The Memorial Tournament betting preview and tips from Ben Coley

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson

There's a high-class field for the Memorial Tournament, where Ben Coley has tips ranging from 50/1 to 125/1.

Recommended bets

1pt e.w. Keegan Bradley at 100/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6) - potential contender off a top-10 at Sawgrass

1pt e.w. Adam Hadwin at 125/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7) - went well here in 2016; right game for it

1pt e.w. Russell Knox at 125/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6) - any putting improvement and he's a big player

1pt e.w. Ryan Moore at 70/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8) - another who is striking the ball really well

2pts e.w. Phil Mickelson at 50/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6) - massively overpriced at a course he loves

For details of advised bookmakers and each-way terms, visit our transparent tipping record

On the face of it, The Memorial Tournament should be ripe for a high-class winner. It's a fortnight after the PLAYERS, a fortnight before the US Open; the course, Muirfield Village, is an immaculate Jack Nicklaus design which allows all types to shine; the field, thanks to the positioning of the event and the Nicklaus factor, is always strong.

Yet for one reason or another, this title has gone to some of the less flashy players on the PGA Tour, notwithstanding the usual glut of victories for Tiger Woods - Matt Kuchar, Hideki Matsuyama, David Lingmerth, William McGirt and Jason Dufner since the last of Woods' five, the likes of Steve Stricker, Kenny Perry and KJ Choi before it.

Matsuyama aside, these are quality players but not (quite) part of the game's elite, and they are all best classified as neat and tidy - old school rather than new breed.

They also present a contradiction. Nicklaus is known for offering space off the tee in his designs, intensifying the challenge towards the greens, yet the last five winners as well as past champions Justin Rose and Ernie Els are known for their outstanding driving. Many of those who've pushed them closest, the likes of Kevin Na, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson and Jon Curran, are as straight as they come. Why would these players emerge at a golf course which seeks to keep everyone in it from the tee?

Try as I might, I've not found the answer to that but one thing is clear - Muirfield Village has served up some wonderful ball-strikers, unmoved by the speed and contours of greens which are often compared to Augusta National. Like the Masters, this event tends not to be the test of short-game its nuts and bolts would suggest.

It's also worth noting that we are up in Ohio this week or, as the excellent Rob Bolton puts it, "the 31st tournament of the 2017-18 season is the first in a northern latitude." That's worth noting because there are players who perform better in this part of the world, and it also points towards an obvious tie with Firestone, still home of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the only other event played in this state.

Firestone, like Muirfield Village, has produced a list of champions whose strength is driving the ball. For Lingmerth, Rose and Els here, read Hunter Mahan, Adam Scott and Shane Lowry there. This helps explain why Lingmerth and McGirt, who earned Firestone starts with their wins here, went on to shine in the WGC.

Ties between the Memorial and the Bridgestone are more than geographical, although with the latter set to move to Memphis there's not long left to speculate. Still, it helps make the case for Keegan Bradley as this week's headline selection.

Bradley contended on his Firestone debut in 2011, returned to win there a year later and was a distant runner-up to Woods in 2013. He calls it one of his favourite courses on the PGA Tour and that makes sense, because ever since arriving on the scene with victory in the Byron Nelson seven years ago, he's consistently driven the ball just about as well as anyone.

Here at the Memorial, top-10 finishes in 2015 and 2016 underline his ability to score and he led the all-around ranking on the latter occasion, despite having struggled all year to that point. Indeed, eighth place was Bradley's first top-20 of the year and would prove his best performance of the season.

Two years on, and Bradley might find that things are falling into place as he looks to win for the first time since a forced switch from the anchored putting stroke he put to use when winning the 2011 PGA Championship.

Not only did Bradley find form to finish seventh at Sawgrass, by a distance his personal best at that venue, but he must surely have taken some encouragement from seeing Webb Simpson dominate from the off. Simpson and Bradley were among the high-profile victims of the anchoring ban and the PLAYERS champion demonstrates best that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Bradley putted well himself at Sawgrass, where his iron play was excellent, and that follows on from a solid performance with the flat stick at the Wells Fargo. It's too soon to say he's found something he can work with, but there are at least some signs that might be the case and anything better than average on the greens makes him a contender.

The leader in this field in total driving, Bradley could well be the latest in a long line of modest putters to flush their way to contention here. At three-figure prices that's a chance I'm willing to take.

Every winner of this event since Carl Pettersson in 2006 either had or has gone on to secure a top-10 finish at Firestone, so I want to pursue that link further and give Adam Hadwin a chance to atone for last week's low-key effort at Colonial.

Hadwin has seemingly gone off the boil a little since an excellent start to the year, but I maintain that his performances at Augusta (24th) and Quail Hollow (16th) demonstrate that he's not far away, a belief which is strengthened by a run of cuts made which dates back to last August.

The Canadian is exactly the sort of no-frills type to thrive here and in three visits so far, he's already managed to contend, fading from fourth through 54 holes to 11th place in 2016.

Hadwin went on to break his duck the following spring with victory at another undulating, tree-lined golf course and among the rewards for that was a place at Firestone, where he finished an excellent fifth.

It's notable that he has some excellent form on Nicklaus-designed courses, particularly in the CareerBuilder Challenge where he's often been a threat, just like Dufner and Lingmerth. Hadwin has also been seventh at Glen Abbey, current home of the Canadian Open, and when 11th here two years ago said he enjoyed the width off the tee Nicklaus provides.

An above-average driver despite lacking length, Hadwin looks the right type for this event and can show as much if, as I suspect is the case, he's close to peak form.

Adam Hadwin: Celebrates his win
Adam Hadwin: Worth sticking with

It might also be worth persevering with Russell Knox, who was in last week's staking plan and finished 20th, following on from 16th place in Dallas beforehand.

Knox has now broken 70 in each of his last eight rounds as his confidence returns and he struck the ball really well last week, ranking third in strokes-gained tee-to-green but undone by the putter once more.

As I wrote then, Knox feels like he's made progress on the greens of late - and there's evidence to support that idea - so while Fort Worth was a setback, it's to be hoped that he can get back on track at a course where his long-game prowess should be rewarded.

Knox opened with a round of 66 here in 2015, after which he told reporters that he felt there was plenty in his favour.

"I putt best on fast greens, and these greens are as quick as we're putting on all year," he said. "I like to visualise, because there's so many putts with so many breaks here that you have to just see it going in and die it in there, and that's one of my strengths.

"I knew I could come here and play a lot better."

Further afield, Knox has twice gone close to winning the Honda Classic at the Nicklaus-designed PGA National, and his second-round 64 at the CareerBuilder earlier this year came at PGA West, the Nicklaus layout used in that three-course event, plus he's gone well at Firestone, too.

There is a chance that his fragile confidence on the greens is exposed here, but the prospect of another big ball-striking week from a player edging back to his best is too tempting to ignore.

Chris Kirk and Danny Lee are two players who, like Knox, are getting there - Lee in particular appears to have found his game from nowhere, while there are hints that Kirk is rediscovering his putting touch and it's that which he requires to become a contender again.

South African duo Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen can both make it look easy off the tee and the former in particular has turned a corner of late, but I can't quite bring myself to trust either.

Instead, it's two Americans to finish with, starting with Ryan Moore.

At his best on a classical, tree-lined course, Moore is well capable of downing a field like this one and it was nice to see him close out with an excellent round of 66 at Sawgrass earlier this month.

Playing a light schedule, Moore has managed four top-10s and several other big finishes this season and his record at the Memorial is strong. The former US Amateur champion was second here on his second visit and while unable to match that since, has been fifth, 13th, 18th and 19th, contending on several occasions.

An arrow-straight driver who is doing everything right bar with the putter, Moore is another who fits the profile of former winners and he has that top-10 at Firestone which so often serves as a good pointer.

Returning to this part of the US should be a big plus and Moore, who needs a big week to secure his US Open spot, should put behind him a missed cut at the course last year, which came at a time when he was struggling with all aspects of his game.

Finally, I've made no mention of the top of the market so far and that's because I find it hard to separate many of them. Dustin Johnson would earn the nominal vote over Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, but there's little reason Justin Rose won't go well again and Jordan Spieth could come alive on these greens.

I did consider Masters champion Patrick Reed, but the class act who just looks the wrong price is Phil Mickelson and he goes in as my strongest selection as a result.

Mickelson is chalked up alongside Emiliano Grillo and Kevin Na, who are obviously playing well, but nevertheless do not merit being alongside one of the sport's greats. Remember, Phil has won this year and it's not as if he's struggling - two starts ago he finished fifth.

All we have to forgive for 50/1 to look huge is a missed cut at the PLAYERS, an event which does not suit him whatsoever. What's more, Mickelson arrived there exhausted and in need of a break.

Now freshened up, Mickelson heads to one of the events he covets most and while unable to win here at Muirfield Village, his record is strong enough to suggest that may yet change.

"I played here in 1986 in the U.S. Junior, and I've always had an affinity for this golf course," he said. "It was always a special place to me. I fell in love with it when I was a junior, I fell in love with it growing up as a kid.

"I had never seen a golf course this pristine, this green, this lush, this much water and cool holes. It was my first exposure to a golf course like this."

Asked how important a win could be on his CV, Mickelson added: "It would mean a lot to me - this would mean a lot more for me than any other regular tournament. First of all, it's Jack's tournament. And second, I've not ever won here.

"As I said earlier, I've always had a love for this golf course."

Now, Mickelson saying nice things doesn't alone make a case, but what struck me was how well he's hit the ball here over the last couple of years. In 2016, he led the field in greens hit - Mickelson virtually never does that, in fact it's the sole example since the start of 2015 - and in 2017 he ranked seventh, putting poorly on both occasions.

We know Mickelson's putter is usually a strength - he's second in strokes-gained putting this season - so it's a question of whether there's something about these particular surfaces which mystifies him, and that's one only he can answer.

Still, given that he would be entitled to go close here with a so-so week on the greens, prices in the region of 50/1 look extremely generous. Mickelson is entitled to be closer to the 25/1 mark.

Posted at 1140 BST on 29/05/18.

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