Memorial offers pointers to Pebble Beach contenders
This week’s Memorial tournament, an elite PGA Tour event in its own right hosted by golfing great Jack Nicklaus, is sure to offer several pointers toward the likely contenders at this month’s U.S. Open.
Many of the game’s leading players are making their final appearances on the circuit before switching focus to the second major of the year, which takes place at majestic Pebble Beach from June 17-20.
Two of the big guns — world number one Tiger Woods and second-ranked Phil Mickelson – have more than a few question marks hovering over their form at the moment. Woods, whose private life spectacularly unravelled at the end of last year, is returning to the tour after three weeks on the sidelines to defend his title at the Memorial.
The 14-times major winner has not competed since he was forced to withdraw from the final round of last month’s Players Championship in Florida because of neck pain. An inflamed joint made it difficult for Woods to execute his swing and his driving accuracy, never his strongest suit, was woeful in his last outing at the TPC Sawgrass.
Mickelson, who delivered a ‘feel-good’ moment for the game when he clinched his fourth major title at the Masters in front of his wife Amy who is recovering from breast cancer, has also struggled off the tee. The American left-hander missed his first PGA Tour cut in more than a year at last week’s Colonial tournament, where he would have replaced Woods he had he triumphed.
A short-game magician who thrills the fans with his creative shot-making, Mickelson has averaged less than 50 percent in driving accuracy this season to languish 185th in the tour’s standings. Given that U.S. Opens place a high premium on accuracy with their traditionally tight fairways flanked by thick rough, Mickelson will be banking on a major improvement in this area of his game.
The Memorial tournament always attracts a strong field and this week is no exception with six members of the world’s top 10 taking part, each of them with one eye looking ahead toward the U.S. Open. Apart from Woods and Mickelson, fourth-ranked Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk (fifth), Ernie Els (seventh) and Rory McIlroy (ninth) are also competing at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. All four players have won on the 2010 PGA Tour (American Furyk and South African Els twice apiece) and they can be expected to be back in contention at Pebble Beach in two weeks’ time.
Photo: Tiger Woods celebrates after chipping in for eagle on the 11th hole of the final round on his way to winning the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio June 7, 2009. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan