DUBLIN, Ohio (Reuters) - Enticing geography and history, along with an ideal date in the calendar, combine to make this week’s Memorial tournament, hosted by Jack Nicklaus, one of the most popular events on the PGA Tour.
A top-class venue in the leafy Muirfield Village Golf Club and arguably the game’s greatest player as the host would be enough to lift any tournament on the U.S. circuit well above the norm.
Add to that a spot in the PGA Tour playing schedule just two weeks before the U.S. Open, the year’s second major, and you have an infallible formula for success in the eyes of the players.
”This is one of my favourite weeks of the year,“ U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy told reporters at Muirfield Village on Wednesday. ”It’s a fantastic golf course, always in unbelievable condition every time we turn up here.
”It’s great, and it’s Jack’s tournament, so a lot of guys want to turn up just because of that and what he’s done for the game and what an impact he’s had on a lot of guys.
“I was obviously not in that generation, but still feel like I’ve got a good relationship with him,” added the 23-year-old Northern Irishman. “I‘m always happy to come back here.”
American Bubba Watson, who won his first major title at last month’s Masters, agreed.
“Mr. Nicklaus is a big supporter of this tournament, it’s his course, his tournament,” the long-hitting left-hander said.
”Any time you can come here and maybe shake his hand and just get some insight from him about the game of golf is an honour and a special thing to do.
“I’ve been here every year that I’ve been in the field, and I‘m looking forward to the challenge.”
British world number one Luke Donald, who won the European Tour’s flagship PGA Championship at Wentworth on Sunday, has always held the Memorial tournament in high regard.
“It’s a special tournament with a great field, and you always want to go to tournaments that have strong fields,” the straight-hitting Englishman said.
“You want to play against the best players and beat them. Obviously having Jack Nicklaus’s name associated with it makes it a little bit more special.”
This week’s field includes seven of the world’s top-10 players, among them 10th-ranked American Steve Stricker.
“It’s always nice to come back to a place where you’ve had some success and have won, and this is no different,” said Stricker, who triumphed here by one shot last year.
“I‘m looking forward to this week. The course is in great shape again. I‘m very happy to be back. It brings back a lot of great memories from what happened here last year for me.”
Stricker clinched his 10th PGA Tour title at last year’s Memorial tournament but he returns this week with some concerns over his usually superb putting and short game.
“My putting has been giving me some problems here and there,” said the 45-year-old, long regarded as one of the best putters on the PGA Tour.
”I don’t feel I‘m that far off. I’ve been hitting a lot of good putts, they’re just not going in ... and I’ve been putting a lot of effort into that at home the last couple of weeks, trying to figure out what’s been going on there, if anything.
“Sometimes you just go through periods of time where the ball doesn’t go in, so I‘m not overly worried about it but yet kind of a little concerned.”
The Memorial tournament starts on Thursday.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Dublin, Ohio; Editing by Frank Pingue