Memorial with a stacked field in crowded PGA Tour schedule; Rahm and Scheffler vie for No. 1
By DOUG FERGUSON
DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) - The Memorial has a loaded field, just like always, and that much was evident by pockets of crowds spread around Muirfield Village for the pro-am Wednesday.
Also playing Wednesday were Masters champion Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and 38 of the top 50 players in the world.
The spectators were equally interested in seeing Steph Curry and Peyton Manning from the sports world, actors and entertainers like Josh Duhamel and Kelley James. Also playing without social media fanfare were a dozen or so members of Augusta National.
The Larry O'Brien Trophy even made an appearance as the NBA Finals are set to begin.
This is a big time of the year for golf, too. Not that the tournament Jack Nicklaus built needed much of an upgrade, but the Memorial is now an elevated event with a $20 million purse. It falls two weeks before the U.S. Open in Los Angeles, followed by another $20 million event.
It's a lot of golf, and such is the future for the PGA Tour as it tries to modernize in response to the challenge of Saudi-funded LIV Golf.
Andy Pazder, the chief tournament and competition officer for the PGA Tour, said Wednesday they are working on a 2024 schedule that would put more of the $20 million elevated tournaments together - that would include majors and The Players Championship - to create a better flow for top players and to make sure other tournaments are stuck among the big ones.
"We know our players would prefer to play consecutive weeks with designated events," he said. "They don't like one on, one off, one on, one off."
What that means is that the Memorial, typically played after Memorial Day and two weeks before the U.S. Open, is likely to move next year to the week before the U.S. Open.
Nicklaus likes his spot on the schedule, though he was willing to see how it shakes out.
"The tour usually figures out the best way to get something done and goes about trying not to hurt anybody," Nicklaus said.
Nicklaus also is involved in the Honda Classic, which followed two $20 million events this year and had two other elevated events right after it. Hardly anyone of note played this year.
"I know that one of the things they're concerned about is the tournaments in between elevated events and the major championships and how are they going to fare," he said. "So we'll see."
As for the players, most of them at the Memorial were at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill two weeks ago. And then the U.S. Open is two weeks away.
Is that too much around the majors?
Phil Mickelson, a player and pitchman for LIV Golf, recently tweeted that "Love LIV or hate it, it's the best way/Tour to be your best in the majors. Enough events to keep you sharp, fresh and ready, yet not be worn down from too many tournaments or obligations.
Rahm wasn't buying it.
"Listen, Phil is a friend of mine, but what else is he going to say? He's obviously going to advocate for his side and that's perfectly fine," Rahm said.
Rahm said his schedule has not changed much - he is on pace to play roughly the same number of events this year as he did in 2022.
"There's been so many different ways of tackling major tournament golf," Rahm said. "Phil himself used to always play the week before. Tiger and Jack didn't play the week before. So who says one way is better than the other?"
For now, they will have their hands full on a Muirfield Village course that is likely to be fast and firm. Thunderstorms are as common as buckeye milkshakes, yet this week has a forecast of hot, dry weather through Sunday.
Nicklaus has made a few changes to his course, as always, with length added to the par-3 16th and par-4 17th. The 120-man field has seven of the top 10 in the world - missing are Max Homa (sister's wedding), Cameron Smith (LIV Golf) and Will Zalatoris (season-ending back surgery).
Billy Horschel is the defending champion and doesn't necessary feel like one this week. He has been mired in a slump, winless since a year ago at the Memorial.
"The season's been pretty bad, pretty abysmal, to tell you the truth," Horschel said.
Scheffler is No. 1 in the world, though Rahm can catch up with at least a runner-up finish, depending on what Scheffler does.
McIlroy has a busier stretch than most. Along with the Memorial, he is the defending champion next week at the RBC Canadian Open.
"I would love to be able to put my name on the trophy and walk up that hill and get that handshake from Jack. That would be pretty nice to do," McIlroy said. "Excited to get on a nice little run of golf here coming up over the next few weeks."
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Updated May 31, 2023