FedEx St. Jude Championship Betting Tips: Side with Jordan Spieth in Memphis
Joohyung Kim, (Or Tom as he wants to be known due to a childhood love of all things Thomas the Tank Engine!) produced one of the most stunning moments of the year in a year full of stunning moments. After opening with a quadruple bogey in round one of the Wyndham Championship, he then proceeded to shoot -24 for the next 71 holes, including a sensational closing 61 in round 4 to run out an emphatic 5-shot winner.
The talent of the young Korean is not news to anybody who follows golf in Asia, where he’s been making a big name for himself over recent years, racking up six titles and recently giving a good account of himself in other PGA Tour/DPWT fields. Most notably when 3rd in the star-studded Scottish Open, but to win so emphatically and following such a turbulent start to the week, this surely signals the start of a huge career at the very top of the game for the likeable 20 year old.
Tom Kim and 121 other players will now head to Memphis for the first of this year’s FedExCup Playoff events, the FedEx St Jude Championship at TPC Southwind, which replaces The Northern Trust on the schedule. This is the first time this course will host a playoff event, though it is no stranger to hosting the world’s best players, having been home to the WGC St Jude Invitational for the previous three years and prior to that hosted the St Jude Classic on the PGA Tour from 1989 to 2018.
As well as winning the title this week, the field will be fighting to position themselves within the top 70 in the FedExCup rankings to book their place in the BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club next week, with the ultimate aim to be one of those top 30 players who tee it up at East Lake in three weeks’ time, giving yourself a shot at winning the FedExCup title and the $10million prize.
TPC Southwind is a course that always provides a good all-round challenge, with this 7243 yard par 70 possessing an average winning score of -11.1 over the last 10 events staged here. It has some of the tightest fairways and hardest to hit greens on tour, whilst the doglegging, tree-lined fairways also rank as the most penal over recent years, proving extremely difficult to hit greens should you miss the short stuff. This thanks to some thick rough, well placed bunkers and tough angles into the small bermuda greens if you don’t position your ball well off-the-tee.
The two gettable par 5s rate as the best birdie chances, followed by a trio of shorter par 4s at around 400 yards. But there on in, the course is difficult, with the par 4s, many over 450 yards packing a punch. Whilst plenty of water in-play and the sometimes swirling winds can add to the difficulty.
We saw Harris English and Bryson DeChambeau find this out the hard way last year in the WGC St Jude Invitational. English, having led after rounds 1, 2 and 3 and entering the back 9 with a two-shot lead, capitulated on the back 9, along with playing partner DeChambeau. Though as Bryson fell away dramatically, it took until the final hole for English to completely relinquish at least a share of the lead, as he bogeyed the 72nd hole of the event to drop to 4th position.
This left Abraham Ancer, Sam Burns and Hideki Matsuyama to fight out what at one point seemed an unlikely playoff. With Ancer coming out victorious, owing to Burns failing to convert a shorter birdie putt than the Mexican had previously holed.
The general difficulty of this course and penalty that awaits makes it vital that you strike your ball well around here. Something we see well on show from recent winners around here.
Looking at the last six events at TPC Southwind, going backwards from last year’s St Jude Invitational to the 2016 St Jude Classic, every winner has excelled both in approach and off-the-tee.
Abraham Ancer ranked 5th in approach and 16th off-the-tee when winning last year, with very similar numbers on show for 2020 winner, Justin Thomas, who ranked 2nd in approach and 16th off-the-tee. Brooks Koepka adding to the ball-striking prowess required to win the three WGC events here, as he ranked 5th off-the-tee and 11th in approach when winning in 2019.
This theme was a continuation of what we’d seen in previous years when this course hosted the full-field St Jude Classic. In 2018 Dustin Johnson trounced the field, running out a 6-shot winner, with a score of -19, the lowest winning score since 2009. He did this with a strong all-round performance, one which included him ranking 2nd in approach and 4th off-the-tee.
Daniel Berger won back-to-back titles at Southwind in 2017 and 2016, both times producing all-round quality. He particularly excelled off-the-tee in 2017, ranking 3rd in the field but was also a strong 12th in approach. Something he improved in 2016, as he ranked 1st in the field when winning, but was once again good off-the-tee, ranking 5th. Meaning every winner at TPC Southwind in the last six years has ranked top 20 in both approach and driving for the week.
Strong approach play was also on show when looking at the closest contenders in those years. As only Phil Mickelson in 2016 managed to contend despite producing poor iron play, with the remainder of winners and runners-up over that time all ranking top 30, 12 of them inside the top 10.
It doesn’t rate as one of the trickier courses on tour in which to scramble around, but with greens easily missed around here, scrambling has very much also been a key contributor to success. Ancer ranked 1st in scrambling last year, something he repeated from Koepka in 2019. Whilst both Dustin Johnson in 2018 and Justin Thomas last year also scrambled well, ranking 4th and 6th respectively. 15 of the 19 winners and runners-up from 2016-2021 ranked inside the top 25 for scrambling.
I don’t give particular advantage to longer or shorter hitters. For all we’ve had bombers win this, with Koepka, DJ and Thomas, even Berger was a long hitter when winning, they are all just top class players who can win anywhere, with three of them multiple major winners. To go with them we had the very much straight and steady Ancer win last year, with the likes of Webb Simpson and Andrew Putnam finishing runner-up. General strength with the driver is much more important than whether you’re more accurate over power or vice-versa.
Looking a little closer at iron play, that 150-175 yards distance will once again be important as a high percentage of approach shots fall into that range and whilst I think general par 4 scoring will be important, owing to the difficulty and volume of the par 4s, I’d also like to concentrate on players who play well on par 4s from 450-500 yards. As they make up the highest range of hole lengths.
Key Stats: SG: Approach, SG: Off-the-Tee, Scrambling, 150-175 proximity, Par 4 scoring, 450-500 yard par 4 efficiency
Charles Schwab Challenge @ Colonial Country Club
As a par 70 measuring around 7200 yards with tight, doglegging, tree-lined fairways and plenty of water in-play, Colonial Country Club is a challenging, strategic golf course with plenty of similarities to TPC Southwind.
Daniel Berger certainly found this to be the case when winning there in 2020, as a two-time winner of the St Jude, whilst this year’s winner was Sam Burns, who was of course 2nd here last year. In addition to this we find other past champions at Southwind, Harris English and Ben Crane with strong records at Colonial, having finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. The likes of Chez Reavie, Troy Merritt and Scott Stallings strengthening those form ties further, all possessing top 10s at both venues
Phoenix Open @ TPC Scottsdale
TPC Scottsdale is a similarly testing driving course that also places plenty of emphasis on strong approach play, particularly from that 150-175 yard range.
There are form-ties in abundance here. Brooks Koepka, Hideki Matsuyama, Webb Simpson and Phil Mickelson are all past champions there and have finished runner-up here at TPC Southwind. Ben Crane and Harris English pop up again, possessing 2nd and 3rd place finishes in Phoenix respectively. Along with Chez Reavie who has multiple top 5s at TPC Scottsdale.
RBC Heritage @ Harbour Town Golf Links
Another tight, strategic tree-lined course with Bermuda greens, Harbour Town Golf Links has plenty in common with TPC Southwind.
This is reflected in some strong form-ties, with Brian Gay the strongest as a past champion at both venues. In addition to this we have last year’s St Jude winner, Abraham Ancer possessing a runner-up finish at the Heritage, whilst 2021 Heritage champion, Stewart Cink has a strong record at TPC Southwind, with multiple top 10s over the years. Daniel Berger has too gone well there, finishing 3rd, with Whee Kim, Troy Merritt and C.T Pan strengthening the form-ties.
Valspar Championship @ Innisbrook Resort – Copperhead Course
Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course compares very strongly to TPC Southwind tee-to-green. With averages over the last six years for driving accuracy, greens in regulation and scrambling all matching up closely, as well as how difficult the course is to play when missing the fairways.
These similarities are strengthened by Sam Burns being a two-time winner there, whilst Charl Schwartzel, 2nd at TPC Southwind in 2017 is also a past champion. Added form-ties are found from Andrew Putnam, Troy Merritt, Scott Stallings and Robert Garrigus.
Houston Open @ Memorial Park Golf Course
Memorial Park Golf Course has only hosted the Houston Open the last two years but has already built a reputation as a tough ball-striking test, where fairways and greens are tough to hit and penal should you miss.
Some strong form-lines have developed in this short space of time, with Dustin Johnson, a multiple winner at Southwind finishing 2nd there in 2020. He was joined by Hideki Matsuyama that year in the runner-up spot whilst Sam Burns has finished 7th on both visits to Memorial Park.
Travelers Championship @ TPC River Highlands
Finally, the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands can provide further clues. This watery tree-lined course is a little less difficult a ball-striking course, though is dangerous if you start missing fairways and requires a large percentage of approach shots to be hit in that 150-175 yard range.
Harris English has won at both venues, whilst Chez Reavie is a past champion there, combining with his super strong record at Southwind, the same as Stewart Cink. Abraham Ancer and Daniel Berger both have top 5s there, with Troy Merritt, Scott Stallings and Robert Garrigus once again strengthening the form-ties.
The golfers should be set for some favourable playing conditions this week in Memphis. There’s some thunderstorms forecast over the next couple of days, which should bring about plenty of rain and soften the course up, though this disappears by the start of the event, with the four days currently set to be dry, warm and with only a gentle breeze.
Of course, this is all open to change prior to the start of the event.
122 of the top 125 in the FedExCup rankings arrive in Memphis, with Daniel Berger, Tommy Fleetwood and Lanto Griffin the three players who qualified to sit it out.
Rickie Fowler is the lucky 125th player in the rankings and gets into this week’s field after missing the event for the first time last year. Whilst Matt Wallace, Austin Smotherman and Justin Lower are the unfortunate ones to fall just outside that 125 and miss this week, with a trip to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals now on their agenda.
St Jude Championship Tips
Like most up here, we haven’t seen Spieth since The Open, where he finished 8th. The most recent finish in a quality run of form that kicked off with that dramatic win at the RBC Heritage back in April.
Since then he’s only missed one cut in eight, which came as the result of an uncharacteristically poor tee-to-green performance at the Travelers Championship. With four top 10s amongst those finishes, 2nd in the Byron Nelson the best result of them, along with a 7th in the Charles Schwab Challenge and most recently finished top 10 not only on that latest start in The Open but was also 10th the week prior in the Scottish Open.
Most eye-catching has been that Spieth appears to have finally halted the terrible form he’d been showing with the putter. Issues do still remain there and he’s by no means at the level that made him the game’s best putter, but with 6 positive strokes gained performances in his last 8, it’s certainly been going in the right direction.
The truth is, such is the quality of his tee-to-green game, where he ranks 19th on the PGA Tour this season, that Spieth doesn’t need to putt lights out to win, just like he showed in that RBC Heritage win, which he achieved losing strokes on the greens.
Each and every part of that tee-to-green game is firing, with Spieth ranking no worse than 34th on tour this season in approach, off-the-tee and around-the-greens. In addition to this he ranks 30th in scrambling, 11th in par 4 scoring, 40th in par 4s from 450-500 yards and 56th in proximity from 150-175 yards. A consistent collection of stats that meant he came out right near the top of this week’s model.
Not only is Spieth an excellent fit statistically but he has gone well here before, finishing 12th, 30th and 12th on his three most recent visits, following a missed cut on debut in 2010 when still an amateur. Even more encouraging is that he has bundles of high class correlating form, as a past champion of the Valspar, Charles Schwab Challenge, RBC Heritage and Travelers Championship.
There was very little not to like about him this week. He’s one of the best tee-to-green players on tour and has recently found some more consistency with the putter. If he can keep that up and keep the ball in-play, something he’s largely managing to do well this year, he has plenty in his favour to put up a strong performance at this first FedExCup Playoff event.
Collin Morikawa was 5th in the US Open just three starts ago, yet he is flying in here a little under the radar thanks to a couple of missed cuts in Scotland, something I’m willing to forgive anyone, such is the temperamentality of playing the links. With one of the best iron games on the planet and a more than solid partner with the driver, he can ball-strike his way to success at TPC Southwind.
That 5th at the US Open, where Morikawa did everything well was his first top 5 since finishing 5th in The Masters in April. Though despite some underwhelming finishes on paper, I’ve still been impressed with his ball-striking, with that missed cut in the Scottish Open only the second event this year in which he hasn’t gained strokes in approach. A season ranking of 4th typical of what we’ve seen from him since turning pro, whilst he also ranks 25th in proximity from 150-175 yards.
He backs this up with a strong driver, ranking 31st and though he’s had a few lukewarm performances over his last handful of starts off-the-tee, the losses have only been small and doesn’t represent a major worry.
He’s played here twice, recording solid finishes of 20th and 26th in the last two years, striking the ball well on both visits and looking to have this place sussed off-the-tee. His credentials to perform here are improved by a 2nd place finish at Colonial in 2020 and a 7th place finish in the RBC Heritage.
No doubt this year hasn’t quite been as good as the previous three for this hugely gifted player who is already halfway to the career grand slam and possesses 6 victories in under 80 professional starts. That 5th at the US Open shows his game is in perfectly good shape and coming into this event fresh after four weeks off following The Open, at a course which suits his precise ball-striking game, he can finally break his duck for 2022.
I put up Sam Burns in this event last year as he came agonisingly close in the playoff against Abraham Ancer. The fact he was 80/1 there but comes in here as a 33/1 shot shows exactly what he’s achieved and how much he’s grown as a golfer over these last 12 months and I’m taking him to gain redemption for that close call last year.
Burns entered this event last year as a recent first-time PGA Tour winner, having won the Valspar Championship; fast forward a year and he’s now a four-time winner, thanks to a victory in the Sanderson Farms Championship at the back end of last year, a follow up victory in the Valspar Championship this year and most recently won the Charles Schwab Challenge six starts ago.
He has followed this by remaining in strong form since, finishing 4th in the Canadian Open on his next start following his win at Colonial and putting up respectable finishes in the year’s final two major, finishing 27th in the US Open and 42nd in The Open.
Burns has finally turned his promise into victories thanks to not just managing to bring the level of his approach play up to that of his driver but surpassing it and ranks 13th on tour this season in approach. With the putter also a huge strength.
The driver has been a little out of sorts in recent starts, enough to cause a slight concern, where he’s not the most accurate. Though this worry is alleviated by his wins at Colonial and the Valspar, even that 4th in Canada, showing he’s capable of taming the club on these tighter tracks.
His suitability for this test is enhanced by being one of the best par 4 players on tour, ranking 17th, as well as 24th on those between 450-500 yards. This helped him on his way to that excellent 2nd place finish last year, one which he again managed despite not being at his best off-the-tee. Those wins at Colonial and the Valspar strengthen that encouragement further, whilst he’s also recorded two top 10s in Houston and a 9th place finish in the RBC Heritage.
Big things were expected of Burns in this years biggest events and though he’s not quite managed to fully shine, the progress has been there and becoming a prolific winner on tour over the last 18 months, winning a playoff event seems a much more natural and achievable next step. One that would give him his biggest victory to date and a good stab at winning the FedExCup, something which can propel him to bigger things next year.
Australia’s big hitting Cam Davis has been producing some good results of late, results largely engineered by top class ball-striking and with some proven form on similar tracks, he can improve greatly on his debut 60th place finish here last year.
Since finishing 3rd in the RBC Heritage back in April, Davis has played a further nine times, recording three top 10s, a further two top 20s and missing just the one cut.
The most recent of these appearances came at the Rocket Mortgage Classic two weeks ago, where he finished 14th and produced some high class approach play, ranking 14th in the field and it was the 11th time in 12 events that he’d gained strokes in approach, with the quality improving as the weeks have gone on and sees him rank 54th on tour this season. Whilst he also ranks 42nd on tour in proximity 150-175 yards.
Though not as strong as recent weeks, where this big-hitter has started to find a higher level of accuracy, he also gained with the driver, something he’d done in 6 of his previous 8 starts and ranks 66th on tour this season off-the-tee. Both rankings that can be upgraded if ignoring his underwhelming start to the season in both regards.
He may have finished 60th here last year but showed a liking for the course right away, opening with a 68 before going backwards over the next three rounds. That 3rd at the Heritage this year shows what he can do on similar tracks, as does a 7th in the Charles Schwab Challenge and if he can bring that recent level of ball-striking to this venue, he can continue the strong run of results he’s produced over recent starts.
It’s tough to ask Sahith Theegala to come here in a play-off event in such a strong field and pick up his first PGA Tour title. But there’s something just a little bit different about this enigmatic, exciting young player and with some strong correlating form I believe he can handle TPC Southwind the first time of asking.
That strong correlating form can be tied in well with his best results this year, with three of his four top 10s coming amongst correlating courses mentioned above, courtesy of a 3rd place finish in the Phoenix Open, 7th in the Valspar and most recently 2nd in the Travelers Championship five starts ago.
Theegala has shown quality across all areas of his game, apart from decision making. This wasl on show across recent starts, where he’s gained in 6 of his last 7 starts off-the-tee, 5 of his last 7 both in putting and around-the-greens and 4 of his last 7 in approach. Something he put into action in that 2nd at the Travelers, ranking 9th around-the-greens, 10th in approach, 15th in putting and 17th off-the-tee for the week.
Though not quite as consistent over his last four starts, he has fired in those areas intermittently and will surely put it all together again sooner or later.
With that proven ability to tame his sometimes chaotic game at these more classic, penal, tree-lined venues, Theegala can take to TPC Southwind on debut this week. Hopefully showing he’s learned something from those unlucky moments and unforced errors that has stopped him from picking up titles already this year.