The 40th playing of the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide approaches June 1-7, 2015, and there have been quite a few highlights along the way in the prestigious Tournament that Jack Nicklaus created not long after Muirfield Village Golf Club opened in 1974.
In fact, it was exactly two years to the day that the first Memorial Tournament kicked off on May 27, 1976, and it's a wonderful exercise to look back on all of the great winners, great finishes -- and great exchanges of handshakes, of course -- through the ages.
This edition of our review looks at the years 1986-90.
And the best place to start is with chronological thrift, since the 1986 Memorial, played under four days of perfect weather, stands out for the scoring onslaught that occurred that year. Played May 22-25, the Tournament was won by Hal Sutton, the former PGA champion, who fired a 17-under 271 to win by four strokes over Don Pooley.
In besting the previous Tournament scoring mark by a whopping nine strokes, Sutton became the first Memorial competitor to fire four rounds in the 60s. His four-stroke victory margin also was a record.
“It’s the best golf I’ve ever played, from start to finish; the best tournament I’ve ever had,” Sutton said.
Sutton’s performance was so commanding that there was very little drama the final day. But Jack Nicklaus still made the day memorable when he birdied the first six holes of the back nine, also a record, on the way to a 69 that lifted him to a tie for fifth place – the highest finish he would post the rest of his career.
Pooley, despite a 69, had no chance, but he found redemption the following year, erasing a four-stroke deficit to Scott Hoch in the final round of the 1987 Tournament. Hoch, Fred Couples and Curt Byrum each tied the 18-hole scoring mark with 64s during the week, but Pooley’s consistency was too much as he won by three shots over Byrum with a 16-under 272 total. Hoch opened the door by tumbling to a closing 78.
Curtis Strange also tied the Tournament record with a third-round 64 in the 1988 edition and he closed with a fine 67 for the best final-round score by a winner. His 14-under 274 total was two better than David Frost and two-time Memorial winner Hale Irwin.
Strange, who opened with a 73 before putting on a furious weekend charge, had nearly skipped the Tournament because of his poor record there. Instead, he not only won at Muirfield Village Golf Club, but used the win as a springboard to the first of his two straight U.S. Open titles.
Another former PGA champion won in 1989 as Bob Tway, thanks to clutch ball-striking down the stretch, held off popular Fuzzy Zoeller, who led after each of the first three rounds.
Tway scored kick-in birdies on 15 and 17 to cap a closing 69 and 11-under 277 total, two ahead of Zoeller, who shot a final-round 72.
A 69 in his final round also opened the door for Greg Norman, the No. 1 player in the world at the time, to capture the 1990 Memorial. Of course, he shot that on Saturday during a week of cool temperatures and plenty of precipitation. It turned out, though, that after heavy rains on Sunday, the final round was washed out, and Norman was declared the winner by one shot over Payne Stewart.
Fred Couples finished third, but he was as much a part of the story as Norman, having shot a terrific 69 in awful weather the first day for a four-stroke lead. He still led all the way until the 54th hole of the Tournament when he drove into the hazard at 18 and suffered a double bogey. That miscue put Norman ahead, and, in the end, put the Shark in the winner’s circle, probably appropriate when 10 holes at Muirfield Village were underwater and unplayable.