Which Is the Better Bet at the Memorial: Tiger Woods or the Field?

James McMahonContributor IMay 28, 2013

Tiger Woods returns to Muirfield Village where he has won five previous times.
Tiger Woods returns to Muirfield Village where he has won five previous times.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Tiger Woods is going to win The Memorial Tournament. Count it. Mark it down. Bet on it.

Jack Nicklaus’ annual PGA Tour event tees off Thursday, and we’re taking the world’s top golfer to dominate Muirfield Village and offering up the field against him without a second thought.

It’s not because the field isn't loaded with exceptional talent; it is. It’s certainly not because we believe Woods is unbeatable; he is not.

No, Woods is going to win his fifth PGA Tour event this year and second straight start because he owns Muirfield Village, and when the latest rebirth of dominant Tiger owns something, it’s near impossible to take it away from him.

In his first seven starts of the season, Woods has won four times. Of those four wins, three have come on courses that, combined, have accounted for 20 of Tiger’s 78 wins, including this year’s haul. Indeed, Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill have been tortured servants to Woods’ dominance.

Likewise, Muirfield Village has lived under that same oppressive thumb, having relinquished five Memorial victories to Tiger. It’s another house he owns—a “Tiger tract," if you will.

So, considering how sharp his game is and how dominant he's been over the past several months, our mouths and our wallets are calling for a fifth Woods win of the season, a sixth at Muirfield Village and a significant statement from Tiger just two weeks shy of the U.S. Open.

Of course, there are no absolutes in golf, and there is no way for Tiger to defend against his competition, which, for an event of the status of Nicklaus’ Memorial, is top notch. Woods can’t stop the likes of Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley or Brandt Snedeker from playing lights out and knocking his out in the process.

Others playing too well to be beaten is something we think could happen. Woods playing well at the Memorial is something we pretty much know will happen. Don’t buy it? Check the numbers, because they tell the story.

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In 13 previous starts at Muirfield, Woods has five victories, owns a 69.63 scoring average and has earned just over $5 million in the tournament. In winning his fifth Memorial last year, and his first since 2009, Tiger fired a five-under 67 in the final round to erase a four-shot, 54-hole deficit to win by two strokes.

The victory was the 73rd of Woods' historic career and appropriately tied Nicklaus for second all-time. Since then, Tiger has won five more times, and he enters the Memorial fresh off an impressive victory at The Players Championship three weeks ago.

As with the other layouts he has dominated, something special tends to happen at Muirfield when Woods is at his best, as he is right now.  No matter the conditions or the pressure, there’s a confidence he owns that few others possess on the difficult course crafted by the Golden Bear.

That dominance was on full display late in the final round last year when Woods delivered a shot that ranks among the most amazing of his historic career. Trailing Rory Sabbatini and with holes running out, Tiger faced a chip from behind the difficult 16th green. If hit too far, it would go through the green. If left short, it would leave an impossible downhill putt.

Instead of either of those options that would cost him the tournament, Tiger went ahead and hit a flop shot that eventually rolled dead into the hole. It was a shot that ultimately won him the tournament and one that Nicklaus would later rate among the greatest he had ever seen.

So, we’re riding that Muirfield mojo and betting on the heady state of Tiger's game without hesitation or reservation. Yes, McIlroy could finally put four solid rounds together. Others like Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose, Bradley and Snedeker are on course to challenge as well.

But we wouldn't bet our hard-earned cash on any of those players over Tiger. So, it stands to reason that Woods would be the pick alone against any of them.

It also sparks an interesting thought. Since Woods has begun wining tournaments again, we've debated whether he is truly back. For most, Woods among them, wins simply aren't enough. Winning majors is really Tiger’s litmus test.

Even with that conceded, when we start having legitimate “Tiger versus the field” arguments, it’s noteworthy, as it’s been some time since that debate has been relevant. It's also a significant sign that another major championship breakthrough is waiting in the wings for Woods.

Ultimately, however, what the discussion really means is that Tiger is once again the best in the game by any measure. The events and the courses he has owned in the past are once again his, and this year’s Memorial and its host Muirfield is no different.

It may not be easy; in fact, it likely will not be. But Woods will claim his sixth Memorial title this weekend and leave Jack’s event fully focused on the U.S. Open at Merion Country Club.

Fittingly, then, he will again be the favorite to add a 15th major and begin the renewal of his assault on the one Nicklaus mark he covets the most.


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