The precurser to the US Open has a long history of producing big-priced upsets including a 609-1 chance three years ago. Paul Krishnamurty has scoured the market in search of similar types and recommends the following trio of outsiders...
"Crane's win in 2015 didn't come out of the blue. He'd already registered four previous top-20s here and reaffirmed that liking for Southwind by finishing tenth last year. That was particularly significant, as the best result in a poor season. This six-time winner is in much better shape this time around - measured either by results or performance stats."
Back Ben Crane 2u @ [120.0]
The St Jude Classic is one of the most wide-open PGA Tour fixtures and an obvious target for this column. As length off the tee is largely irrelevant at Southwind, many more players come into the equation than most weeks. Numerous outsiders have won, including [610.0] chance Fabian Gomez in 2016 and Ben Crane at [270.0] a year earlier.
The last two renewals have been much more predictable but there's no reason to assume that is the new normal and the shortlist for this year's staking plan was longer than usual.
Southwind specialists are primed for another good run
Of the many angles to explore at Southwind, one I've always liked is age. For example the youngest champion between 2006 and 2011 was aged 36. Another is nationality, as 18 of the last 20 champions were American. Combine those two factors with a bank of course form and at least two stand out as much likelier to contend than their odds suggest.
Crane's win in 2015 didn't come out of the blue. He'd already registered four previous top-20s here and reaffirmed that liking for Southwind by finishing tenth last year. That was particularly significant, as the best result in a poor season. This six-time winner is in much better shape this time around - measured either by results or performance stats.
Over the last three months among this field, Crane ranks fifth for driving accuracy, 31st for gir, seventh for scrambling, fifth for putting average. Longer-term, he ranks fifth for par-four performance - always critical around a par-70 - over the last year. He's finished top-11 on two of his last four starts. With an impressive six wins to his name at this level, Ben is always one to keep an eye on at big odds, especially in form at one of his favourite courses.
Similar comments apply to another former Southwind champion and one of this column's favourite players. Short, straight and brilliant on and around the greens, Brian Gay is perfectly suited to this test, as evidenced by seven top-20 finishes including a quartet of top-sevens.
In his comprehensive tournament preview, Steve Rawlings lists several other courses that notably correlate with Southwind - Sea Island, El Camaleon, Waialae. Gay's records at these tracks is superb, primarily because none of them penalise his great weakness - lack of power. The rest of Brian's game is top-class and he arrives in good form, coming off 12th at the Byron Nelson, a respectable 44th at the Memorial and qualifying for the US Open on Monday.
Whereas settling upon those two picks was relatively straightforward, the competition for this final slot was vast. Merritt gets the nod largely due to price. At [280.0], there's plenty of scope to lay back for profit if he gets off to a good start. A repeat of the 67/68 he opened up with at the Byron Nelson last time might just do the trick.
Merritt is not the most consistent type, as his record here suggests - runner-up in 2014 alongside a best of 67th from four other attempts. The fact he has made nine out of his last ten cuts could therefore be a clue to his wellbeing, as are his long game stats. I generally regard Troy as a putting/birdie machine type but over the past three months, he ranks 16th and 17th among these for accuracy and gir respectively.
Now to those alternatives. Without doubt my first reserve is Braden Thornberry at [120.0]. The second ranked amateur golfer in the world made a big impression when finishing fourth here 12 months ago and has plenty of local knowledge. A bet at 90/1 each-way very much appeals.
Matt Jones was also high on the shortlist, having found some form with consecutive top-20s and US Open qualification. His last three Southwind results are 18/26/3. Scott Stallings [220.0] is another Tennessee resident, and he's been runner-up before. C.T. Pan came in for strong consideration around [190.0] before his odds collapsed.
Alternatively, Steve recommends four outsiders in his piece - Wes Bryan, Patton Kizzire, James Hahn and Mackenzie Hughes. And finally Dave Tindall makes an excellent case for Abraham Ancer at 150/1 in his each-way piece.