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 1991-95.
Let’s start with arguably one of the greatest Memorials ever. Few editions of the Memorial Tournament Presented by Nationwide were more memorable than the 1993 event won by Paul Azinger with his very last shot on the very last hole.
Azinger blasted from the left greenside bunker into the hole for a birdie that allowed him to speed past his good friend Payne Stewart on the 72nd hole. Stewart, who held a three-stroke lead after 54 holes, seemed destined to win after a second and two third-place finishes in his last four starts at Muirfield Village. But Azinger had other plans, his 3-under 69 good for a one-stroke victory.
Stewart, the 2001 Memorial Honoree after he died in a Learjet crash in 1999, still had a chance to tie Azinger, but he missed a 10-foot par putt and then the comebacker that gave second place to Corey Pavin.
As Azinger watched his ball disappear into the hole, he ended up kneeling, stunned, in the bunker. The win was his ninth on the PGA TOUR, and it was an emotional one.
I had tears in my eyes before I came out of the bunker," he would later admit. "I can remember in '86 when [Bob] Tway won the PGA [by holing a bunker shot against Greg Norman on the 72nd hole in the 1987 championship], and he cried. I said, 'What a baby. I'd never cry at a golf tournament.'
"But I couldn't help it. I was such a shock for it to go in, and then my best friend on TOUR's out there [on the green] and I did it to him."
The 1994 Memorial also had a sense of specialness, but this one wasn't close as Tom Lehman won his first PGA TOUR title by five strokes over 1990 winner Greg Norman - and Norman shot an impressive closing 64 just to make it that close.
Lehman was simply brilliant that week. Taking advantage of perfect weather, he posted four straight 67s to shoot 20-under 268. That is still the Tournament record. "I was ready to win physically, spiritually and emotionally," Lehman said. "I knew I could do it."
The guy who won the following year also knew he could win; it was Norman, who was firing on all cylinders and nearly matched Lehman's mark, shooting bookened 66s in a 19-under 269 performance that beat countryman Steve Elkington, Mark Calcavecchia and David Duval by four shots. Norman joined Tournament Founder and Host Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin as the only multiple winners.
Playoffs marked the 1991 and 1992 Tournaments.
Kenny Perry recorded the first of his 13 PGA TOUR titles by winning the '91 title, beating none other than Irwin after each finished 72 holes in 15 under 273. Perry's second-round 63 set up his chance for victory, but Irwin, the 1983 and '85 Memorial winner and a three-time U.S. Open champion, closed with a 66 to force overtime.
Perry, however, walked off with the trophy after making birdie on the first extra hole, the par-5 15th. It would end up the first of his three wins at Muirfield Village.
"Unbelievable," Perry said after his breakthrough win at the age of 30.
"Way to hang in there kid," Irwin, ever the sportsman, told him at the finish.
Hanging in there was the fashion of the week in the '92 Memorial, after rainy, splashy conditions turned the Tournament into a test of will and patience. David Edwards proved best at this game of hit and wait, overcoming Rick Fehr in a two-hole playoff after both men shot closing 67s and ended 72 holes at 273. The event ended in near darkness with Edwards making par on the second extra hole for his third PGA TOUR win.