Tiger Woods Flashes, Jon Rahm Triumphs at Memorial Tournament

Photo credit: Aaron Doster (USA TODAY Sports)

For the second consecutive week, Muirfield Village Golf Club hosted an event on the PGA Tour.

However, the course designed and operated by the great Jack Nicklaus played like a completely different course the second time around.

Collin Morikawa emerged victorious at the Workday Charity Open with a 72-hole score of 19-under-par 269, defeating Justin Thomas in a playoff. The golf course was punishing for bad misses, as any course is on the PGA Tour, but birdies were relatively easy to come by.

During the Memorial Tournament this week, the opposite was true. Nicklaus and the grounds crew at Muirfield Village let the rough grow longer and thicker while a lack of rain all week, with the exception of some storms Sunday afternoon, dried out the fairways and greens. Plus, the field was loaded with talent as 43 of the top 50 players in the world competed.

The result was the feel of a major championship. Fewer birdies, more bogeys, and more grinding required to register a good score.

Tiger Woods competed for the first time since the PGA Tour returned from its COVID-19 hiatus. At this point in Woods’ career, it’s almost impossible to predict what kind of form he’ll be in. It seems difficult for even Woods himself to predict how his back will feel on any given day.

Entering the Memorial Tournament, many picked Woods to win despite having not competed in over four months. After all, Woods is a five-time winner at Nicklaus’ course and had never missed the cut in 17 starts at the Memorial.

The week was a mixed bag for Woods. On the par-72 track, Woods shot 71-76-71-76 to finish at 6-over-par for the week and tied for 40th. He just barely slid into the weekend by making the 3-over-par cut on the number.

Ball-striking has been the most consistent part of Woods’ game over the past couple of years, and it was true once again this weekend. He ranked No. 5 for the week in strokes gained on approach shots, adding nearly five and a half shots against the field in that category. Nearly all of that damage was done in the first two rounds.

However, the short game was what held Woods back from contending. He especially struggled with his putter during the second round, missing several short putts that nearly cost him a spot to play during the weekend.

Future performances will always be hard to project given Tiger’s injury history. However, it’s a terrific sign that his ball-striking remained elite after such a long break. If some short-game tweaks can be made, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with down the stretch of the 2020 schedule.

Woods finished the week 56th in strokes gained putting and 61st in strokes gained around the green out of the 74 players who made the cut. His next action will likely be August 6-9 at the 2020 PGA Championship. He reportedly has not ruled out competing at the World Golf Championship FedEx St. Jude Invitational the week before.

Meanwhile, a new golfer was crowned No. 1 in the world this week. Jon Rahm struggled at Muirfield last week at the Workday Charity Open, but fired an 8-under-par 64 on Sunday that indicated he had figured some things out.

He carried that into the Memorial Tournament this week and built a four-shot lead by the end of the third round. In the end, he was victorious by three shots at 9-under-par 279.

For most of Sunday’s final round, there was little doubt about Rahm holding on to win. However, his lead had shrunk to three shots entering the difficult par-3 16th hole. Rahm’s tee shot landed deep and left of the green, leaving a difficult chip shot. Meanwhile, Ryan Palmer was comfortably sitting just off the green, roughly 12 feet from hole and staring at a birdie.

Rahm opened up the clubface of his wedge and swiped perfectly at the ball, lofting it high into the air and dropping it softly onto the green and allowing it to trickle toward and eventually into the hole.

The shot, initially, moved Rahm to 11-under-par for the week. However, after a two-stroke penalty was assessed due to his ball moving ever so slightly before he swung, the shot actually moved him to 9-under-par. Nonetheless, the magical shot essentially clinched the win for the Spaniard.

It was one of the most dominant performances of the PGA Tour season. In the end, only nine golfers out of over 150 managed to finish under par for the week. Rahm’s final score of 9-under 279 (or 11-under 277 without the penalty) bested runner-up Ryan Palmer by three shots and defeated everyone else in the field by four or more shots.

Rahm now joins his idol, the late Seve Ballesteros, as the only Spaniards to be ranked No. 1 in the world. As the PGA Tour season begins to wind down and the events become more and more significant, Rahm’s all-around game will be a popular pick.

The PGA Tour’s next stop is at TPC Twin Cities this week for the second annual 3M Open. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 concerns, fans will not be allowed to attend. However, if last year’s event is any indication, the drama should be plentiful as the world’s best golfers travel to Minnesota.

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