Mahan Headlines The Memorial iCHOOSEGOLF Fantasy Five

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By Michael Weigand, PGA, ICG

Aside from the "majors" on the PGA TOUR schedule, there are a few events that garner special attention. This week's tournament is one of those kind as the world's best professional golfers head to "Jack's Place" - Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio.

Over the years, the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield has taken on the feel of a major event thanks to a world-class field and a legendary host in Jack Nicklaus. Past winners of the event, which began in 1976, include Nicklaus himself (twice) as well as two-time winners Tom Watson, Greg Norman and Hale Irwin. Kenny Perry has won the event three times, a feat that is only eclipsed by four-time champion Tiger Woods.

 

The theme for this PGA season, though, is the 'next' generation. Players such as Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk, though playing well, have had to take a back seat to the strong push from players such as Hunter Mahan, Bill Haas, Keegan Bradley, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker and, lately, Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner. Indeed, the list of potential winners each week has swelled dramatically.

For fantasy golf players (and pundits) this phenomenon has made the job of predicting success both fun and challenging. Gone are the days of simply plugging in Tiger and Phil and hoping that at least one other player from your squad sneaks into the top 10. Undaunted, however, the iCHOOSEGOLF Fantasy Five presses on with our weekly bout of premier prognostication

Here now, the ICG Fantasy Five for the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance.

Hunter Mahan: It would be hard to find a player that is having a better year than Mahan. The Oklahoma State grad is the front-runner for Player of the Year on the PGA TOUR, albeit early in the race. Mahan and Jason Dufner are the only two-time winners in the 2012 season and both are likely headed for the Ryder Cup team in October. Hunter also has three top-10 finishes and seven top-25s on his resume in 2012. He's ranked 13th in Drving Accuracy and 7th in Greens In Regulation. He also finished T13 at the Memorial last year and T14 in 2009. Now is a good time to be on the "Mahan Train" and Muirfield Village looks like a winning stop on the track.

Steve Stricker: After Stricker won the Hyundai TOC in the TOUR's first event of the season he has been selective as to which events he has entered. And, though he's only played in eight events total in 2012, he's played well almost every time. He has missed only one cut - at the PLAYERS - and has three top-10s to go along with his one victory. He's ranked 20th in Driving Accuracy and 9th in GIR in addition to being no. 15 in Birdie Average. He comes to the Memorial as the defending champion in addition to his T17 and T27 results at the event in the two previous years. Stricker also typically plays well in the midwest. Look for another good finish at Muirfield this week.

Luke Donald: The world's top-ranked golfer comes to Ohio riding a bit of a hot streak. In his last three starts Donald has finished third (at the Zurich Classic), sixth (at the PLAYERS) and first (he won last week at the BMW Championship on the European Tour). Including both tours, Luke has competed in nine events in 2012, won twice, has five top-10s and hasn't missed a cut. On the PGA TOUR he's ranked 14th in Driving Accuracy, 4th in Strokes Gained Putting and 11th in Scoring Average. Add it all up and it's pretty easy to see why he's the world no. 1. It should also be fairly easy to see why any fantasy owner would be silly to pass up Donald if available.

Bo Van Pelt: Another Oklahoma State grad, Van Pelt gained a little bit of publicity as a 'dark horse' pick for the Masters in April. He finished T17 at Augusta that week but hasn't garnered much attention since then. That's a shame because Van Pelt is having a very solid season. He has five top-10s, seven top-25s and currently ranks 36th on the FedExCup points list. He's 7th on the TOUR in Strokes Gained Putting, 11th in Birdie Average and 23rd in Scoring Average. His record at the Memorial is also solid and includes a T13 last season and a T3 finish in 2010. Looking for another 'dark horse' pick this week? Look no further.

Tiger Woods: Back in "the day" Woods was the 'no duh' pick of the week...every week. In 2012, however, it seems a bit harder to jump on the Tiger Bandwagon. This season for Woods includes a win, a runner-up, two top-20s, a WD, an MC in addition to his two highest finishes at the Masters and the PLAYERS (T40 at each event). Though the vibes aren't exactly strong in the Tiger camp these days, it seems silly to overlook several facts this week. First, Woods has taken a couple of weeks off to prepare for the Memorial - usually a good sign. Second, he's motivated to play well in the event that is hosted by his idol, Jack Nicklaus. Third, he's won the stinking thing four times! Many average fans would be surprised to know that Woods is ranked 37th in Driving Accuracy this season as well as 20th in GIR, 19th in Strokes Gained Putting, 23rd in Birdie Average and 5th in Scoring. If it were anyone else, fantasy owners would say, "Get that dude on my roster whenever possible!" But alas, Tiger is having a hard time living up to the bar that he himself set so high. Look for this week, however, to be a good one for Mr. Woods.

Other Notables: Ben Curtis (a win and three top-15s in the last month), Pat Perez (two top-25s in his last three events) and Bryce Molder (six top-25s this year) are all in the midst of good seasons, although NOBODY is talking about them. PLUS, these three have a history of playing well at Memorial. 'Nuff said?

Coverage of the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance begins on the Golf Channel at 3 p.m. EDT/2 p.m. CDT on Thursday.

 

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