By Dave Shedloski

The Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide always has been one of the premiere events on the PGA TOUR since its inception in 1976. And its status only seems to grow with legendary host Jack Nicklaus watching over the proceedings.

“It’s truly amazing to think that a tournament hosted by golf’s greatest champion in the game and played on one of the greatest golf courses in the game keeps getting better, but the Memorial Tournament continually rises in stature,” said Jim Nantz, longtime CBS Sports golf anchor. “For someone who treasures the sport and the history of the game as much as I do, it’s truly one of the great weekends of my year.”

Newly minted world No. 1 Justin Thomas heads a field that includes eight of the top in the world rankings, while five-time Memorial Tournament winner Tiger Woods returns for the first time since 2015. Along with Thomas, all of the other two-time winners on the PGA TOUR this season are entered: Justin Rose (No. 3 in the world and the 2010 Memorial winner), Columbus resident Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Patton Kizzire.

Former PGA champion Jason Dufner returns to defend his title.

“We virtually have the who’s who of players and virtually everybody’s here, and I think we have probably done pretty well,” the Golden Bear said of the strong 120-player field competing for a purse of $8.9 million.

Nantz, who has worked every Memorial Tournament since 1986, his rookie year on the network, takes a look at the storylines this week in Dublin, Ohio.

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The PGA TOUR calls the Memorial Tournament an enhanced event because of the larger purse and three-year exemption for the winner. I’d argue it’s enhanced because the golf course is superb and Jack Nicklaus is the host. Agree?

The tournament is special for a multitude of reasons. This golf tournament has taken on the personality of truly being one of the biggest events in the sport. All you have to do is look at the field list to be dazzled and get the juices flowing. You’ve got a golf course that is ranked among the best in the world, and it’s hosted by the greatest champion in the history of the sport, there’s a lot for the passionate golf fan to get fired up about.

This week is a very strong field, with eight of the top 10 in the world and in the FedExCup standings. The Memorial always draws a strong field, but this one seems particularly top heavy.

It’s a reflection of what’s going on in the game of golf right now. For those of us who live the sport year-round, we’re seeing wonderful things, [particularly] where the game is going and how it’s trending. And the Memorial is one of those events that brings it all together. You can really sense that the players have a tremendously high regard for Jack Nicklaus and the tournament that he puts on.

Muirfield Village Golf Club can be an extremely tough test. We saw five-time winner Tiger Woods shoot 85 in the third round in 2015. But it also can yield some good scores. We’ve seen both extremes.

There are certainly a lot of places where your game can be exposed in a hurry if you’re off by a fraction. It doesn’t take much, as evidenced by last year’s winner, Jason Dufner, shooting 77 on Saturday and rebounding and still winning. He was just a fraction off in the third round, and it cost him a pair of hockey sticks. I love risk-reward in golf; it brings the sport to a whole new level of drama. You take the best tournaments and the most memorable events we watch, and the term risk-reward is usually a part of it. Just look at major championship golf — and this really is major championship level. Look at what makes the Masters so great. It’s the risk-reward nature of Augusta National Golf Club. You need highs mixed with the lows. You need the guy who pulls off the impossible shot and the guy who pays the penalty for coming up short. A young Jack Nicklaus knew what he was doing when he built Muirfield Village Golf Club all those years ago. It’s the perfect arena for golf at its best, golf at its most interesting.

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Speaking of Woods, this is his first appearance here since that tough 2015 outing. What can we expect as he continues to put his game back together?

He’s got a tremendous track record at the Memorial Tournament. He’s come a long way in his attempt to rebound from back surgery. He’s been quite a story. But who knows what to expect? He’ll be closely watched, of that I am certain.

Justin Thomas makes his first start as the No. 1 player in the world. Does that make a difference to a player when he carries that banner? How will he respond?

When Adam Scott became No. 1 for the first time, he won at Colonial (in 2014), so who’s to say we won’t see that kind of response from Justin Thomas? This is a style of golf course that Justin Thomas grew up on. He was raised in these parts. His family has Ohio ties. This should be right in his wheelhouse. The fact that he is No. 1 doesn’t come as any great shock. It comes at a time in golf when there could be a revolving door at the top of the game.

Give us your favorites and dark horses?

There have been guys over the years who have won this golf tournament whom you [would] least expect to win. There have been guys who won for the first time there, like a Kenny Perry and a Tom Lehman. Then you have Jack, Tom Watson, Fred Couples [who] always played well there, and Tiger with his remarkable record. Muirfield Village is a great showcase for many Hall of Famers, so you think about Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, or Jason Day, who has shown tremendous determination to get back to the top of the rankings. And there are many players who appear ready to add their name to the list of winners.

Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of five books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. His last book was a collaboration with Arnold Palmer for his final autobiography, “A Life Well Played,” published in 2016. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.

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