(CBS Pittsburgh) — The Workday Charity Open is the first of back-to-back tournaments for the PGA Tour at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. The Memorial Tournament follows next week. The Workday is a one-time event, created to fill the hole left in the Tour calendar when the John Deere Classic was canceled. The John Deere will return in 2021.
Consecutive events at the some course is just another of the many oddities of the 2020 season. The Tour has already endured a three-month hiatus and four tournaments without spectators and will feature only three majors, including the Masters in November. Strong fields at non-majors have been a welcome bonus, however. The Charles Schwab Challenge, RBC Heritage and Travelers Championship all featured most of the world’s top-20 players.
The new-look Bryson DeChambeau has emerged as the world’s best player over the last month. He boosted his ranking to seventh in the world, after four top-10 finishes, including a win this past weekend at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. DeChambeau, who won the Memorial at Muirfield Village in 2018, will skip Workday. Tiger Woods’ long absence will continue as well; a Tiger sighting is probably another week off.
But the field remains strong, with some intriguing featured groups. Five of the world’s top-10 players are scheduled to tee it up. Among them will be the second-ranked Jon Rahm and the fifth-ranked Justin Thomas.
Rahm has struggled some since the return, with a 33rd-place tie his best showing since the return. He missed the weekend in his one appearance at Muirfield Village in 2017.
“Jon Rahm can get his season on track any week,” says CBS Sports golf analyst and on-course reporter Mark Immelman. “The guy’s got all the weapons one needs to play at the highest level. Just the first few weeks he was slightly rusty in my opinion. All the rounds he played had the semblance of really good scores. Maybe there was the odd misstep, a little hiccup, or maybe one round during a tournament. So that you can chalk up to just lack of competition.”
Thomas slipped into the top 10 at both the Charles Schwab and RBC Heritage and has two top-10 finishes at Muirfield Village in recent years. He’s capable of rising to the top this weekend at the Workday Charity Open and then harnessing that momentum to repeat at Muirfield Village again next week
Patrick Cantlay, ranked eighth in the world, won the Memorial last year and should contend once again. Previous winners Jason Dufner (2017), Hideki Matsuyama (2014), Matt Kuchar (2013), Steve Stricker (2011), and Justin Rose (2010) also return. Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth are among the other notables in the field.
Muirfield Village has been a regular stop on the PGA Tour since it first hosted the Memorial Tournament 44 years ago. The par-72 track, designed by legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus with help from renowned course architect Pete Dye, works its way through the valleys and creeks of the rolling Ohio landscape.
“The beauty about this course is every hole is memorable in its own right, and they just fit together so well,” Immelman points out. “There are stretches of holes where you can attack, and there are stretches of holes where maybe you have to play some defense. And there are holes that turn from right to left, and there are holes that turn from left to right. They’re uphill and downhill. So just from a design point of view, it challenges every club in your bag.”
Muirfield Village is considered one of the finest strategic designs anywhere. Among its unique aspects is mounding along the periphery of playing areas that offers spectators unobstructed views. (Sadly, spectators won’t be on site enjoy the vantages for this year’s events.)
Muirfield Village is also versatile, allowing for some adjustments. That will come into play at the Workday, as the course attempts to differentiate itself from week to week. The course will play a little harder off the tee than it has in past years. New tees on the eighth, 11th and 15th holes have extended the course from 7,392-yards to 7,456 yards.
“They’re going to be moving tees around a little bit this week, just to protect the golf course against divots,” says Immelman. “They’re going to play some holes longer, they’re going to play some holes shorter.”
The greens can be challenging, even punitive, especially if they get creative with the pin positions. “But this week they’re going to keep them a little slower, about a 11.5 clip (on the Stimpmeter),” according to Immelman. “So the greens will be a little slower, they will be a bit more receptive.”
Driving and putting obviously matter a great deal, but iron play may matter most at a course like Muirfield Village. “I truly believe it’s a second-shot golf course,” Immelman stresses. “There’s some space to drive it off the tee, but if you can hit iron shots the correct trajectory, the correct distance and, obviously, accurately, you’re going to have the leg up on the competition.”
>>STREAM: Workday Charity Open
Here are the favorites this week:
Justin Thomas (11-1)
Thomas has played well post-layoff, at least he did before missing the cut at the Travelers. He’s also had some success at Muirfield Village during his career, finishing fourth in 2017 and eighth in 2018. He’s been strong from tee to green of late, but his putting has been a little suspect.
Jon Rahm (12-1)
Rahm’s return to action has been forgettable, with a missed cut and two finishes well out of contention. But Muirfield Village is more amenable to his power game; he’s seventh this season in shots gained: off-the-tee. Rahm will be looking to get on track with the PGA Championship right around the corner. “He’s had some time to assess what didn’t fire in the return,” notes Immelman. And I’m sure he’ll come back to a golf course that will suit his game and he’ll play well this week.”
Patrick Cantlay (14-1)
Cantlay won the Memorial last year at Muirfield Village, shooting a 64 on Sunday to finish the event at 19-under. He finished fourth in 2018. Cantlay tied for 11th at the Travelers, his only appearance since the Tour’ return.
Watch the Workday Charity Open Saturday, July 11 and Sunday, July 12, 3:00 – 6:00 PM ET on CBS.