Leave it to Jack Nicklaus to limit the only modifications since last year's Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide to the hardest hole at Muirfield Village Golf Club, the par-4 18th. OK, while true, that's a little misleading. Indeed, the par-4 punisher, er, finisher has an entirely new bunker complex in the landing area right of the fairway for the 40th edition of Nicklaus' hometown event. What was a cluster of nine bunkers is now three, and they have new shape. The decision was made in part due to the drainage problem evidenced at the 2013 Presidents Cup, but it was also motivated by the new tee that extended the hole 40 yards on the scorecard. Six of the old bunkers saw zero action throughout last year's Memorial.
The new bunkers come into play 275 yards off the tee on the 484-yard hole that averaged 4.338 last year. Not dissimilar to how Tom Weiskopf redesigned the 18th hole at TPC Scottsdale in advance of this year's Waste Management Phoenix Open, the carry over the last grain of sand on this week's closer is about 350 yards.
Muirfield Village averaged -0.102 strokes to par last year, its lowest split in seven years. What's more, it was the hardest par 72 in a non-major in the previous two seasons. Yet, there wasn't anything specific that yielded the low scores. Expectations for distance off the tee, accuracy and precision on approach, scrambling and putting were met. The 7,392-yard test checked all of the same boxes it normally does. The weather cooperated, too. It was just a case of a strong talent pool taking advantage of somewhat soft conditions (thanks to rain early in the week) and little wind.
As you'd expect from the champion given those factors, Hideki Matsuyama led the field in both strokes gained: tee-to-green and proximity to the hole. What's surprising is that he ranked T34 in par-5 scoring, which is usually a prerequisite for success in this tournament. He was also the first since Roger Maltbie won the inaugural edition in 1976 to emerge victorious in his first appearance.
After a cold front moves through early this week, seasonable temperatures in the lower 80s are expected. However, rain and the potential for boomers cannot be ruled out throughout. Wind may develop into a factor, but there aren't any major concerns early.