(Reuters) - Very few of the game's top players are absent from this week's Memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio where the leafy Muirfield Village layout is always in immaculate condition and the PGA Tour event has the feeling of a major.
Hosted annually by golfing great Jack Nicklaus and benefiting from a prime spot in 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.
Seven of the world's top 10 players will be competing this week where second-ranked Henrik Stenson, third-ranked Tiger Woods (still recovering from back surgery) and Sergio Garcia (eighth) are the notable absentees.
"I love this place," American world number five and Masters champion Bubba Watson, told reporters on Tuesday while preparing for Thursday's opening round.
"It's one of those places where you always see a great field and it's a good golf course. I love the look of it. I've ever played very well here but I love coming back and challenging myself.
"Hopefully now that I am playing a lot better, and thinking my way round a bit better, that will show on Sunday afternoon. Hopefully I'm here Sunday afternoon," Watson smiled, referring to his prospects of making the cut after the second round.
Though the American left-hander does not boast an impressive track record at Muirfield Village, he has produced excellent form so far this season with six top-10s in 10 starts, including his second victory at the Masters last month.
Heading the field this week will be Australian Adam Scott, who clinched the Crowne Plaza Invitational in a playoff on Sunday and will be making his second consecutive appearance on the PGA Tour since replacing Woods as world number one.
"Winning any golf tournament is very difficult out here, they don't come easy," said Scott, who beat American Jason Dufner on the third extra hole at Colonial Country Club. "I played hard and I was really happy with where my game was at.
"As always, a bit of luck involved but to come out on top is a really satisfying feeling. I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself to have to go and win every week to stay number one."
Scott will tee off in high-profile company in Thursday's opening round where he is grouped with compatriot Jason Day, the world number seven, and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, the former world number one.
McIlroy returns to PGA Tour action with his game in excellent shape, having won the European Tour's flagship BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth on Sunday, just four days after breaking up with his tennis-playing fiancee Caroline Wozniacki.
Fourth-ranked American Matt Kuchar, who triumphed by two shots at last year's tournament, is back to defend his title.
Kuchar, a seven-times winner on the PGA Tour, has established himself as one of the most consistent players in the game but will be looking to rebound from a rare missed cut on the U.S. circuit at the Crowne Plaza Invitational last week.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)