Damien Kayat previews the World Golf Championships Fedex St Jude Invitational.
The PGA Tour returns from its Olympic hiatus and will play host to the latest edition of the WGC Championships. I can’t help but feel that the WGC events have lost some of their lustre in recent years (perhaps since the advent of the ridiculously lucrative FedEx Cup Series). There are still remarkable fields and huge purses. I just think there’s almost too much golf at this point to really lend too much awe to these occasions. This will be only the 3rd edition of the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational. It replaced the now defunct Bridgestone Invitational in 2019 (Bridgestone surprisingly decided to pull their sponsorship from what was- in my opinion- the most exciting WGC event on the calendar). FedEx stepped in to save the day, anointing the pre-existing St Jude Invitational with WGC status. The tournament switched from Ohio to Tennessee, from the lightning-fast greens of Firestone to the formidable test that is TPC Southwind.
TPC Southwind stands as one of the most exacting tee-to-green tests on the entire PGA Tour roster. This 7,233-yard par 70 was designed by Ron Pritchard and opened in 1988. But it was really the 2004 renovation that brought out the Southwind’s teeth. 125 extra trees were planted while the course was lengthened by over 200 yards (amongst other changes). The smaller than average Bermuda greens are a nightmare to hit. This will put a premium on scrambling and bogey-avoidance (which are intricately linked). Much like St Georges, there are only two par 5’s at Southwind. In fact, the Par 5 5th was converted into a Par 4 during the brutal 2004 facelift. Solid Par 4 scoring will be essential to success this week. This is actually a challenging test that requires more that brawn from the tee.
This is a top-class invitational field of 66 players, with 48 of the world’s top 50 in attendance this week. World Number One Jon Rahm will still be absent following his heart-breaking positive Covid test prior to the Olympics. Fellow Covid victim Bryson DeChambeau will return to the field this week. Xander Schauffele will be on a cloud this week after finally breaking his victory doubt on the world’s grandest stage. It will be interesting to see if defending champion Justin Thomas can regather himself following another disappointing showing last week. Koepka and DJ are previous Southwind conquerors while Rory McIlroy will be feeling slightly upbeat after a T4 finish in Tokyo. And lest we forget Two-time Major Championship winner Collin Morikawa, who still strangely manages to drift slightly below the radar.
Past Winners (of WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational and previously the St Jude Invitational)
2020: Justin Thomas (-13)
2019: Brooks Koepka (-16)
2018: Dustin Johnson (-19)
2017: Daniel Berger (-10)
2016: Daniel Berger (-13)
2015: Fabian Gomez (-13)
Betting Favourites (To Win): Brooks Koepka (12/1), Collin Morikawa (14/1), Xander Schauffele (14/1), Jordan Spieth (14/1), Justin Thomas (18/1)
Louis Oosthuizen- To Win (22/1), To Place (44/10)
I know it seems almost absurd to back King Louis (can you believe that the South African Major specialist is still yet to win a tournament on American soil?). But his recent form has just been devastating. He has runner-up finishes at both the US Open and US PGA Championship. He also picked up a T3 at the Open Championship and was T2 last time out at the 3M Open. He is just striking the ball beautifully from the tee. He also finished in a tie for 6th last year, just four strokes behind eventual winner Justin Thomas. 44/10 looks a steal in the place markets.
Jason Kokrak- To Win (60/1), To Place (12/1)
Jason Kokrak has been one of the most improved players on the entire tour. It’s easy to forget that he has already picked up multiple wins this season (he won last October at the CJ Cup and this May at the Charles Schwab Challenge). Kokrak has managed to get his short-game demons under control this season (he lost a combined total of 11 shots on the greens at TPC Southwind over the past two seasons). His improved short-game skills should help him remain more competitive this year. 60/1 just seems too short for a two-time winner this season.
The Man to Beat- Daniel Berger- To Win (22/1), To Place (44/10)
This is perhaps one of the least imaginative picks ever (horses for courses and all that). Daniel Berger won his maiden PGA Tour victory at the 2016 St Jude Invitational. He then got the job done once again 12 months later. Although he missed the cut in 2019, Berger would return to contention with a runner-up finish at TPC Southwind last year. Berger has already tasted success at Pebble Beach this year. He also showed his class at the final two Major Championships of the year, finishing T7 at the US Open and T8 at the Open Championship. He also slots in at 12th in par 4 scoring this year, indicating that he should be ready to contend this year.