Major Champs Dominate at Memorial

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DUBLIN, Ohio -- The framed pictures of past champions that hang on the wall represent an All-Star collection of major champions, a testament to how Muirfield Village brings out the best at the Memorial.
 
Or maybe there's another reason.
 
'When you get all the best players in one place, it's more likely that they're going to win,' Davis Love III said Wednesday, aching to join that elite list of winners.
 
The Memorial doesn't have the strongest field of the year -- only 10 of the top 15 players from the world ranking, although it starts with Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods and defending champion Ernie Els.
 
Tournament officials don't pamper players with a Mercedes-Benz for a courtesy car and chartered excursions for their wives. Players don't have access to a five-star hotel attached to the golf course. There was no corporate outing on Monday that smacked of appearance money.
 
All the Memorial offers is a demanding golf course that stretches to 7,300 yards and places a premium on the second shot, and a tournament host -- Jack Nicklaus -- who tries to make this feel like Augusta National.
 
That's usually enough.
 
'When you have a golf course that's so pristine, you just want to play well,' Els said. 'Jack Nicklaus has also got something to do with that. Everybody wants to win this golf tournament.'
 
Most of the big names already have.
 
Twenty-two of the 29 winners at the Memorial have won major championships, and the only exception in the last 12 years is Kenny Perry, who is No. 11 in the world.
 
Els won last year by holding off an early charge from Woods and late one from Fred Couples, and by making so many clutch putts along the back nine that even the most renowned clutch putter of them all -- Nicklaus -- was impressed.
 
The Big Easy has not missed the Memorial since he first started playing on the PGA Tour in 1994, and counts it among his favorite tournaments. Even better, he will play the first two rounds with Nicklaus.
 
'He just makes this place better every year,' Els said. 'The golf course keeps improving, the quality of the way they present the golf course gets better all the time, and I think this year is no different. It's just great playing on a golf course like this. He runs a great show.'
 
For Nicklaus, it might be his final show in the United States competing against the best players.
 
The 65-year-old Nicklaus has said the British Open next month at St. Andrews will be the end of his competitive career, although there is always an asterisk attached. In this case, he reserved the right to play in the Memorial, a tournament he founded in 1976, as long as he feels like playing.
 
'I've been retiring for years,' he said.
 
Woods spoke to Nicklaus about his future when he showed up Tuesday morning for the pro-am round and empathized with his position. It's difficult to compete on the PGA Tour without being able to prepare for it.
 
'We talked about it back in 2000 when we played together in his last PGA,' Woods said. 'He was saying, 'Why am I even here?' I said, 'C'mon, Jack, you're out here competing. I'm trying to beat your brains in, you're trying to beat my brains in, so don't give me any of that.'
 
'He's a competitor, and being such a great competitor, it must be hard for him not to be prepared,' Woods said. 'I can understand why he's bowing out now.'
 
Woods has had two weeks and two days to prepare for the Memorial, his final tournament before he goes to Pinehurst No. 2 for the U.S. Open. He is playing for the first time since his record cut streak of 142 tournaments ended at the Byron Nelson Championship, where he missed a 15-foot par putt on the 18th hole to miss the cut by one shot.
 
Any lingering bitterness?
 
'Zero, absolutely zero,' Woods said. 'I'm here to try to get ready to win this tournament, and hopefully come out of this week positively so I'll be in good standing going into the U.S. Open.'
 
A victory would return Woods to No. 1 in the world in what has become a case of musical chairs at the top.
 
It all starts with navigating Muirfield Village, where every year the fairways seems to get a little tighter and more bunkers come into play. The only significant change Nicklaus made this year was pushing the 10th tee back some 30 yards to keep the big hitters from getting extra roll off a slope in the fairway.
 
That's something else the past Memorial champions seem to have in common -- power. Els, Perry, Woods, Singh, Couples and Greg Norman seem to back that up.
 
Still, that would be ignoring winners like Jim Furyk, Paul Azinger and Curtis Strange.
 
'You look down that list, you can't really say that guy was a chop ball-striker,' Woods said. 'You have to hit every single golf shot. Plus, this golf course, you have to manage your game so well. The majority of the winners who have come through here are major championship winners.'
 
Odds are, there will be another one by the end of the week.
 
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