Damien Kayat previews this week’s WGC FedEx St Jude Classic taking place at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee.
2019 PGA Tour | WGC FedEx St Jude Classic
TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tennessee
Thursday 25 July – Sunday 28 July
The rescheduling efforts of the PGA Tour were always going to have some strange residual effects. To have an elite field WGC event the week immediately following the Open Championship seems slightly off-kilter. Having said that, many players eviscerated by Sunday’s conditions at Portrush may find solace in the tranquil Memphis climes. Open Champion Shane Lowry will not be in attendance, unsurprising as he’s likely being considering for Prime Minister in Ireland at present. Another notable absentee is Tiger Woods, fresh off of yet another disappointing Major Championship.
This is a no-cut event that features 64 of the world’s premier players. The WGC began life in 1999 and has gone from strength to strength. This is the third WGC event of the year following the Mexico Championship and Match-Play: the WGC Champions in China is the forth and last of the season. The WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone was a perennial chapter in the WGC narrative until last year, with Bridgestone somewhat surprisingly uninterested in renewing their sponsorship deal. The PGA Tour acted quickly and added the St Jude Classic to the WGC roster. Dating back to 1958, this event- originally known as the Memphis Open- is a natural successor to Firestone and a worthy inclusion in the WGC calendar.
TPC Southwind will host this event for the 31st consecutive time. Designed by Ron Pritchard- in coordination with Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green- TPC Southwind is really a classical examination that provides a stern test of one’s tee-to-green abilities. Renovations in 2004 added to the difficulty, with 125 extra trees planted and 15 new bunkers included, the par 5 fifth was converted in a par 4, while fairways were narrowed and yardage increased. At 7,238 yards, it stands as a fairly meaty par 70 layout. Furthermore, the smaller than average greens were converted from Bentgrass to Bermuda. This is a course that really demands a synthesis of distance and accuracy, probably best personified in Dustin Johnson’s victory last year.
Dustin Johnson leads the markets on a course that really suits his tremendous ball-striking. There are quite a few pulling for Rory McIlroy following his herculean attempts to sneak into the weekend at Portrush. Brooks Koepka will look to dispel the notion that he’s a lightweight in regular tour events while Tommy Fleetwood will look to recover from another nearly ran at a Major Championship. Spare a thought for JB Holmes, whose final round 87 at Portrush will take some time to exorcise.
2018: Dustin Johnson (-14)
2017: Daniel Berger (-10)
2016: Daniel Berger (-13)
2015: Fabian Gomez (-13)
2014: Ben Crane (-10)
To Win Outright
Dustin Johnson (8/1)
Brooks Koepka (9/1)
Rory McIlroy (10/1)
Jon Rahm (12/1)
Justin Thomas (18/1)
To Win (33/1), To Place (7/1)
The mad professor of men’s golf, Bryson DeChambeau got to enjoy an early flight home from Portrush last week. Considering the peculiarity of staging an event of this nature directly after a Major Championship, that may turn out to be a real plus point this week. DeChambeau started the season in disastrous style but has since rediscovered some of the magic that saw him force his way into Ryder Cup action last year. He had two consecutive top six finishes immediately preceding the Open. His two starts at TPC Southwind have been non-events, but I have the feeling that DeChambeau is ready to reverse that trend.
To Win (55/1), To Place (12/1)
Looking more acutely at course form, I wouldn’t look much further than last year’s runner-up: Andrew Putnam. He ranked third here last year in shots gained tee-to-green and ranks an incredible fourth in strokes gained putting this year. Putnam has enjoyed three top-four finishes at other courses that demand strong tee-to-green play: Walalae, Colonial and Sheshan. Putnam enjoyed an excellent start to his Open Championship, with three sub-par rounds setting him up for a strong Sunday finish. But the terrible Sunday conditions wreaked havoc on his game. Putnam has already shown an ability to mix it with the best, picking up a tie for 4th at the WGC HSBC. I think he looks great value returning at 55/1.
The Man to Beat
To Win (18/1), To Place (39/10)
Deliberately swerving the obvious top runners, I’m actually opting for a course debutant this week: Justin Thomas. This is actually an event that has a pretty decent history for debut victors. Currently sitting 2nd on tour in shots gained tee-to-green, Thomas will be looking to add to the WGC title he won at last year’s final Bridgestone event. That technically makes him the defending champion, of sorts. Thomas loves Bermuda greens and is coming off an encouraging week in Northern Ireland. He looks to have shaken off the final dregs of injury and I fancy him to contend this week. He won last year’s Honda Classic, with PGA National being a strong corollary course to TPC Southwind.