Greatest Memorial Champions

Muirfield Village Golf Club has played host to the popular Memorial Tournament for some time now. We’re back to Ohio again this weekend to enjoy the tournament and take a peek at it’s greatest winners.

Trap Five LogoThe Memorial Tournament is in full swing again. Thirty-one years ago Jack Nicklaus played host for the first time to this great event. The Memorial was the long-time dream of Muirfield course designer Nicklaus. The course is one of the world’s best and has been a demanding venue since the Tournament’s inception in 1976.

Muirfield has become a venue that many of the greatest players of the world make an effort to play for the quality of the golf course, depth of field, and the accomplishments of host Jack Nicklaus.

Represented here are the Greatest Memorial Champions.

Runner Up: Greg Norman
Norman’s ninth win on the PGA Tour came at the rain-shortened Memorial in 1990. Many players withdrew from the tournament in the first round because of poor weather and Sunday’s final round was canceled because of rain. After capturing the lead on Saturday with a round of 69 Norman took what turned out to be the final lead. Nicklaus and tournament officials decided that the course was unplayable and canceled Sunday’s round. Norman won.

Noman had taken five weeks off prior to the 1995 Memorial to rest his ailing back and he returned fresh from the layoff. Norman stayed in the hunt throughout the week. He was one stroke off the lead in the first two rounds, one stroke ahead after Saturday’s round, and ended the weekend with a four-stroke victory for his first 72-hole victory at Muirfield. He was the third player to have won twice at The Memorial.

Norman gets runner-up as the result of his rain-shortened 1990 victory. In typical fashion something was there to cause Norman trouble at Muirfield.

Number Five: Hale Irwin
Irwin holds the distinction of being the first player to have played all four rounds under-par (71-71-70-69) at the 1983 Memorial. He had a near miss at the first Memorial, losing to Roger Maltbie in a playoff in 1976. In this, his first victory at Muirfield, he edged out Ben Crenshaw and David Graham who both stumbled down the stretch.

Rain delayed the event at Irwin’s twelfth hole. “After that, I never had the same [confident] feeling” he con-tended. “I felt like I was hanging on the last seven holes.” He held on better than any of his competitors and pulled out the 1983 victory.

Hale Irwin joined Jack Nicklaus as the only repeat winners in 1985, following Nicklaus’ second victory in 1984. Irwin didn’t feel that we played as well as he could have but ended up winning the event by one stroke over Lanny Wadkins.

Number Four: Kenny Perry
Kenny Perry’s first win on Tour came at the 1991 Memorial in a playoff with none other than Hale Irwin. Both players finished the fourth round with a total of 273 but Perry prevailed on the first hole of sudden-death. Perry’s second round was a blistering 63 to take a three-stroke lead. Eight birdies and a hole-in-one on the 16th marked his record-setting Memorial round.

Perry came to the 2003 Memorial following a 19-under par victory at Colonial Country Club. He played solidly until the wheels started coming off on the back nine on Sunday. Perry bogeyed five of the last six holes but hung on for a two-stroke victory over Lee Janzen. “The tank was empty, there was no doubt,” Perry said later. “I’m mentally and physically exhausted.”

Twelve years separated Perry’s Memorial Tournament victories. His 2003 victory marked his first multiple-win season and his only back-to-back victory. He went on to win one more in 2003, the Greater Milwaukee Open.

Number Three: Jack Nicklaus
In the spring of 1976 Jack Nicklaus’ ambition to have a tournament of his own was realized in the inauguration of the Memorial Tournament. It is distinct as Nicklaus’ creation and that it is played on one of golf’s greatest and most demanding courses.

Nicklaus fittingly has won his own tournament twice. He captured the second Memorial in 1977 calling it, “My biggest thrill in golf.” Those words sounded strange to someone who had decimated so many of golf’s hallowed records. He was thinking of his win in light of all the work that had gone into dreaming, designing, and building he had done to bring a tournament to Muirfield. It was his 63rd PGA Tour victory.

The second of Nicklaus’ Muirfield village wins came in 1984 in a playoff with Andy Bean. It was hard fought but Bean missed the second of two critical putts to lose the tournament on the third playoff hole. Nicklaus wasn’t happy to win “on someone else’s misses” but gave proper credit to his solid play throughout the week. It was his 70th Tour victory and the first he had seen in two years.

Number Two: Tom Watson
Seventeen years separated Tom Watson’s Memorial victories. He won first in 1979 in terrible conditions. Fourty-two of 105 players failed to break 80 on Friday because of the winds and rain. He led by three strokes after firing a bogey-free 69. Watson led by four strokes going into the final round and finished three strokes ahead of Miller Barber.

The second of Watson’s Memorial wins was his first victory in nine years on Tour and obviously gratifying for the eight-time major champion winner. “To be here, the last person off the golf course,” said Watson, “the last putt in, winning a golf tournament today – I missed it.” It is fitting that Watson made history at Nicklaus’ course as he made so much history with and at the expense of Nicklaus in the past.

Watson gets the number two spot by virtue of the length of time between his wins.

Number One: Tiger Woods
If someone does something great Tiger Woods has it in his mind to do it one better. Tiger’s 1999 victory featured five par-saves in the final round and a two stroke victory over Vijay Singh. “I thrive on the short game,” said Woods later, “because it will demoralize most opponents. I could see what it was doing to Vijay. We’re good friends, but he started to get real quiet on the back nine.” Woods won the tournament, admitted Singh, on the greens.

His 2000 victory was the first back-to-back Memorial victory and Tiger’s first title defense. Sunday’s round was played on Monday due to weather (a recurring theme at Muirfield Village). He won by five strokes over Ernie Els and Justin Leonard.

“Right now, he’s the man. The most dominant man,” said Paul Azinger after losing to Tiger in the 2001 Memorial. Tiger was the first player since Tom Watson to win three tournaments in a row with a stunning final round 66. Tiger’s unprecedented dominance at the Memorial earns him the obvious top spot as the Greatest Memorial Champion.

1 thought on “Greatest Memorial Champions”

  1. Wasn’t it the inaugural Memorial, or one very early in the tournament’s history, when the winner had forgotten to sign his scorecard, and Jack had to escort him back to the tent to sign it? Whoever it was, they were being interviewed on TV, when Jack came up and whisked him away mid-interview.

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