2014 Memorial Tournament | Five players to watch

Adam Scott
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Adam Scott became the No. 1 ranked player in the world for the first time in his career last week and promptly went on to win at Colonial.
By T.J. Auclair, Senior Interactive Producer
PGA.com
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Series: Golf Buzz

The stars are out this week on the PGA Tour for the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village -- the home of Jack Nicklaus.

This is the time of year where the best of the best rise to the top. We're well into the new season and just two weeks away from the U.S. Open. We're also coming off a week in which Rory McIlroy and new world No. 1 Adam Scott each won. Wouldn't you love to see a Rory/Adam battle at Memorial?

RELATED: Memorial tee times | Insider's take on Muirfield Village | Review Muirfield Village

With so many stars in the field this week, it's tough to pinpoint a clear favorite. Here are five players you should definitely keep a close eye on, though.

5. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Playoff loss at the Honda Classic
Reason to watch: At this time one week ago, there's no way that McIlroy would have been in my top 5 headed into Memorial. I figured his public acknowledgement of calling off his engagement to Caroline Wozniaki would have a negative impact on his game. But, as he showed us last week in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, sometimes the golf course can be your sanctuary. That's precisely what it was for McIlroy, who picked up his first win on the European Tour since the end of 2012. It was a breakthrough for so many reasons. Yes, he did win in Australia at the end of last season, which was nice. But, this latest victory had to feel like his biggest and best since winning the 2012 PGA Championship -- it's the European Tour's flagship event, its version of the Players Championship over here. McIlroy's best finish at Memorial was a fifth in 2011. He also tied for 10th in 2010.

4. Jordan Spieth
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Second at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions; T2 at the Masters
Reason to watch: Let's face it -- Spieth has done everything but win this season. And his game keeps showing up at some of the toughest courses on Tour (see that T2 at Augusta National, T4 at TPC Sawgrass, T4 at Pebble Beach). This week is no exception. Muirfield Village always provides a stern test and I think Spieth is up to the challenge. His only previous Memorial start was last year and that resulted in a T63. He left on a high note, however. After a disappointing 82 in the third round -- his worst score ever on Tour -- he bounced back with a 68 in the final round. That shows you the guy doesn't quit. He'll also have some nice memories returning to the place where he was a member of the winning U.S. Presidents Cup team last fall.

3. Phil Mickelson
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
T11 at the Wells Fargo Championship
Reason to watch: If I'm being honest here, I really have no idea what to expect from Phil Mickelson this week. It's just been that kind of year. But, with the U.S. Open at Pinehurst just two weeks away, I've got to believe that something is going to click soon. This is Mickelson's first start on Tour since missing the cut in the Players Championship. So, he's had time to work on his game. He's also had top-20 finishes at Memorial in three of his last four trips to Muirfield Village. Is this the week he finds the four solid rounds he hasn't been able to find all year long? Your guess is as good as mine. But it could be.

2. Matt Kuchar
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Winner of the RBC Heritage
Reason to watch: This isn't a sentence you get to write often: Matt Kuchar enters the Memorial Tournament after having missed the cut last week at Colonial. A cut? For Matt Kuchar? That's only happened one other time this year -- at the Northern Trust Open -- and before that it hadn't happened since the 2012 PGA Championship. When Matt Kuchar misses a cut, I don't read too much in to it. He shakes off a bad week like a dog shakes off water after a bath. Plus, he typically does OK at Muirfield Village. He's the defending champion. He tied for second in 2011; tied for eighth in 2010; tied for fifth in 2009 and tied for 10th in 2008. Pretty solid track record, no?

1. Adam Scott
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Winner of the Crowne Plaza Invitational
Reason to watch: Scott became the No. 1 player in the world last week for the first time in his career. So, what did he do to celebrate? Well, pretty much what you would expect the No. 1 player in the world to do -- he won in his very next start at the Crowne Plaza Invitational. It was Scott's first PGA Tour win since last August at the Barclays. He did it in stunning fashion, too. All day last Friday, he was very much in danger of missing the cut, which you don't want to do any week, but particularly the first week you become No. 1. He settled down, made some late birdies and got to the weekend. With back-to-back rounds of 66, Scott found himself in a playoff with Jason Dufner, then hit two spectacular putts to win the tournament. Outside of a tie for 13th last year and a tie for fifth in 2007, Scott hasn't done anything of particular note at Muirfield Village. But, after what he did last week in his first start as No. 1, I believe there's a level of confidence in his game that he's never experienced before. 

 

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.