Fedex St Jude Championship
It was unfortunately another one of those weeks for us where several of our team sat on the fringes of contention without quite being able to get seriously in the hunt, an all too familiar story of late.
Heading in to Sunday two of our team Justin Thomas and Cam Davis had strong place chances however in the end only Davis was able to make the frame, finishing in a log jam for seventh place.
The event itself was won by Lucas Glover who out dualled Russell Henley to bag his fifth PGA Tour trophy. The former US Open Champion has been a revelation of late since turning to the long putter and it was fantastic to see him celebrate an emotional win with his family at the end.
Away from the dual for the title the battle to make the play off’s produced a riveting final day with all eyes on Justin Thomas. The two time PGA Champion was desperate to make the season ending events to give himself a further chance to impress Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson, however after nearly holing his chip on the 72nd hole he came up an agonising one shot shy.
So with the regular PGA Tour season now all wrapped up it’s time for the Play Off’s – without Justin Thomas...
This year as has been well documented it is all change once more in the play offs as instead of the top 125 making it to the first event we are down straight away to the top 70. Next week we will then see the top 50 on display in Illinois before we head to the regular season ending Tour Championship featuring the final top 30.
This year the prize on offer for those who make it through to next weeks BMW Championship is huge as those who make the top 50 will be guaranteed a spot in all of next seasons Designated Events, which will bring with it massive pay days. For those hovering around that 50th spot heading in to this week then there will be just one thing on their mind.
Whereas for many years the scene of the first play off event was always in the North East this year and for the second year running the drama will take place in Tennessee as we head to Memphis for the Fedex St Jude event.
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.
In 2021 it was all change once more as it was announced that the WGC held late in the summer would be removed from the calendar and that from 2022 the Fedex St Jude Championship would be the first of the three play-off events to be held replacing the Northern Trust.
As you would expect we have a stellar field on display with the big three of Scheffler, McIlroy and Rahm once more heading up the market. They are then followed by Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Viktor Hovland.
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 of the tougher par 70s 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 two other 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 previous events, and form from this first Fedex play off event.
In all honesty though I see no real value in focusing on the Northern Trust as not only are we on a different course but we are in a completely different area of the US meaning we cannot even home in on those who perform well in the North East are of the US. I will therefore keep my focus on history at TPC Southwind.
If we take a look at recent winners of this event the most striking thing, which I have noted in previous years is that 14 of the previous 16 winners in Memphis were players who either hailed from or are based in the Southern or Eastern states in the US. These were Will Zalatoris, Abraham Ancer, Justin Thomas, 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.
Furthermore four of those winners, Zalatoris, Ancer, Frazar, Crane, Gay & Leonard all either hail from/are based in/attended college in Texas.
In simple terms 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.
From a correlating course point of view not unsurprisingly based on the above one of the Texas events, the Charles Schwab Challenge held on another par 70 track at Colonial CC leaps off the page at us. To expand further two time TPC Southwind Champion Daniel Berger has triumphed there, the2022 winner at Colonial Sam Burns lost out to Ancer here in 2021 in a play off while another former champion here Harris English has a runner up finish to his name at Colonial.
With regards to the recent form of the winners of the first play-off event coming in to the event a pattern had developed over recent years, which can be seen from the table below.
From 2013-2017 all the winners had been in strong form coming in to the week leading to a conclusion that we should look for a marquee player with good momentum coming in. In 2018 Bryson Dechambeau somewhat bucked this trend and took the trophy on the back of some fairly mediocre form, however the last four winners Zalatoris, Finau, Reed and Johnson brought solid if unspectacular recent form in to the event.
What we can clearly see though from this list is once we get in to the play offs we are invariably looking for a bigger marquee name and we are highly unlikely to see a shock three figure odds champion here.
Three Previous Starts – most Recent First
2022 W Zalatoris 21 20 28
2021 T Finau 34 28 15
2020 D Johnson 12 WD MC
2019 P Reed 22 12 10
2018 B Dechambeau MC 30 51
2017 D Johnson 13 17 18
2016 P Reed 22 11 13
2015 J Day 1 12 1
2014 Hunter Mahan 7 15 MC
2013 A Scott 5 14 3
2012 N Watney 31 MC 19
The winning score last year posted by Zalatoris was 15- under while the past two WGC editions here have seen totals of 13- under and 16- under posted.
Not unsurprisingly for Memphis in July we have a week of hot temperatures in store with approximately 90 degrees the order across all four days. In addition, not unpredictably for this time of year storms are certainly a possibility from early in the week across the tournament days. We may therefore see a slightly softer course than the powers would be would like.
Wind though could be a factor for the first couple of days at least with gusts of 20mph + in the forecast before things settle down slightly over the weekend.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with four players this week as follows;
SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER – 7/1 - 4pts Win - FINISHED 31st
I am going to start this week by going down the obvious route and siding with the market leader Scottie Scheffler.
As noted earlier as a whole once we get to the play offs historically the big names tend to come to the fore and of the ‘big three’ who head the market as they have done for most of the year it is Scheffler who I can’t get away from.
Scheffler’s consistency this season has been well documented and prior to his 23rd place finish at the Open he had posted seven consecutive top five finishes while he hadn’t finished outside of the top 12 since last October.
The cornerstone of Scottie’s tremendous form has been his ball striking with his long game stats for the season off the charts. He leads the tour off the tee, from tee to green and in approach play as well with his numbers popping to levels not seen since the heyday of a certain Mr Woods.
As we know though on the flip side of the coin Scheffler has struggled hugely on the greens this season ranking 140th with the flat stick and it is this alone that has prevented him from posting multiple wins over the season.
On to this week then and after a couple of weeks off following the Open Scheffler gets back in the saddle in Memphis on a course he knows well and has commented in the past suits his game well.
On that latter point Scottie finished 14th here in the WGC event in 2021 opening up with two rounds of 65 before a disappointing 74 on Sunday saw him tumble from a position to win down to 14th place. Earlier in the week though when asked why he liked the course he commented on how it requires you to drive the ball well, which he felt plays to his strengths, on that basis then it should certainly play to his strengths this season!
As noted earlier Texans have a really strong record in this event so Scottie certainly fits the profile on that front while his form at Colonial CC where he has been second and third in the past two editions leaps off the page from a correlation point of view.
In a rare ‘off week’ Scheffler missed the cut here last year however refreshed after the two week break I expect him to come out firing this week and am happy to have him on side.
SAM BURNS – 40/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 52nd
Next up I will side with Sam Burns.
It is fare to say 2023 has been something of a mixed bag for Sam, there have undoubtedly been some highlights, notably when he won the Matchplay in the spring, however his performances have been littered with missed cuts with a second round 80 at the PGA Championship in May certainly the low point.
Still not quite the finished article then we know that Sam is capable of a really high ceiling on a track that suits and TPC Southwind would appear to be one such layout.
After getting a start here way back in 2015 when ranked the number one junior Burns returned to TPC Southwind for the first time in 2021 for the WGC event and he narrowly missed out on bagging the trophy when losing out in a play off to Abraham Ancer. Two rounds that week though of 64 certainly tell us that Sam is comfortable on the lay out. Meanwhile last year he posted a solid 20th when arriving here in a dip in form, which had seen him post nothing better than 27th since the first week of June. Furthermore as still a relatively inexperienced player I can’t help but think his lofty place in the top five of the Fedex Cup standings entering the play off’s last year may have been a distraction.
This year however, whilst as noted earlier there has been some poor stuff from Sam, he arrives here on the back of an eye catching 14th place at the Wyndham where he ranked 11th in approach play and 18th in putting for the week.
One thing that we have seen from Burns in his time on tour is when a course suits him he repeatedly plays well there. The Copperhead Course home of the Valspar where he is a double champion is the obvious example while Colonial CC, time and again the link to here, is another such venue with Sam having won the trophy in 2022 and finishing sixth there this year.
Furthermore as a native of Louisiana Sam ticks that box we are looking for with regards to southern states based players.
Arriving this week in 19th in the Fedex Cup, a position, which sees him relatively secure for the top 30 but not right in the spotlight, and on the back of that solid week at Sedgefield, I expect Sam to step up once more at a venue we clearly knows suits his eye and I see him putting in a really big performance.
HARRIS ENGLISH – 80/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 52nd
Continuing with the ‘horses for courses’ theme one player I can’t get away from this week at juicy each way odds is Harris English.
A regular at TPC Southwind over the years English bagged the trophy here in the old Fedex St Jude Classic way back in 2013 to land his first PGA Tour title, meanwhile he was in pole position to triumph here again in 2021 in the WGC event after opening with rounds of 62 65 and 65 before a final round 73 saw him slip to fourth.
Clearly a fan of TPC Southwind then what about Harris’ recent form? Well 2023 has been something of a nearly year for English, with a runner up finish at Bay Hill and a third place finish at Wells Fargo, when we were on board, the highlights on the CV. Meanwhile he also had a great chance to triumph at Colonial, again when were on board, before faltering badly with a 76 on Sunday, whilst he was also in the hunt at the US Open before ultimately finishing eighth.
A really solid season then with a lot of close calls which currently sees English at 42nd in the Fedex Cup standings
After a week off following the Open Championship where he missed the cut, Harris returned at the Wyndham and after opening with a sluggish 73 he made steady progress up the leaderboard to finish 33rd posting rounds of 65 and 66 along the way, furthermore he ranked sixth for the week in approach play and third in Driving Accuracy so we know the long game is still in good fettle.
With his good friend Brian Harman landing the Claret Jug it may well be that gives Harris the inspiration to finally convert one of these big opportunities he has had this year when the chance next comes along. In addition to which as we saw in Kapalua in 2020 we know Harris is capable of winning in big company.
I’ll happily take him this week then to push on from last weeks strong finish in the Wyndham, to produce a big week at one of his favourite tracks this week.
ADAM SCHENK – 150/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED T6th
Finally I will stray away from natives of the southern states and take a flyer on Adam Schenk.
Despite still being winless on the PGA Tour 2022-23 has been something of a breakout season for Schenk with five top tens including two runner up finishes enough to see him currently in 24th place in the Fedex standings, and with it on the verge of a seat at the table of all the riches the game has to offer next season.
Prone this season to producing his best in fits and starts Adam’s last two efforts, a MC at the Open and a lowly 64th at the Wyndham see him come in to this week completely under the radar, however it is his correlating form this year that makes him impossible for me to ignore.
To expand, Adam posted the first of his runner up finishes at the Valspar, an event, which ties nicely through Sam Burns, while he was then the bridesmaid again at Colonial CC, which we know is the biggest link to here.
Furthermore I can’t help but notice that Adam was 31st here last year posting two rounds of 66 along the way, when he had three missed cuts, a WD and a 54th to his name in the previous two months.
With that finish then coming on his first trip to Memphis in four years and on only his second visit to the course I would really expect him to push on here this year.
Schenk ranked eighth in approach here last year and 24th from tee to green with only a below average week on the greens preventing him from featuring more prominently.
With the putter vastly improved for him this season from last though he really does tick a lot of boxes for me this week and I can see him going really well at big odds.