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FedEx St Jude Invitational Tips: This week's preview for TPC Southwind

FedEx St Jude Invitational Tips: Dustin Johnson features
FedEx St Jude Invitational Tips: Dustin Johnson features

As a master in the art of winning top quality no-cut events, it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise to see Xander Schauffele pick up Olympic gold in Tokyo last week.

Though the same cannot be said about Slovakia’s resident South African, Rory Sabbatini, who stormed through the field with an incredible final round 61 to claim silver. Not to be for Team GB’s Paul Casey who rallied well to get himself into the mega playoff for bronze, losing out to Chinese Taipei’s CT Pan but picking up some place money in the process.

Onto this week in what looks to be one of the few genuinely world class fields remaining for 2021, as we head to TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee for the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational.

TPC Southwind is a 7233 yard par 70, designed by Ron Prichard and opened for play in 1988. It has been a mainstay on the golfing calendar since 1989, first hosting the regular PGA Tour event, the St Jude Classic, before getting upgraded to World Golf Championship status in 2019.

This demanding golf course is made up of 12 par 4s, 4 par 3s and 2 scorable par 5s. Though none of the par 4s are mega long, 7 of them are in that tricky range between 450-500 yards and more than make up for a lack of huge length in other ways.

Golf tips

There is water well in-play throughout the course, clever bunkering, many gentle doglegs, thick rough and small greens. It is no surprise to see that quality ball-striking has thrived here, in what has proven to be a major championship like test. 

The two WGCs have been won by Brooks Koepka in 2019 and Justin Thomas last year, with the last three wins when it was still a regular tour event won by Daniel Berger twice and Dustin Johnson in 2018, winning the event for the 2nd time after previously coming out on top in 2012.

All these are excellent ball-strikers and you have to go back as far as 2014 to find the last time someone won whilst not playing well both off-the-tee and in approach. 

Conditions are currently forecast to be great golfing weather. Warm, dry and little in the way of wind, with nothing more than a mild breeze expected over the weekend. Though as always, this is subject to change.

As with most WGCs, the field strength is strong, as 48 of the world’s top 50 take part. Though world #1 Jon Rahm sits out after his positive covid test that kept him out of the Olympics.

FedEx St Jude Invitational Tips

Golf Odds
Jordan Speith E/W (7 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-08-03 09:30 Odds subject to change.

As is often my belief with these elite events, I think it’s sensible to concentrate predominantly on the top of the market. It is just the case, more often than not, that when the best guys all descend on a golf course, one of them is going to win.

A list of major and WGC winners this year that reads Collin Morikawa (x2), Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Phil Mickelson and Billy Horschel backs this up. The latter two the biggest surprises, with one of them a genuine all time great and the other winning the much less predictable matchplay event. 

The Market is headed by a trio of Americans at 14/1. Brooks Koepka, who makes obvious appeal as a past champion, with Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele alongside, though both arrive here after exertions at the Olympics in Japan, which can also be said about Rory Mcilroy and Justin Thomas, who sit just behind in the betting. I’m inclined to leave players alone that head here straight from Japan and will take two players from the top who didn’t go to Tokyo, starting with recent Open Championship runner-up, Jordan Spieth.

It was great to see Spieth continue this year’s resurgence, just a few weeks ago when runner-up at The Open. Eventually finishing just two shots behind winner, Collin Morikawa and had chances to win it. The most encouraging part of his game was how well he drove the ball. 

Possessing a typically excellent short game, where he’s 7th around the greens and 31st in putting. He’s also an excellent iron player at his best, which he has found again this year, ranking 20th in approach. The driver is often his undoing, but he ranked 18th in driving accuracy at Royal St Georges and rarely missed the fairways by far with those wild drives which typified his drop in form in recent years.

He’s had two goes at TPC Southwind, both coming in the last couple of years. First finishing 12th in 2019 and then 30th last year. A solid record and we can probably upgrade that 30th last year, as he wasn’t close to the form he’s now showing. His suitability for Southwind is heightened further when you counter in the excellent record he has at Colonial, a course I’ve identified as the best comp this week. Tree-lined, though more claustrophobic, plenty of water in play, doglegs throughout and of a similar length. He won there in 2016 and has a generally excellent record in the event, picking up a 2nd place finish this year on his most recent start.

Spieth has put himself back amongst the world’s best this year. Just on the outskirts of the world’s top 10 in 11th, he’s won already and gone close on a few other occasions. If he can continue to drive the ball as well as he did in The Open, he’ll contend this week and looks as likely a winner as anyone in what would be his biggest victory since the 2017 Open.

Dustin Johnson E/W (7 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-08-03 09:35 Odds subject to change.

A year in which he’s won once, only missed a few cuts and maintained a position in the top 2 of the world rankings, it really is a sign of the quality of Dustin Johnson that he’s done this whilst looking out of sorts for much of 2021.

He has a book of form which reads like a superb season for most but for DJ it’s lacking some smaller numbers. He hasn’t contended enough and that’s something I think he’ll put right coming back to a course he has a big affinity with. 

Twice a winner at Southwind before the event achieved WGC status, most notably in 2018 when he won at a canter by 6 shots in the type of fashion that only he seems able to do. His other win came in 2012 and he hasn’t finished outside the top 25 at the course in the 9 years following that first win.

There’s been signs of late that he’s finding his best form if you ignore his MC at the 3M Open in his last start. A week earlier he looked like he’d have a say in The Open before a disappointing 3rd round 73 did for his chances, though he did rally on the Sunday, posting a 67 to finish in 8th.

The putter looked to be causing the most concern a few months ago but he’s started to putt better in recent weeks and it’s no surprise that his results have started to look a little better, such is the quality of the rest of his game. The Palmetto Championship saw the upturn in form where he finished 10th and he’s followed that with finishes of 19-25-8-MC in his next four events, each time putting well and playing solidly across the board.

There’s been a few instances this year, of elite golfers going off at unusually big prices and winning. Koepka in Phoenix, Justin Thomas at The Players Championship and Rory in the Wells Fargo. I think DJ is in a similar bracket to those guys this week at 20/1, at a course he’s won at before. With improved recent form I feel he’s a must bet and should be feeling fresher than most after enjoying a couple of weeks off whilst many others chased gold in Tokyo.

Sam Burns E/W (7 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-08-03 09:35 Odds subject to change.

Of the rest, Jason Kokrak appealed despite a less than inspiring record here, predominantly because of how well he plays Colonial and Robert Macintyre will have learned plenty in finishing 59th here last year and has the type of quality tee-to-green game that should serve him well but I’m going to finish with the talented Sam Burns.

After a couple of years of promise at this level, the former #4 amateur has had a breakthrough year on tour in 2021. Winning his first PGA Tour event at the Valspar Championship in May, with an excellent 3 shot victory over Keegan Bradley. He made up for the trials and tribulations of the Genesis Invitational earlier in the year, where he led through rounds 1-3, before eventually coming up a shot shy in round 4. 

He followed that victory by finishing 2nd next time out and has played solidly since, missing just one cut at the US Open. He finished 13th three starts ago at the Travelers Championship, an impressive 18th on his first trip to the Scottish Open two starts ago and can be forgiven a 76th place finish at The Open on his last start, as it was his first go at true links golf.

A quality iron player, where he ranks 21st for approach and an equally excellent 26th for putting. He’s also a solid driver, where he ranks 49th off the tee. The type of game that should be suited to this week’s test, at a course he’s played just once before, missing the cut as a teenager in 2015.

This is enhanced by a list of results with plenty of formlines that tie into TPC Southwind. His victory this year at Innisbrook in the Valspar is one, an event he played well in before he won this year. He’s also gone well in the Honda Classic at PGA National, another course with similarities to this week’s venue. 

He’s mixed it plenty of times at a high level in elite company and think he’s certain to be a major contender in the future. His combination of quality ball-striking and excellent putting will carry him far and I think he’s well equipped to play well this week.

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