leading group failing to get anything going, Denny McCarthy seized the initiative on Sunday, birdieing three of the first seven holes to move clear at the head of affairs. Hovland, meanwhile, found himself four shots down at the turn following bogeys at the eighth and ninth holes.
McCarthy made few mistakes down the stretch, but Hovland began to chip away with birdies at the 10th, 11th, and 15th bringing him to within two shots with two to play. He then really applied the pressure when draining a 27-foot putt for Birdie at the 17th to close to within one. Whether as a result of that pressure, or not, McCarthy pulled his drive at the 18th, leading to a bogey, as Hovland drew level with par.
Back to the 18th for the first playoff hole, and a repeat performance from both players. Hovland once again won the battle from the tee and held a definitive edge when McCarthy’s second shot rolled off the front of the green. Only needing to putt from five feet for a decisive par, Hovland made no mistake.
Hovland picked up $3.6m for his four days of work and moved up to fourth in the FedEx Cup rankings. Disappointment of McCarthy in second, whilst a final day score of 67 saw a surging Scottie Scheffler finish alone in third on six under for the tournament.
2022: Billy Horschel
As one of the few invitational events on the PGA Tour, the Memorial Tournament stands out from the pack. The winner also gets a unique prize at Muirfield Village, a congratulatory handshake and word with tournament host Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus has congratulated many winners on the back of the 18th green over the years but none of them, as far as we know, have ever referred to him as “buddy” or “big man” as Billy Horschel did after his win at the 2022 Memorial.
Horschel is one of the PGA Tour’s more colourful characters who is always fizzing with energy. Directing that energy can be a challenge but since starting his partnership with caddie Mark Fulcher, Horschel has been able to channel his natural exuberance and the wins have kept coming.
After separating himself from a strong field over the first three days, Horschel slept on a very handy five-stroke lead going into the final round. There were few signs of nervous tension as he set about playing an impressively controlled round of golf where he aimed for the centre of every fairway and the middle of every green. That performance – which he compared to the approach taken by Nicklaus and Tiger Woods when they were in similarly strong positions – secured a seventh PGA Tour win and a third on all tours in little over a year.
2021: Patrick Cantlay
Patrick Cantlay was one of the bookies’ favourites for the 2021 Memorial Tournament and the eventual winner got a fair amount of support in the betting. Those punters who supported him had a rollercoaster ride before their winnings were paid out though in a tournament that will live long in the memory but not for the reasons that Jack Nicklaus would have hoped for when such a strong field assembled at the new look Muirfield Village.
Nicklaus oversaw sweeping changes to his course intending to ensure that it could not be outmuscled by the new breed of big-hitting golfer. The Golden Bear must have been sitting uncomfortably as he watched Jon Rahm go on a tear on Saturday. Rahm first finished off his second round which he completed in -7 and then went one better in his third round with a -8 round of 64. However, all that brilliance ended up being for nothing as he was informed just off the 18th green that he had tested positive for Covid-19 and had to withdraw from the tournament.
In an instant, Cantlay went from being six shots behind Rahm to a share of the lead alongside Collin Morikawa. Neither of the leaders was able to find any form on the front nine and both tuned in +1. They turned it around coming home for rounds of 71 which meant their battle would continue in a playoff that lasted just one hole as a par was enough for Cantlay to claim his second Memorial title.
2020: Jon Rahm
Ryan Palmer’s sole PGA Tour win in the decade before the 2020 Memorial Tournament came alongside Jon Rahm in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. There was a certain amount of irony, therefore, that it was his partner from New Orleans who stopped Palmer from winning at Muirfield Village.
As well as Palmer played to earn his second-place finish, you would be hard-pressed to argue that he pushed Rahm all the way. The Spaniard’s position after the first three rounds was so dominant that he was able to shoot a +3 round of 75 on Sunday and still win the tournament by three strokes.
Rahm would have obviously preferred to have carried his brilliance from the first three days into Sunday but he can be very proud of the way he battled to keep his head above water. He had to remain in control of his famously fiery temperament after being tested by some lapses in concentration saw his eight-stroke lead cut to three at one stage but he showed some wonderful touch with his short game to see the job out.
2019: Patrick Cantlay
Martin Kaymer has form when it comes to closing out victories in America. The German player built up a five-shot lead after three rounds of the 2014 US Open before seeing out his second major championship win. His lead was a slimmer two shots going into the final round of the 2019 Memorial Tournament and his challenge faded away on the back nine with bogeys and it was Patrick Cantlay who took advantage to win on the PGA Tour for the second time.
As is typical for Memorial winners, Cantlay’s game was in excellent shape from tee to green. He gained over four strokes on the field with his tee shots and approach play and, crucially, made the most of that excellent play with a very good putting display. Indeed, his play on and around the greens was able to get him out of trouble when required as on the final hole of the tournament where he got up and down from a greenside bunker in front of the watching Jack Nicklaus.
As he left the final green, Cantlay was heard telling Nicklaus, “I finished it”. That was a nod to the advice Nicklaus gave Cantlay eight years earlier when he was the number one player in college golf and it’s advice that should see much more success for Cantlay in the years ahead.
2018: Bryson DeChambeau
Bryson DeChambeau has a reputation as one of golf’s great thinkers, even at the very early stage of his professional career. He works incredibly hard to find any edge possible over his rivals but the 24 year old found during the 2018 Memorial Tournament just how difficult it is to prepare for the nerves that come with closing a PGA Tour win out.
DeChambeau held the first 54-hole lead of his career at Muirfield Village and didn’t look like somebody who had a troubled night’s sleep when making three birdies in his first 12 holes of the final round. That’s when things got real and more difficult. Mistakes crept into DeChambeau’s game and he would hand back shots to the challengers, ultimately losing his lead and going into a three-way playoff alongside Byeong Hun-An and Kyle Stanley.
It is always gutting to give away a lead so DeChambeau deserves huge credit for the way he was able to compartmentalise that disappointment, put it behind him and see out his second PGA Tour win after two extra holes. DeChambeau seemed to surprise even himself with the nature of his victory, saying, “I can’t believe I did it,” but that belief was only ever going to grow after this win.
2017: Jason Dufner
The Memorial Tournament developed a reputation for providing tense, thrilling finishes in previous years with each of the 2014, 2015 and 2016 renewals settled by a playoff. On first viewing, Jason Dufner’s three-stroke victory looks like a more straightforward, less dramatic win. But that could not be further from the truth.
Dufner backers could have been forgiven for ripping up their betting slips after he shot 77 on Saturday. The man himself said that he believed he was still in the tournament and so it proved to be as he dealt with two rain delays and the challenge of Rickie Fowler, Anirban Lahiri, Justin Thomas and Matt Kuchar to win his fifth PGA Tour title.
Muirfield Village has always suited Dufner’s eye. He is an elite ball-striker who doesn’t always capitalise on his shot-making due to shakiness on the greens. While his putting wasn’t exactly rock-solid, the 40 year old was able to make the most of his approach play on a strategic golf course. Dufner’s win was a very popular one among his fellow pros and the Ohio fans (including Jack Nicklaus) who were cheering one of their own.