The Memorial serves as great tune-up for U.S. Open

The Memorial tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Ohio is important for several reasons, one of which is that it was founded by legend Jack Nicklaus. Perhaps more importantly, though, is the field of great golfers it draws as they prepare for the prestigious and treacherous U.S. Open in two weeks.

The four majors —the Masters, the Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship — are obviously the biggest tournaments in the world, but it’s the events that precede them that have a huge bearing on who wins those coveted titles. The Memorial is one of those events, largely because of the challenges it presents as competitors get ready for the daunting Open at Maryland’s Congressional Country Club June 16-19.

The Memorial kicked off yesterday and runs today (3pm ET, Golf Channel), Saturday (12:30pm ET, Golf Channel; 3pm ET, CBS) and Sunday (noon ET, Golf Channel; 2:30pm ET, CBS). The 18-hole layout features 75 bunkers and 11 holes in which water comes into play, making it one of the toughest courses on tour.

“I think the golf course is a blend of power and a blend of accuracy and preciseness, and that’s sort of what I like,” said Nicklaus, who is still very active in running the tournament. “I don’t think we’re a stand back and hit it as hard as you want type golf course. In fact, I think most of the players actually take the drivers out of their hands on a great number of occasions. Luke Donald should do very well on this golf course because power is not the main factor. It’s a combination.”

Those comments made prior to Thursday’s first round proved quite prophetic, because Luke Donald — the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world — was only a few strokes off the lead by the end of the day. And while no golf tournament is won on the first day (especially on a course like Muirfield), it is very possible for golfers to lose a tournament with a very poor round since they run the risk of not making the weekend cut. Phil Mickelson is one of those who struggled yesterday by shooting even par, and he will need a much better round today if he’s going to be playing tomorrow.

Some names to look out for this weekend are Donald, Rory McIlroy, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Ricky Barnes, K.J. Choi and Chris Riley, but this tournament is almost always up for grabs until the last hole of the last day. The person Nicklaus presents with the trophy Sunday evening will be the one who can best manage this very tough course while minimizing their mistakes.

And that’s what makes this a must-watch event for golf fans as we gear up for the U.S. Open.