WGC – Fedex St Jude
So that’s it for the Majors for 2019!...What a week it was though at Royal Portrush. A great golf course set up excellently, a fantastic crowd and a tremendous performance from a worthy winner, Shane Lowry.
The week started on a subdued note for the home fans with local favourite Rory McIlroy failing to deliver the goods, by the end of the week though it was a case of ‘the King is dead, long live the King’ as Shane strolled up the eighteenth fairway with a six shot lead to claim the Claret Jug amidst scenes that will live long in the memory.
From our point of view while the golf was an amazing spectacle it was a disappointing week for our outright tips and all hopes of a return and a profit went with Kuchar and Stenson’s disappointing Sunday, which saw them slip out of the hunt for the places.
We did at least gain a small e/w return on one of our FRL picks, Tony Finau, and we also had success with our trader pick Corey Conners who hit the target price on day one. All in all though it certainly wasn’t the week we were looking for.
So, following on from the Open there’s barely time to take a breadth as the players now jet back across the Atlantic to Memphis for the newly christened WGC Fedex St Jude.
As regular followers of the PGA Tour will know the Fedex St Jude Classic has been a staple event of the tour for many years.
The first playing of the tournament was in 1958 and TPC Southwind has been the host course since 1989.
Last year 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 at this time of year and, with the rejigging of the PGA Tour schedule, the event was allocated the post Open week slot.
As is traditional for a WGC we have a limited field this week with 64 players teeing it up who will play all four rounds.
46 of the worlds top 50 are in attendance with Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, Francesco Molinari and Bernd Wiesberger the four choosing not to make the trip.
At the time of writing Dustin Johnson, a two time former champion of the Fedex St Jude Classic heads up the market marginally from Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy.
TPC Southwind is a Par 70 measuring at 7244 yards.
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 being hard to find and water in play on 8 of the 18 holes.
As such 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 year in year out sees more balls in the water than any other course on the PGA Tour. 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 the US Open this year at Pebble or the PGA at Quail Hollow a couple of 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 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.
My suspicion is that a mixture of both is the way to go and I will start by taking a look at the Fedex St Jude history.
If we take a look at recent winners of this event the most striking thing that I noted last year prior to the event in June was that eight of the previous ten winners were players who hailed from Southern or Eastern states in the US. These were Berger [x2], DJ, English, Frazer, Gay, Crane and Leonard. The two exceptions were Fabien Gomez from Argentina and Lee Westwood. The 2018 winner Dustin Johnson 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 this years field will see a far greater international flavour to it than the historical June event did and this could naturally lead to this pattern being broken, 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.
The other thing that is clear from this list of former winners at TPC Southwind is that approach play is key and the last three winners DJ and Berger twice have all ranked highly on their year of victory in the SGATTG category.
In addition when on song the likes of Gay, Leonard, and indeed Harris English once upon a time, were all known for their accuracy.
The next thing we need to look at is WGC Form and clearly whilst I’ve been talking about the likes of Ben Crane, Brian Gay and Fabien Gomez above, the fact that this event is now a WGC means we need to focus on the elite players in the field.
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, while others have been won by JT, Scott, Phil, Rose and Reed.
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.
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.
There is one potential curve ball here though that we need to consider and that of course is the Open Championship, as with so many of these leading names having ground out four days at Royal Portrush you have to wonder how many of them will arrive from the wind and rain of Portrush to the 85-90 degree heat of Memphis and feel somewhat jaded.
From that point of view while good form coming in to an event is always nice it could actually be that missing the cut in Portrush proves advantageous this week.
Players arriving in Memphis from Portrush on Monday will potentially be greeted by thunderstorms, however after this unsettled start to the week the current forecast predicts no further rain or storms until the possibility of a storm on Sunday.
On that basis the course should yield firm, fast conditions come Thursday.
Temperatures look set to sit in the mid to high 80s all week while the wind does not look to be a factor at all, barely getting to ten MPH all week.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
JUSTIN THOMAS – 16 -1 – 2.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 12th
I mentioned earlier that we have a unique situation this week in that we have the history of TPC Southwind to absorb in to a WGC and it could be argued that we have two defending champions, Dustin Johnson the last winner of the Fedex St Jude and Justin Thomas the holder of the WGC Bridgestone.
It has to be said that there is a strong case to be made for DJ based on his TPC Southwind record, his stellar record in WGC’s and the fact that he won the week after the Open in Canada last year. The big downside for me with DJ coming in to this week though is his current form and while you can naturally never rule him out if we look at his previous wins it is rare for him to win without a couple of strong finishes first.
On that basis I will pass DJ by this week and instead start things off with the ‘other’ defending Champion Justin Thomas.
Getting the elephant in the room out of the way first the obvious concern in theory is that JT has no course form to go on compared to the likes of DJ, however I am happy overlook this on the basis that I think TPC Southwind will be right up Justin’s alley.
The first reason for thinking this is that Thomas’ ball striking has really come around in recent weeks and only a triple bogey on the 17th on Sunday in the worst of the conditions stopped him from posting a top 5 at Portrush.
Currently ranked second in GIR on tour and third in SGATTG the big issue with Justin this year has been the putter. On that basis a return this week to Bermuda greens on which JT has posted four of his PGA Tour victories must be a huge plus.
In addition to this it should be noted that Champion Bermuda Greens are only found on four other courses currently used on the PGA Tour, with one of these being Quail Hollow where JT claimed the PGA Championship in 2017.
I also mentioned earlier that the players with southern state connections tend to perform and from that point of view it is worth noting that JT attended college in Alabama about 3 1/2hrs away from here, so he should certainly be comfortable in this weeks conditions.
It’s been a frustrating year for Justin as he was derailed by a wrist injury, which saw him out of action from April through till June.
Following this injury it has taken Thomas a while to regain momentum and my suspicion is that while some of the leading players may be starting to feel the pace a bit after a hectic 2019 schedule, a relatively fresh JT could well find some momentum from now through to the end of the year.
Winless on tour since his WGC victory this time last year JT has ‘previous’ in defending trophy’s having won the CIMB back to back and I can see him hanging on to his WGC trophy this week.
ADAM SCOTT – 33 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED 40th
I mentioned earlier that a missed cut in Portrush may actually prove to be an advantage this week and one man who was on the plane to Memphis early was Adam Scott.
Scott arrived in Portrush on the back of three top tens in his previous three starts, however with the most recent of these having come at the US Open those who had the suspicion that he was ‘under-golfed’ were proven correct.
Prior to the missed cut at the Open the Australian was having a very strong season and with six top tens in total he currently sits 19th in the Fedex Cup standings.
While Scott has hardly been a regular at TPC Southwind over the years we do have one bit of course form to go on as he finished 10th here in 2017 on his only visit in the past ten years.
Having noted earlier that ball striking and approach play is key here the fact that Adam produced the goods at TPC Southwind is not surprising and his trademark approach play is on song again this year as he currently ranks ninth for SGATTG.
It’s now over three years since Scott last posted a victory on tour and needless to say for a player of his talent this is far too long, however it is worth noting that his last two wins did come on Bermuda and I am hopeful that he will go close to adding another title to his resume this week.
PATRICK REED – 40-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 12th
Anytime the PGA Tour returns to Bermuda greens one man who must come in to the conversation is Patrick Reed.
A four time tour winner on the Bermuda Reed was also second on the Champion Bermuda at Quail Hollow in the 2017 PGA and interestingly he won on it at Sedgefield Country Club to land his maiden tour title in 2013, so he is clearly hugely at home on these putting surfaces.
The former Masters Champion struggled in the first half of 2019 particularly around the time of his Masters defence, something which saw him turn to David Leadbetter for help with his swing.
Of late however Reed seems to have settled in to his stride and having finished 32nd at Pebble Beach he has posted four top 30 finishes in his last four starts including a top ten at the Open last weekend.
From a course form point of view Reed hasn’t visited TPC Southwind for a while as he is a player who usually chooses not to play the week before a major, however when he did tee it up here in his early years on tour he posted a top 5 finish in 2013 and six years on from then he is naturally a far more accomplished player.
We’ve seen with Reed that when he gets on a roll he is hugely impressive player at this level and having landed a WGC on the Bermuda back in 2014 I would not be at all surprised to see him add another to his collection this week.
BRANDT SNEDEKER – 70-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 27th
While many of the players this week may well struggle slightly with fatigue and possibly even motivation after a long week at the Open one man who should lack no motivation this week is Tennessee’s very own Brandt Snedeker.
Brought up some three hours away in Nashville Sneds will no doubt be delighted that his home state is now hosting a WGC and buoyed by strong local support I am sure he will be keen to put in a big performance.
It has to be said that Brandt has had mixed results at TPC Southwind over his career, however he did finish fifth here way back in 2007 and after a four year hiatus from the event he finished sixth on his most recent visit last year.
Prior to missing the cut at Portrush, which I reiterate may prove a blessing in disguise this week, Sneds was in a really solid run of form, which had seen him make all of his cuts since Augusta and post four top twenties.
Interestingly this return to form for Brandt has coincided with a return to his previous long time coach Todd Anderson and while his short game is as strong as ever the noticeable improvement has come in his long game.
Snedeker’s most recent win on the tour came at the Wyndham Championship last year on the Champion Bermuda greens, which as noted already are in play this week, and in a week when he should be raring to go I can see a big showing from Brandt ahead.
BILLY HORSCHEL – 80-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 9th
I shall finish this week by taking a chance on a player who has shown a clear liking for TPC Southwind over the years Billy Horschel.
I mentioned earlier that in theory WGC’s are the domain of big name players who most likely have Majors to their name already and on that basis Billy wouldn’t fit the bill.
There are two reasons I am happy to stray from this theory though with Billy [and indeed Sneds] this week.
The first is that Billy has clearly shown before that when he is in the mood he is capable of delivering the goods in the big league with the obvious reference being his run to the Fedex Cup in 2014.
Secondly as already noted I do think it is possible that with the equation of last weeks Open in the mix, that we could see a slightly lesser name bag the trophy this week.
Returning to Billy’s victory in the Fedex Cup this obviously was clinched at East Lake where he has a stellar record in general and it is therefore most interesting to note that Zoyziagrass, which is found here at TPC Southwind is only found at two other courses on the PGA Tour, East Lake and Trinity Forest the new home of the Byron Nelson.
On that basis I can’t possibly ignore Billy’s four consecutive Top Tens here over recent years alongside his East Lake record, basically I’m sure he would love Zoyziagrass every week!
Prior to his missed cut at the Open Horschel was on one of his really solid runs of form that usually end with a big result, making all of his last eight cuts and posting four top 20s. I’m therefore expecting Billy to put last weeks missed cut to one side and produce a great week at what must be one of his favourite venues on tour.
UPDATED - 24th JULY
TRADER - KEITH MITCHELL - FINISHED 39th
For this weeks trader pick I am taking a chance on 27yr old Keith Mitchell.
Despite Mitchell's recent slump in form there are two reasons I am siding with him this week. Firstly Keith is well known for someone who comes to life with the putter on bermuda greens & this was the case when he won The Honda in the spring on another par 70 track on the back of poor form on the West Coast.
Secondly like one of our other picks this week Keith is a native of Tennessee, hailing from Chatanooga, and he is sure to have strong local support to spur him on.
Mitchell has made one previous start at TPC Southwind finishing 37th last season and my hope is that for the reasons noted above he can make a strong impact here this week.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 240