(Reuters) - Most of the game's leading players have gathered for this week's Memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio, where the leafy Muirfield Village layout is always in immaculate shape for a PGA Tour event that enjoys major-like status.
Hosted annually by golfing great Jack Nicklaus with a prime spot on the tour schedule just two weeks before the U.S. Open, the Memorial repeatedly attracts one of the best fields on the U.S. circuit.
Six of the world's top 10 players, and 12 of the leading 20, will be competing this week at Muirfield Village where number one Rory McIlroy, third-ranked Bubba Watson and Henrik Stenson (fourth) are the notable absentees.
"I'm excited to be here, one of my favorite courses and one of our favorite stops on tour through the year," Masters champion and world number two Jordan Spieth said after playing in the pro-am competition on Wednesday.
"The course is in pristine shape ... it's as good as it's ever been. It looks like it might be single digits (under par after 72 holes) if the greens get firm and faster that wins this golf tournament.
"I really like those courses. I've got to work different ball flights and be a magician on the greens."
Already a double winner on the 2014-15 PGA Tour while piling up eight top-10s in 15 starts, American Spieth will be playing his fifth event in six weeks when he tees off in Thursday's opening round but said fatigue was not a problem.
"I've felt great this year," the 21-year-old smiled. "Only a couple of times have I felt a little worn out ... and that's about it.
"My game felt great yesterday and it felt great today. And I'm striking the ball better than I did the last two weeks."
Also delighted to be back at Memorial was 2011 champion Steve Stricker who, at the age of 48, is playing a greatly reduced schedule on the PGA Tour.
"Always a fun place to come back to, and provides some great memories here from back in 2011," said the American as he prepared for his fifth start of the season.
"I think about those memories a lot, walking off that last green and seeing Jack there to give you that handshake. It's just a special place."
Japan's Hideki Matsuyama will defend the title he won last year in a playoff with American Kevin Na at Memorial.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)