The Best 3-Ball Bets For Memorial: Rory McIlroy & Justin Thomas Stand Out For Thursday
Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images. Pictured: Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods
- Jason Sobel breaks down the best 3-ball bets for Thursday's opening round of the Memorial Tournament.
- Find out why he likes Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas.
There has yet to be a major championship this year, and with The Players Championship canceled after just one round, this week’s Memorial Tournament might be the closest we’ve seen so far in 2020.
It’s no surprise that the four opening-round featured groups read like a who’s who of legends, superstars and up-and-comers — enough of ’em to keep us glued to that streaming coverage for, oh, just about 12 hours or so.
Let’s get right to the Thursday picks for this quartet of three-ball matchups at Muirfield Village.
Rory McIlroy (+155) over Tiger Woods & Brooks Koepka
As I wrote in my tourney preview, Tiger often throws jabs — not uppercuts — in the opening round of a big event and/or when he’s coming off a lengthy layoff.
There’s an old saying about how you can’t win a tournament on Thursday, you can only lose it, and he knows that better than anyone else. I don’t think he’ll play poorly in the opener, but for his first round in five months, I don’t expect much more than a 70 or 71.
I really like Koepka this week, as he started to find some form on his second nine last Friday before missing the cut and adding this one to his schedule.
Against almost anyone else, I’d like his chances, but McIlroy owns the best first-round score in tournament history: A 9-under 63 back in 2014. Knowing that some of his fellow superstars have been trying to pass him in the fast lane lately — and adding in the fact that he took last week off and won’t have to get adjusted to these greens at quicker speeds — Rory is the play in a close one.
Shane Lowry (+195) over Phil Mickelson & Justin Rose
Despite winning last year’s Open Championship, Lowry doesn’t quite have the same credentials as many of his featured group stars, but I like the fact that they’ve put him here as he celebrates the one-year anniversary of claiming the Claret Jug.
Lowry has posted scores of 69-66 in his last two opening rounds, so he’s been a quick starter recently. That label could similarly apply to Mickelson, who had openers of 69-64 after the restart before last week’s 73. I’m moving him down a few notches, though, due to the fact that in 19 career Memorial starts, Lefty owns just three top-10 results and nothing better than T-4.
Simply put, this isn’t his favorite golf course.
Rose, meanwhile, is a major wildcard, fresh off a second-round 80 last week. I can see him playing well in this one –- hey, there’s gotta be an improvement — but not so sure I’m ready to close my eyes and grit my teeth for five hours to find out if it’ll happen Thursday.
Patrick Cantlay (+175) over Bryson DeChambeau & Collin Morikawa
What does it say about this event that these three guys are among the most impressive, intriguing tee-to-green players on the planet and yet, in terms of global popularity, the trio is still probably a distant second (or even third) within these groups?
We know all about Bryson’s commitment to punishing the ball off the tee, but he’s said multiple times over the past month that he’s consistently struggled with sightlines and strategy with his newfound distance. I really don’t feel good about fading him here, considering his four Thursday scores since the restart were 65-67-65-66, but here’s guessing it could take a day or two for the 2018 champion to re-figure out the course.
I similarly expect a couple of low early rounds from Morikawa before he fades a bit in the afterglow of last week’s win.
My favorite play here, though, is Cantlay, fresh off a 65 in Sunday’s final round. This is easily the toughest group to handicap — and I think they’ll produce the lowest opening total of the four — but if I’ve absolutely gotta take someone, then give me Cantlay, who is a combined 9-under in his three opening rounds of this tournament.
Justin Thomas (+160) over Xander Schauffele & Dustin Johnson
My favorite outright play for the week is Schauffele, who has somehow failed to win a single tournament over the past 18 months. That’s too long for a player of his caliber, but I’m going to bank on him easing his way into this week and going for the kill during the weekend rounds.
It’s also tough to pick against DJ, who’s fresh off a win in his last start two weeks ago.
The pick, however, is Thomas, who’s obviously in good form after blowing a three-shot lead with three holes to play Sunday and tying the first two playoff holes, before ultimately losing to Morikawa. Thomas was steaming mad after, in his mind, giving away that tournament.
And unlike many world-class players, I’ve always believed JT plays some of his best golf when he’s got a little chip on his shoulder, either caused by someone else or produced internally.
Some players can’t swing with steam still coming out of their ears — let alone chip and putt — but I believe Thomas owns the ability to filter this anger toward himself into better play, which could lead to a low one on Thursday.