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.
In our last five-year window, we had just entered the Tiger Woods era, and as dominant as he became throughout golf and the major championships, he also was without peer at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Now we look at 2001-2005, and not much changed, at least not at first.
Woods had won the 1999 and 2000 editions of the Memorial Tournament, the first man to win back-to-back titles at Jack's invitational. Well, wouldn't you know it, he also became the first player to win it three times in a row when he captured the 2001 edition with a record seven-stroke triumph over Sergio Garcia and 1993 Memorial winner Paul Azinger, now fully recovered from a scary battle with lymphoma in his shoulder.
The ease with which the world No. 1 captured his third straight Memorial title -- the first player since Tom Watson in 1980 to win three straight at a single event -- was hardly evident on a day-to-day basis. He never led after any of the first three rounds. Ohio State product Chris Smith and veteran Scott Verplank led after Round 1 and Azinger held the second- and third-round leads. Yet, at the end, there was Woods, after a masterful closing 6-under 66, hoisting the Memorial trophy again. He broke 70 all four days in finishing with a 17-under 271 total.
Could he possibly win four in a row? As it turned out, no. Jim Furyk, who met his wife Tabitha at the Memorial, had a different idea. He sprinted home with a 68-65 finishing kick and beat another Ohio State alum, John Cook, and David Peoples by two strokes. Furyk had begun the final round five strokes behind 1989 Memorial winner Bob Tway, but Furyk fashioned the lowest final round by a Memorial winner, fueled by an eagle at the par-5 15th from out of a greenside bunker.
Woods would go on to finish T-22, never really getting untracked until a closing 66.
The 2003 Memorial Tournament marked the return of another past Memorial champion. Kenny Perry won his first PGA TOUR title at Muirfield Village in 1991. Twelve years later, he joined Woods, Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Greg Norman and Hale Irwin as repeat winners.
It wasn't easy. Perry looked to be in cruise control with opening rounds of 65-68 to lead at the halfway point. But a toughened Muirfield Village, featuring renovated greens and a completely redesigned 18th hole, fought back. An even-par 72 on Sunday and 13-under 275 total proved to be enough for Perry to beat Lee Janzen by two. Ever-present Woods was fourth at 279.
Woods was third in 2004 at 276, two behind 1998 champ Fred Couples and four behind the winner, Ernie Els. The Big Easy, an immense talent from South Africa, finally got the better of Woods, who had relegated Els to three straight second-place finishes in majors in 2000. Under four days of ideal weather, Els won his 14th PGA TOUR title thanks to a 66-66 weekend performance that gave him an 18-under 270 total.
"I made almost every putt that I had to make," said Els, who needed just 100 putts for the week, a Memorial record.
Playing great golf, Couples was in the mix again the following year, but was left runner-up again. This time it was Bart Bryant who held him off. The final round began with the two gentlemen tied atop the leaderboard with David Toms and first- and second-round leader Jeff Sluman at 12-under 204.
Bryant was the least decorated of the bunch, but he shot a final-round 68, capped by a crucial par save at the 18th from 14 feet, to hold off Couples for his second TOUR title. He finished at 16-under 272 with four rounds in the 60s.
Wouldn't you know it, Woods tied for third at 276, indicating that he might not be done collecting Memorial wins just yet.