WGC – Fedex St Jude
For the risk of beginning to sound like a stuck record it was another week for us that held promise going in to the weekend and Sunday but unfortunately once more failed to deliver, with both of our players in the hunt for places Patrick Rodgers and Si Woo Kim unable to push on.
To add insult to injury the man who took home the trophy Michael Thompson was someone we had sided with at three figure odds in his last start at the Workday based on the promising signs he had shown of late, only for him to miss the cut.
All credit to Thompson it was a fantastic performance and a thoroughly deserved win - all be it a somewhat galling one for us!
Moving on and as we all know it’s been a challenging and bizarre period in the world of golf [as it has been in everything else of course] over recent months and this is perhaps summed up best by the fact that last year, this weeks event took place on the heels of the final Major of the year, whereas this year it is a precursor to the first major of the year.
The event in question is the WGC Fedex St Jude.
First played in 1958 the Fedex St Jude Classic has been a staple event of the tour for many years. And TPC Southwind has been the host course since 1989.
In 2018 though it was announced that the traditional Fedex St Jude Classic historically held in June before the US Open would go from the calendar with TPC Southwind instead taking over hosting the WGC, which was previously held at Firestone in Akron and with the rejigging of the PGA Tour schedule, the event was allocated the post Open week slot.
This year of course due to the Covid-19 pandemic the schedule has once again been revised and so it is that the event finds itself in the warm up slot to next weeks trip to Harding Park for the USPGA, the first Major Championship of 2020.
We have a limited field this week with 78 players teeing it up who will play all four rounds.
Those choosing to skip the event include Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Francesco Molinari and of course Adam Scott.
At the time of writing the newly anointed world number one Jon Rahm holds marginal favouritism over Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Bryson Dechambeau.
TPC Southwind is a Par 70 measuring at 7244 yards.
The fairways feature Zoyzia grass which can also be found at East Lake home of the Tour Championship and Trinity Forest, home of the Byron Nelson.
The greens are Champion Bermuda.
The course was originally designed by Ron Pritchard with consultation from Hubert Green & Fuzzy Zoeller in 1988 and opened for play in 1989.
TPC Southwind is a tough, technical test with fairways and greens being hard to find and water in play on 8 of the 18 holes. On this basis a good short game is normally key here.
Year in year out the course ranks as one, if not the, toughest par 70 on tour.
You will also no doubt see the stat come up on your TV screen over the week that TPC Southwind historically sees more balls in the water than any other course on the PGA Tour. [Although TPC Twin Cities may have taken that honour away this year.]
This means no lead is safe coming down the stretch here.
One man who will certainly testify to this is Robert Garrigus who famously took a seven on the 18th back in 2010 when he held a three shot lead, thus ending up in a play off which ultimately lead to Lee Westwood being the grateful recipient of the trophy.
In a fairly unique scenario [outside of Major’s such as a US Open at Pebble or the PGA at Quail Hollow three years ago] we have an event on the calendar, where the host course has been pinched from another regular tour event.
From that point of view we in theory have two angles that we need to look at, historical TPC Southwind form from the old Fedex St Jude, and form from this time of year in the old WGC event, or indeed players who in general have a good history in WGC’s and this was our strategy last year.
This year of course the waters are muddied further by the revamped schedule meaning we have an event being played away from the traditional calendar slot and the week before a Major.
If we take a look at recent winners of this event the most striking thing that I noted last year prior to the event was that nine of the previous eleven winners in Memphis were players who hailed from Southern or Eastern states in the US. These were Berger [x2], DJ [x2], English, Frazer, Gay, Crane and Leonard. The two exceptions were Fabien Gomez from Argentina and Lee Westwood. The 2019 winner Brooks Koepka then continued this pattern.
Furthermore four of those winners, Frazar, Crane, Gay & Leonard hailed from Texas.
Now of course what we need to bear in mind is that the far greater international flavour to the event now that it holds WGC status could more likely break this pattern, however my thought is that guys from the Southern/Eastern area of the US are more at home in the hot sticky conditions that we see here, and of course on the Bermuda Greens, than the West Coast guys are.
With the event being a WGC it is most likely that the cream will rise to the top, something that can be seen from the recent list of WGC winners.
To back this up we only need look at the fact that in the last six years DJ has six WGC’s to his name, Hideki two, Tiger two, Bubba two, Day two, Reed two, while others have been won by Thomas, Scott, Phil, Rose and Koepka here last year.
In fact now that Lowry holds the Claret Jug the only non-major winners of WGC’s over the past six years are Xander, Knox, Kuchar and Kisner, with the last two being Matchplay not strokeplay winners.
While it is possible this year that with the event leading in to a Major we will see a slightly lesser name triumph as the games elite tune up for the trip to Harding Park for the USPGA, we need to bear in mind that the old version of this event played at Firestone was played for several years in the week leading up to the USPGA, something which didn’t lead to a spate of unheralded winner.
On that basis in principal it is clear that we should be focusing pretty much exclusively on the elite players at the top end of the market this week.
With Koepka having won the first edition of this event in its WGC guise it is perhaps worth noting that he had been a regular visitor here over the years and had posted two historical top three finishes. From that point of view it would be fair to say he was at an advantage to the guys teeing it up here for the first time or the first time in many years, having said that though of the remaining players who finished in the top ten five of them, Leishman, Fitzpatrick, Fleetwood, Rahm and Watson had never played here before while McIlroy hadn’t played here since 2012.
From the point of view of form coming in to this week on a WGC basis [in other words last year in Memphis and previously to that at Firestone] we can see that Koepka produced the goods here in 2019 on the back of a fourth place finish at the Open Championship the week before.
Prior to that however Thomas won at Firestone on the back of a run of MC 56 25 while Matsuyama won the year before in Akron having finished 14th and second at the British and US Open’s in his two previous starts.
Not unsurprisingly for Memphis in July we have a week of hot temperatures in store with unfortunately the potential for some interruptions through storms to differing degrees across all four days.
Wind could be a factor across the first couple of days with the possibility of 15mph + gusts, however as I type they look less of a factor at the weekend.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
PATRICK REED – 35 -1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 47th
As per usual it is incredibly tough to separate the guys at the top of the market and a compelling case could be made for anyone of the four. If I had to plump for one of those at around the 12/1 mark it would be Thomas however I am happy to take my chances a little bit further down the betting market and focus on players who are still more than capable of producing the goods in this company.
The first of these who is always a ‘must’ to consider when the tour returns to Bermuda greens is Patrick Reed.
I sided with Reed in this last year when ultimately a slow opening round of 73 cost him any serious chance of lifting the trophy.
With the possibility that this was of course a hangover from the long journey back from Royal Portrush Patrick went on that week to shoot three further rounds of 66, 67 & 68 to finish the week in 12th place.
Encouragingly for this time around the former Masters Champion finished that week second from tee to green and it was an uncharacteristically cold putter, which held him back.
It’s been a quiet return to action for Reed since lockdown however the two weeks in Ohio appeared to serve him well and last time out at the Memorial he finished an eye catching tenth.
As I mentioned last year Patrick’s putter misbehaved here however this season his putting stats have improved considerably, he currently ranks ninth with the flat stick, while his ‘around the green’ stats have remained very strong as well, and these attributes should serve him well at a venue, which requires a strong short game.
To back this up further last years winner Koepka ranked first for the week in putting, while second home Simpson ranked third for the week in that category.
With two WGC’s to his name now, the most recent of which came in Mexico earlier this year Reed has shown that he relishes competing with the games biggest stars in these limited field events and I can see him making a bold bid to add another to his trophy cabinet in Memphis this week.
WEBB SIMPSON – 22 -1 - 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 12th
While the idea of backing Webb Simpson at odds of 22/1 in this sort of company might have seemed ludicrous at one time Simpson is now firmly entrenched in the worlds top five and he deserves his place near the top of the market.
Not the longest off the tee Simpson has shown time and again that he is at his best on courses, which do not need overpowering and it was no surprise to see him chase Koepka home here last year.
Looking at Webb’s stats for the season and it is easy to see why he is having such a great campaign as he ranks 14th from tee to green, 11th in approach play and 17th in putting, a pretty potent combination.
While based on his second here last year and indeed his third here in 2017 we don’t need to speculate on Simpson’s suitability to the venue it is also worth noting that he has great form at Waialae home of the Sony Open, a venue which correlates really well here through the likes of Fabien Gomez and Harris English.
A missed cut last time out at Memorial can obviously be seen as a slight negative however after missing the cut at the Charles Schwab Webb went on to win at the Heritage the following week so I’m not going to lose to much sleep over that performance.
Ultimately Simpson has shown time and again at venues like Hilton Head, Waialae and Sedgefield that he is right at home on this kind of test and I am happy to take him to bounce back to form this week.
KEVIN KISNER – 100-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 25th
I’m going to finish our selections for Memphis with a trio of three figure odds picks all of whom I think have what it takes to make an impact at this level.
The first of these who’s pedigree is not in doubt is Kevin Kisner.
Kisner has had an up and down season, something which has been summed up by his performance in his last four starts, a third place finish at the Rocket Mortgage sandwiched in amongst three missed cuts.
Kisner hadn’t visited TPC Southwind for several years prior to last year however 38th, 13th and 50th in his first three starts here were decent efforts considering they came in his formative years on tour and he is obviously a far more accomplished player now.
Last years finish of 27th again caught the eye as after an opening 77, which like with Reed can potentially be put down to an Open Championship hangover, he finished the week with rounds of 67 66 and 67 and he actually lead the week in approach play.
The club that let Kevin down here last year was the putter and with him only being ranked 83rd in this category for the season there has to be some concern in this department heading in to this week.
Encouragement on this front can be found though by looking at his recent third place at the Rocket Mortgage where he finished third for the week in putting.
From a correlating course point of view Kisner has a strong record at Waialae, which as noted already fits well here and he is also a previous winner at Colonial, which of course links in nicely through Daniel Berger. Finally he also performed very creditably to finish 12th at the 2018 US PGA at Bellerive, which shares a link to here with Zoysia grass and was won by last years victor here Brooks Koepka.
Like Simpson you have to pick and choose your courses for Kisner however get him on the right venue and he is more than capable of going up against the big names and taking them down, something which he memorably showed when winning the WGC Matchplay last year, and at three figure odds I am more than happy to chance him this week.
MATT WALLACE – 100-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 59th
Next up for me this week is Matt Wallace.
After a stellar 2018 campaign, which saw Wallace win three times, 2019 was a winless year for the Englishman despite the fact he posted five top three finishes on the European Tour including a third place finish in the USPGA.
Moving in to 2020 and Wallace has struggled far more for form on both sides of the Atlantic as he has battled with the time honoured issue of trying to get to grips with life on the PGA Tour for the first time while juggling two tours.
After lockdown though there were signs of life with two solid efforts of 12th and 39th at the Rocket Mortgage and Workday before Matt finally sprang to life with a fourth place finish at The Memorial.
Always known as a strong putter on the European Tour Wallace’s short game was in good working order at Muirfield Village as he finished the week eighth in putting and second around the greens and this bodes well coming in to this week.
Twenty Seventh on his debut here last year was an encouraging effort as Matt arrived here straight off a fairly lacklustre three week straight stretch on the UK ‘links swing’.
Fourth for the week in putting last year and a third round of 65 in his weeks tally are also really positive signs for him to build on upon his return to Memphis.
Wallace has shown with his third place in the USPGA last year and also with his 12th in the US Open at Pebble Beach that he thrives on the big stage and with his proven winning pedigree he is the sort of player who you could see popping up and winning a WGC in the way Lowry did at Firestone several years back and I am keen to side with him this week.
CHRISTIAAN BEZUIDENHOUT – 125-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 20th
For my final pick this week I shall roll the dice with another player I believe has what it takes to compete at this level, Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Bezzy [as we shall refer to him for the rest of this preview!] had his break out year on the European Tour in 2019 posting five top tens and his maiden tour title at Valderrama.
As a result of this solid play the South African finds himself in the worlds top 50 and with a seat at the table in these big money spinning WGC events.
In his first two outings in WGC’s Christiaan has finished 17th in China and 29th in Mexico so two reasonably solid efforts, and even though this is his debut in Memphis my hunch is this could be a venue where he could build on these efforts and perform considerably better.
My first reason for thinking this is that, while Bezzy has not really pulled up any trees on the PGA Tour this season he is cementing his reputation in the States as a really strong putter [something which those who watch him in Europe will already know] currently ranking 12th on tour with the flat stick and this something, which should hold him in good stead here.
In addition his iron play is also flourishing this season as he ranks 24th in approach play.
Last time out at the Memorial where he finished a solid 22nd the 26yr old was ninth in putting and 22nd in approach play.
In addition to this the other thing that catches my eye is that looking at historical Fedex St Jude leader boards over recent years South African players have performed well here, noticeably Goosen and Schwartzel, and it may just be that more international experience on Zoysia grass is something they are comfortable with.
This final point is obviously speculative however regardless of this the South African strikes me as the sort of player who will in due course make a serious mark at this level and I am happy to chance him here this week based on his eye catching performance last time out.
UPDATED 28th JULY
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - RYAN PALMER - DK VALUE - $6700 - FINISHED 15th - 73.5 DK POINTS
Before diving in to this weeks sub $7k plays it is worth noting that two of our main team Wallace and Bezuidenhout fall in this bracket, however as always here are two further DK picks starting with Ryan Palmer.
Palmer reminded us again at the Memorial that he is not a man you would want to trust with your money on a Sunday to bring home the trophy, however as a DK prospect when priced in this range on a suitable course he is an excellent proposition.
Historically Southwind has been one such course that has been reasonably kind to Ryan as his record of seven consecutive cuts made here at the old Fedex St Jude, including two top four finishes testifies.
Buoyed by his good showing at the Memorial, which came on the back of some time well spent with his coach after his missed cut in the Workday, I expect the Texan to enjoy his week in Memphis and deliver another strong performance.
PICK 2 - JT POSTON - DK VALUE - $6500 - FINISHED 30th - 72 DK POINTS
Poston has missed his last three cuts on the PGA Tour to slip in to what could be seen as a mini slump. This week however he returns to a course, which should be far more to his liking, a par 70, which strong putters thrive on.
A return to Championship Bermuda greens, the same,surface, which JT posted his maiden tour title on at Sedgefield last August is also a big plus.
Eighteenth here on his last appearance in the Fedex St Jude I expect 'The Postman' to deliver a solid performance this week.