WGC – Fedex St Jude
It was a fantastic week for us last time out at the 3M Open as we bagged the spoils courtesy of our 125/1 pick Cameron Champ.
Champ had caught my eye with his much improved performance in his previous start at the John Deere Classic where has putter had in particular made great strides. Add this to the fact that his previous two wins had come after similar eye catching displays and he made huge appeal in Minnesota at three figure odds and he rewarded our confidence in spades.
The Californian is one of those types of players that all punters love in that while he has more than his share of poor performances and missed cuts when everything clicks he has no fear and full confidence in his abilities to close things out, something which he showed with his superb display on Sunday at TPC Twin Cities.
Add in the fact that another of our picks, 55/1 shot Charl Schwartzel, came home in a tie for second place and the week couldn’t have gone any better!
So after a weeks hiatus for the Olympics we move on in fantastic spirits and its time for another big event 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.
Last year though due to the Covid-19 pandemic the schedule the event found itself in the warm up slot prior to the trip to Harding Park for the USPGA, the first Major Championship of 2020, while this year the event has been moved to a slot three weeks after the open and in the penultimate week of the full PGA Tour season prior to the start of the Fedex Cup play offs.
We have a limited field this week with 66 players teeing it up who will play all four rounds.
Those eligible who will not be in attendance are Jon Rahm who continues to isolate due to Covid and Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
At the time of writing Brooks Koepka holds marginal favouritism over Collin Morikawa and Olympic Gold medallist Xander Schauffele. This pair are then followed by Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson.
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, which briefly held 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.
If we take a look at recent winners of this event the most striking thing that I have noted historically prior to the 2020 event ten of the previous twelve winners in Memphis were players who hailed from Southern or Eastern states in the US. These were Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger [x2], Dustin Johnson [x2], Harris English, Harrison Frazer, Brian Gay, Ben Crane and Justin Leonard. The two exceptions were Fabien Gomez from Argentina and Lee Westwood. The 2020 winner Justin Thomas 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, Thomas two, while others have been won by Morikawa, Scott, Mickelson and Rose.
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, Horschel, Kuchar and Kisner, with the last three being Matchplay not stroke play winners.
If you then add in the fact that the two winners in this event since it moved to Memphis have been Koepka and Thomas and you get a clear picture of the sort of player we are looking for.
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.
From the point of view of form coming in to this week on a WGC basis [in other words last two years 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 while Thomas had finished 18th and second in his two previous starts to last year’s triumph.
Prior to that however Thomas had 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.
One final factor we should consider this year is the ‘Olympic factor’ as several of the leading players including defending champion Thomas will be arriving here straight from Japan and a combination of the travelling/time zone change plus just having been a part of the whole Olympic experience my lead to some fatigue this week.
The winning scores over the past two WGC editions here have been 13- under last year and 16- under in 2019.
Not unsurprisingly for Memphis in August we have a week of hot temperatures in store with approximately 90 degrees the order across all four days. Fortunately though after the possibility of a storm on Monday we look set for a dry sunny week so by the time the players tee off on Thursday we could see fairly firm conditions.
Wind does not look a factor across the first couple of days however as I type gusts of 20mph + are in the forecast over the weekend.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with three players this week as follows;
BROOKS KOEPKA – 12/1 – 4pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 54th
The last two outright winners we have landed, Cameron Champ at the 3M and Jon Rahm at the US Open have shown perfectly that sometimes it is right to speculate at big odds whilst at others it right to not ignore the obvious and it is the latter route that I shall return to this week.
As noted earlier the WGC’s tend to be the domain of the biggest of names and you could of course make a reasonable case this week for pretty much all of the top half dozen or so in the market. Of those though the one that stands out to me the most is Brooks Koepka and I will start things off by siding with him.
The four time Major Champion as we know tends to save his best stuff for the ‘crown jewel’ events however as a self-confessed lover of TPC Southwind he has really stepped up here over the past two years since the venue took on the WGC event status.
In 2019 Koepka stepped straight off the plane from a fourth place finish at Royal Portrush to land the trophy here while last year the Floridian came close to defending his title even though he arrived here struggling with a knee problem and in no form whatsoever, having missed the cut in two of his three previous starts while finishing 62nd in the other.
Over the recent years Koepka has talked about how much the challenge of TPC Southwind fits his game as well as how much he loves coming back to the Memphis area every year and from that point of view he should certainly be right near the top of the shortlist whenever he tees it up here regardless of form coming in.
This year however we have the added bonus that Brooks arrives here in a really sold run of form having finished fourth, fifth and sixth in his last three starts. I also like the fact that unlike several of the leading names he does not have to handle any fatigue or jet lag as a result of having participated in last weeks Olympic event. On the contrary he has should be nice and fresh and rested after his return from the Open where he charged through the field on Sunday with a final round 65.
In all honesty there is really not too much you can say about Koepka this week, which isn’t blindingly obvious, he loves the course and he arrives in the best shape and most consistent form he has shown in the past couple of years and to me he is impossible to get away from this week.
DUSTIN JOHNSON – 20/1 - 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 10th
Roll the clock back twelve months and Dustin Johnson was about to embark on a tear, which saw him deliver eight consecutive top 12 finishes, three victories including a Masters and a Fedex Cup. Not bad for a couple of months work and I’m sure his Bank Manager was delighted.
The prelude to that run was the worst finish he posted in the eight starts, a 12th place in this event. That week Johnson arrived in Memphis on the back of a bizarre fortnight, which had seen him follow up a win at the Travelers with two consecutive rounds of 80 at the Memorial and an opening 78 at the 3M Open before he withdrew.
Despite that puzzling glitch though the two time Major Champion was able to right the ship at TPC Southwind, a venue he has shown us over the years suits him well.
This year DJ arrives back in Memphis with some parallels in that he missed the cut on his last start at the 3M Open however prior to that he delivered a strong week at the Open Championship to finish eighth and in his previous three starts, which had all resulted in top 25 finishes, he had shown glimpses that he was getting back on track after a run of results, which had seen him miss the cut at the Masters and the PGA, and not post a top ten finish since the Genesis in February until the Palmetto Championship in June.
So why jump back on board with Johnson this week? Well firstly as I say if we put the missed cut at the 3M Open to one side, an event he clearly lacked motivation for on the back of the Open, there are clear signs he is much closer to the form we know he can produce than he was in the spring. Then of course we have his record at TPC Southwind, which has seen him post two wins and two further top tens on the track in his last seven visits. Combine this with the fact that he has hoovered up six WGC’s over the years and this is clearly a perfect fit for him.
Finally to put it bluntly we have his odds. We have seen over recent years that a strategy of jumping on an elite player when they drift out to the 20/1 mark can pay dividends, with Justin Thomas’ victory at Sawgrass in the spring a perfect example. Here we have a situation where the world number two goes off at the same odds he did at the Open despite the fact that he performed strongly there and now tees it up on a course we know he loves.
Compare his price to the aforementioned Thomas for example who, while also clearly suited to the course, sits four points shorter, even though his recent form is arguably weaker than Johnson’s and has to deal with the travel from Japan and to me it makes no sense at all.
All in all while Johnson is not in the supreme form he was in towards the end of last year we know that if he can get the putter to warm up there is very little between him finishing 15th and winning and I am more than happy to risk him at the odds this week.
BILLY HORSCHEL – 80/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 17th
I’m going to keep our team to just three this week in Memphis and wrap things up by chancing Billy Horschel.
The 2021 calendar year has been a strange one for Horschel so far in that since a seventh place at the Sony Open he has struggled to produce any really meaningful results in the weekly bread and butter PGA Tour events or indeed in the Majors, with his best solo result on either of these fronts since that seventh being a 23rd place in the PGA Championship.
Where the Florida Gator has shone though has been in the two WGC events that he has tee’d it up in as he produced an out of the blue second place at the Concession in March before then following that up with a victory at the WGC Matchplay three starts later.
This week Billy arrives in Memphis on the back of another run of ho hum results which saw him most recently finish 53rd at the Open Championship, knowing that to keep his faint Ryder Cup hopes alive he needs to produce something spectacular over the next few weeks.
My hunch is though that Horschel who has played a fairly light schedule through the summer will now be raring to go for a stretch, which sees him get to play another WGC on a course he loves, the Wyndham next week at another track he loves and then embark on the Fedex Cup Play Offs, which have been so kind to him over the years.
Focusing more on Horschel’s affinity to TPC Southwind and his last nine starts here have seen him post five top tens including one in the WGC format two years ago when he had missed the cut at the Open in his previous start.
Horschel as we know has always been a confidence player and while his form of late doesn’t offer too much encouragement I believe the confidence he will have taken from those two WGC performances earlier this year could count for an awful lot this week and if we combine that with his love for the venue he makes plenty of appeal to me at the odds this week.
UPDATED 3rd AUGUST
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - KEVIN KISNER - DK VALUE $6800 - FIINISHED 63rd - DK POINTS TOTAL 71
It's been a pretty quiet 2021 for Kevin Kisner however after being able to post nothing better all calendar year than his 24th place at the Sentry ToC in January he finally came to life with back to back top tens at the Rocket Mortgage and Travelers before playing all four rounds at the Open.
Refreshed now after a couple of weeks off Kisner returns to a venue that he has played solidly at over the past two years and also in years gone by before the event took WGC status.
Kisner has shown he can compete in these big events before memorably winning the Matchplay a couple of years back and I expect another strong showing this week.
PICK 2 - AARON RAI - DK VALUE $6300 - FINISHED 26th - DK POINTS TOTAL 66.5
Englishman Aaron Rai pitched up in Memphis two years ago in not the best of form before producing a really strong performance to finish 12th.
One of the straightest on the European Tour from tee to green based on this performance in 2019 Rai's strong long game appears to be a great fit for TPC Southwind.
This time around Aaron returns here on the back of an encouraging month or so, which has seen him post top 20 finishes at the Irish Open and Open Championship and based on his showing last time around you would think he'll be relishing the trip to Memphis.
Languishing at $6300 in the pricing Rai looks set to be a really solid play this week and his inclusion will allow room for the bigger names at the top of board.