The Memorial Tournament is wonderful test of golf, there’s no questioning that. Muirfield Village is one of top golf courses in the entire country, and more often than not, it takes a quality golfer to win The Memorial.
Of the 37 players to win this event, 24 of them have major championships on their resumes. Furthermore, those 24 winners (actually 16 players with the multiple titles) have combined to win a total of 66 major titles.
That includes arguably the greatest two golfers of all time, Memorial Tournament host and founder Jack Nicklaus (2 Memorials, 18 majors) and Tiger Woods (5 Memorials, 14 majors), who have combined for 7 victories in Dublin and 32 majors.
Staying lock-step with that, look back at the history of the Memorial Tournament. Central Ohio golf fans have been fortune to see several players win here while playing some of the best golf in the world at that time.
Tiger Woods (2012)-While Woods has been far more dominant in previous victories (see 1999-2001), it’s beginning to look more and more like his win last year at Muirfield Village was the beginning of something big. Tiger came to Dublin ranked ninth in the world, and his win at the Arnold Palmer classic just two months prior was his first on the PGA Tour in two and a half years. Woods rallied to win The Memorial (jumping to fourth in the rankings), and while he is still chasing his first major since the 2008 U.S. Open, he now has six Tour victories in the past year.
Steve Stricker (2011)-Two years ago, Steve Stricker put on an incredible display, playing the 36 holes on the front nine at Muirfield Village in an astounding 20 under par. That included a hole-in-one on eight on Friday, and eagling from the fairway on both two and five on Saturday. Stricker entered the week ranked eighth in the world, and climbed four spots following the win. He later added another PGA Tour victory later that summer.
Tiger Woods (2009)-Tiger Woods also used some magic to come-from-behind and claim his fourth Memorial in 2009. He chipped in for eagle from behind the green on 11, and then stuck his approach to within a foot on 18. Tiger was the world’s top player, and eventually won six events that year. However, his world would be turned upside down less than five months later, with a wayward drive off the course.
Ernie Els (2004)-Putting is paramount at Muirfield Village, and no one rolled the rock quite like Ernie Els did back in 2004. He only needed an even 100 swipes with the short stick, a new Memorial record. Els captured three titles that year, and moved up one spot in the world rankings (from three to two) following the win.
Tiger Woods (1999-2001)-Woods dominated his way to three straight Memorial championships during one of the most dominant stretches of golf in all of history. During those three years, Tiger won 22 PGA Tour events, and five majors, including his “Tiger Slam” of 2000-01, when he held all four major titles. Woods was ranked second in the world for his 1999 Memorial win, and was a record stretch of 264 consecutive weeks ranked #1.
Greg Norman (1995)-After Woods, the player with the next most time spent atop the world golf rankings is Greg Norman. The Shark was #3 when he devoured Muirfield Village in 1995, which had been rendered defenseless by relentless rain all week. Two weeks later, Norman went to the top of the rankings, and he enjoyed three PGA Tour titles in 1995.
Paul Azinger (1993)-Hard to believe, but it’s been 20 years since arguably the most famous shot in Memorial Tournament history. Paul Azinger holed out for birdie from a bunker on 18, stealing away a win from his good friend, the late Payne Stewart. It turned out to be the best summer of Azinger’s career, winning thrice, including the PGA Championship. However, in December, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in his shoulder. Azinger returned to the Tour the following year.
Greg Norman (1990)-Half the battle in golf is just being in position to win. Greg Norman was the world’s number one player in 1990, but left the course on Saturday off the lead. What he didn’t learn until later was that Fred Couples double-bogeyed 18 in the third round, making Norman the third round leader. When weather forced cancelation of the fourth and final round, Norman was declared the winner. Norman had only won two months previously at Doral.
Curtis Strange (1988)-There is just one golfer in the past 62 years to win back-to-back U.S. Open titles, and it’s Curtis Strange. On top of his game in the late ‘80’s, Strange was ranked sixth in the world before he won at Muirfield Village, and then three weeks later in Brookline for his first American championship.
Raymond Floyd (1982)-Along with Woods (1999-2001), Azinger (1993) and Strange (1988), Raymond Floyd won a major (PGA Championship) the same year as his Memorial title.
David Graham (1980)-This golfer from Down Under tried taking over the world of golf in the early 1980’s, winning the 1979 PGA Championship and the 1981 U.S. Open. In between, David Graham captured the 1980 Memorial, the first international player to do so.
Tom Watson (1979)-After fending off challenges from the likes of Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf during the 1970’s, it was Tom Watson who came on strong at the end of the decade, winning four straight PGA Tour money titles from 1977-80. Winning at The Memorial in 1979, despite some of the worst golf conditions in tournament history, Watson would go on to win five majors in the next four years.
Jack Nicklaus (1977)-While the Golden Bear had already won 14 of his 18 majors at that point; he was still far from finished, including a triumph at the 1978 British Open. He called the win one his “biggest thrill in golf”, capturing his hometown tournament in just its second year, all the while keeping up with his duties as host. Nearly two months later, Nicklaus challenged Watson at the British Open in the famous “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry. Jack Nicklaus was the PGA Tour’s leading money winner in five of the previous six seasons.
So who would fit that description for a 2013 champion?
Well, certainly, there’s Tiger Woods, the defending champ, and currently ranked number one in the world. Adam Scott finally broke through and won a major in April, capturing The Masters. Rory McIlroy’s recent body of work is still impressive.
Perhaps someone like Brandt Snedeker or Kevin Streelman will get a big breakthrough win that portends greater things.
Stay tuned. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the 2013 Memorial Tournament will have a winner playing some really good golf.