The Punter

FedEx St Jude Championship Preview: Inspired Fitzpatrick can contend again

Golfer Matthew Fitzpatrick
Matthew Fitzpatrick in action

The PGA Tour stops off in Memphis this week for the first of three FedEx Cup playoff events so read Steve's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

  • Tee-to-Green the key Strokes Gained metric

  • Course experience far from crucial

  • Look to Hawaii for clues


Tournament History

There has been a PGA Tour event staged in Memphis since 1958.

Originally known as the Memphis Open, the St Jude Invitational was a fairly big event on the PGA Tour for years, but its status was elevated considerably in 2018 when it became one of the high-profile World Golf Championship events.

The WGC events are consigned to history now, after the final edition of the WGC Match Play in March, but the FedEx St Jude Championship is still a very prestigious event having replaced the Northern Trust 12 months ago - an event that had kicked off the FedEx Cup Playoff Series since its inception in2007,

The first of three FedEx Cup Playoff Series events, the FedEx St Jude Championship is a limited field event for the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings after the last counting event (last week's Wyndham Championship).

The FedEx Cup Playoff Series was reduced from four events to three in 2019 and the field numbers have been reduced this year.

A field of 125 lined-up here 12 months ago but we're down to 70 this time around and at the end of this event, the top 50 in the standings will move on to the Olympia Fields in illinois for the BMW Championship before the top-30 fight it out at East Lake in a fortnight's time to determine the overall FedEx Cup winner.

This will the 35th year in-a-row that TPC Southwind has hosted a PGA Tour event.

Venue

TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tennessee

Course Details

Par 70 -7,233 yards
Stroke Index in 2022 - 69.16

Designed by Ron Prichard, in consultation with Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green, and opened in 1988, TPC Southwind has always been a fairly stern test, but it was made even tougher in 2004.

An additional 125 trees were planted, 15 new bunkers were added (taking the total up to 96), the par five fifth was converted to a par four (reducing the par to 70), Zoysia fairways were re-contoured and narrowed and over 200 yards were added.

TPC SOUTHWIND 2022 1.jpg

The smaller than average greens, which usually run at 12 on the stimpmeter, were also changed from bentgrass to Bermuda. Water is in play on 10 holes at Southwind and nine holes are doglegs.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days beginning at 18:00 UK time on Thursday

First FedEx St Jude Winner with Exchange Price

  • 2022 - Will Zalatoris -15 (Playoff) 23.022/1

WGC FedEx St Jude Winners with Exchange Prices

  • 2021 - Abraham Ancer -16 55.054/1 -16 (playoff)
  • 2020 - Justin Thomas - 13 14.5
  • 2019 - Brooks Koepka -16 11.010/1

Last Four St Jude Winners with Exchange Prices

  • 2018 - Dustin Johnson -19 8.27/1
  • 2017 - Daniel Berger -10 34.033/1
  • 2016 - Daniel Berger -13 30.029/1
  • 2015 - Fabian Gomez -13 600.0599/1

What Will it Take to Win?

None of the driving stats stand out at TPC Southwind. The last three winners have ranked 16th, 18th, and 16th for Strokes Gained Off the Tee and neither of the traditional driving metrics - Driving Distance or Driving Accuracy - have come to the fore consistently. It's not so fiddly that you need to be arrow-straight off the tee either.

Back in 2014, Ben Crane didn't hit it very far or especially straight and he only ranked 47th for Greens In Regulation. He won because he scrambled and putted brilliantly but GIR is usually a great indicator and Crane's the only course winner in the last 13 years not to rank inside the top ten for that stat.

Last year's winner, Will Zalatoris, ranked eighth for GIR, the man he beat in extra time, Sepp Straka, ranked second, and this year's Open Champ, Brain Harman, who finished tied for third, ranked fourth.

Daniel Berger, who won back-to-back here in 2016 and 2017 had Scrambling stats that were much worse than most Southwind winners. He ranked 24th six years ago and 38th in 2017 but seven of the ten winners before him ranked no worse than seventh.

The first and second in 2018 ranked fourth and third for Scrambling, Koepka ranked number one in 2019, Thomas ranked seventh in 2021, Abraham Ancer ranked first in 2021 and Zalatoris ranked seventh 12 months ago.

The two playoff protagonists ranked second and first for Par 4 Scoring last year, Ancer ranked third in 2021, and Thomas ranked second three years ago. The 2019 winner, Koepka and the runner-up, Webb Simpson, ranked first and third and DJ and Andrew Putnam, the first two home in 2018, ranked first and second for Par 4 Scoring so nine of the last ten winners have now ranked inside the top-four for that stat.

Par 4 Scoring and Scrambling are the two stats to concentrate on.

There were no Strokes Gained stats for the 2019 and 2020 events here but in the last four tournaments here in which there were SG stats, the winners have ranked first, first, fourth and first for SG Tee-to Green.

Is There an Angle In?

With previous figures reading 18-MC-15, the 2021 course winner, Abraham Ancer, didn't have a brilliant Southwind CV but last year's champ, Zalatoris, had finished eighth on his only previous appearance and previous course form has been key here.

Justin Thomas had finished 12th on debut in 2019 before winning in 2020, Brooks Koepka has course form figures reading 19-3-2-27-30-1-2-54 at TPC Southwind, Dustin Johnson was winning here for a second time in 2018 and Daniel Berger has figures reading 1-1-MC-2-5 but prior to seven years ago previous course form had been far from essential and debutants had a really good record.

In his two visits before his win eight years ago, Fabian Gomez had finished 15th on debut in 2011 before missing the cut in 2013, and the 2014 winner, Ben Crane, had inconsistent course form figures reading MC-6-33-39-14-12-MC-18, but at least they'd played the course before...

Berger was making his debut when he won in 2016, the 2013 winner, Harris English, was playing in his first event at TPC Southwind, DJ had never played here before when he won in 2012 and neither had the 2011 champ, Lee Westwood, who beat another first-timer, Robert Karlsson, in a playoff.

Looking back, four of the last 12 winners here were playing TPC Southwind for the first time and that could easily have been more.

Sepp Straka, who was matched at a low of just 1.21/5 before losing the playoff last year had never played here before, Tom Lewis finished second in 2020 on his first sighter, Tommy Fleetwood, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Jon Rahm were all in-contention in 2019 and there are numerous examples of other really good debuts too.

Matt Kuchar (fifth in 2002), Freddie Jacobson (third in 2003), Zach Johnson (fifth in 2006), Adam Scott (seventh in 2007), Trevor Immelman (runner-up in 2008), Graeme McDowell (seventh in 2009), and Rafa Cabrera-Bello (fourth in 2017) to name but a few.

Berger didn't even have much practice around Southwind before his first win either. Here's what he said after his victory.

"I didn't have much time, played Oakmont Monday, came here Tuesday, Pro-Am Wednesday and just kind of got right into the thick of things and it's nice to get off to a good start."

I wouldn't dismiss anyone on account of a lack of course knowledge.

Several courses correlate nicely with TPC Southwind. Results at the Puerto Rico Open, the RSM Classic, the Charles Schwab Challenge and the World Wide Technology in Mexico are all worth checking out but the strongest correlation appears to be with the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Fabian Gomez, Justin Thomas and David Toms have won at both TPC Southwind and Waialae Country Club, home of the Sony Open and TPC Southwind winners, Harris English, Harrison Frazar and Brian Gay, have all also been placed in Hawaii.

The 2020 Sony Open winner, Cameron Smith, was in-contention last year and he should have got into the playoff at least in 2021 (matched at a low of 2.3811/8). And one of the three that did make it to extra time, Hideki Matsuyama, won the Sony Open last year.

This year's Sony was won by Si Woo Kim and he has poor form figures here reading MC-65-42 but he still gives the link a bit of a boost given he was leading after shooting 62 in round one last year.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Ancer had just turned 30 when he won here in 2021 but Zalatoris won two days before his 26th birthday last year and five of the last seven winners have been in their 20s.

Zalatoris wins at last.jpg

We have to go back eight years to find the last triple-figure priced winner at TPC Southwind but historically, this has been a very good venue for outsiders and veterans.

Now that the tournament played here is a FedEx Cup Playoff event, outsiders and veteran winners may be a thing of the past and the profile of the winners looks to be changing but it's a course that doesn't need to be overpowered so it's one that gives the older pros a bit of a chance.

Gomez was matched at 610.0609/1 eight years ago and Ben Crane was a 270.0269/1 chance in 2014. In addition to those two, the likes of Harrison Frazar, Woody Austin, Jeff Maggert, Len Mattiace, Bob Estes, Notah Begay, Ted Tryba and Dicky Pride have all left punters scratching their heads over the last 20 odd years.

Prior to Berger's initial success five years ago, only four other men in their 20s had won here since 1989. Pride in 1994, Begay in 2000, Dustin Johnson in 2012 and English in 2013. And in that period, six winners had been in their 40s. Gomez was 36 eight years ago, Crane was 38 in 2014 and Frazar was only days away from his 40th birthday 12 years ago so the profile of the winners here has changed quite dramatically of late.

Course Winner's Position and Price Pre-Round 4

  • 2022 - Will Zalatoris - tied third - trailing by two 5.59/2
  • 2021 - Abraham Ancer - solo fourth - trailing by four 18.017/1
  • 2020 - Justin Thomas - solo fifth - trailing by four 10.09/1
  • 2019 - Brooks Koepka - solo second - trailing by one 3.45
  • 2018 - Dustin Johnson - tied for the lead 1.4640/85
  • 2017 - Daniel Berger - T9 - trailing by three 20.019/1
  • 2016 - Daniel Berger - leading by three 2.447/5
  • 2015 - Fabian Gomez - tied for the lead 6.86/1

In-Play Tactics

Having been very well supported before the off last year, Zalatoris drifted all the way out to 800.0799/1 when he played the first nine holes of the tournament in two-over-par, and he sat tied for 86th and nine adrift after round one so a slow start can be overcome here.

A 62 in round two moved Ancer from tied 13th to second and he was never more than five adrift two years ago but the 2020 winner, Thomas, sat fifth after the first round before falling back to 12th at halfway. He was matched at 95.094/1 during round two and he trailed by seven strokes at halfway but that's as far back at that stage as any course winner this century. An off the pace winner can't be ruled out if the 2021 renewal is anything to go by...

Sam Burns and Hideki Matsuyama muscled their way into the playoff won by Ancer having both been matched at 1000.0999/1 when trailing by eight and nine strokes respectively after three rounds and Berger's victory seven years was unusual given how slow he started.

He trailed by six after the opening round and, like Thomas, by seven at halfway. He was matched at a whopping 190.0189/1 in-running so there's plenty of evidence to suggest a slow start can be overcome but most winners here are in the van throughout.

In 2019, Koepka, was tied for 18th and six behind the leader, Jon Rahm, after round one and he was four adrift of the halfway pacesetter, Fitzpatrick, before moving in to second behind Rory McIlroy with a round to go.

As indication as to how well the venue has historically favoured frontrunners, when Ben Crane won here nine years ago, he was the sixth wire-to-wire winner since 1996 and he was the first winner on the PGA Tour to fail to record a birdie in round four since Justin Leonard had won here in 2005, suggesting that this really is somewhere that you can start fast and cling on.

Market Leaders

World number one, Scottie Scheffler, heads the market and he's been well supported since it opened but I'm happy to swerve him with underwhelming course form figures that read MC-43-15-14-MC.

Having finished no worse than 12th in any event since October, Scheffler needed a final round of 67 to haul himself up into a tie for 27th at the Open Championship last time out as, yet again, his poor putting was a serious issue.

Given his consistency this year, he's highly likely to improve on his course form but he makes no appeal at around 7/18.00 while his wand continues to misbehave.

Scheffler at the Travelers 23.jpg

The world number three, Jon Rahm, currently sits number one in the FedEx Cup standings and there's a reasonable chance he'll still be there at the end of the week if his first three course visits are any sort of guide.

The Spaniard fired a 62 to lead after round one on the first occasion he played here in 2019, when he eventually finished seventh, and after finishing only 52nd in 2020, he shot a 66 in round four last year to move from 25th to fifth.

Like the majority of the main contenders, Rahm is well-rested after his tied second behind Brian Harman in the Open Championship and he's fairly priced at around 10/111.00.

Rory McIlroy has course form figures reading 29-7-4-47-12-MC and this is somewhere he'll feel that he should have won at already.

He was matched at just 2.0621/20 in 2019 when he'd led by a stroke with a round to go (finished fourth) and he had a great chance 11 years ago until he drove into the water on the 72nd hole (finished seventh).

With current form figures reading 7-7-9-2-7-1-6, he's been in terrific form all summer, but he may be one to swerve before the off.

On his last three visits to Southwind he's began with rounds of 73, 72 and 70 to sit 67th, 62 and 77th so waiting to see how he starts on Thursday may make sense.

Selections:

Matt Fitzpatrick has had a disappointing summer since winning at Hilton Head back in April so he's a risky play on current form but with course form figures reading 4-6-57-5, I'm happy to chance him at 55.054/1.

The Sheffielder hasn't been at his best but seeing his brother, Alex, get off the mark on the Challenge Tour last week could be the boost he needs to get him back on track.

Back Matthew Fitzpatrick @ 55.054/1

Bet now

Having finished third in the Scottish Open, 23rd in the Open and tied second at the Wyndham Championship, it's hard to ignore Byeong Hun An on current form given his excellent scrambling numbers.

His course form figures read MC-12 but they're extremely misleading. He shot 67 in round one in 2018 to sit 13th, trailing by two, before a 74 on Friday saw him miss out on weekend employment and he sat second with a round to go 12 months ago before a 73 on Sunday saw him slump to 12th.

An is yet to win on the PGA Tour but he performed nicely enough in-contention at the Wyndham on Sunday and I thought 90.089/1 was a shade big.

Back Byeong Hun An @ 90.089/1

Bet now

Another in-form player with excellent scrambling numbers is J.T Poston, who has current form figures reading 6-6-41-2-7.

The outlier in his last five starts is his 41st place finish in the Open Championship so it's a very fair set of numbers and the fact that he's just recorded high finishes in two events he's won previously (the John Deere Classic and the Wyndham Championship) bodes well.

His Southwind figures read MC-18-30-20 but he shot 64 to sit fourth after round one 12 months ago and he has the right skillset for the venue.

Back J.T Poston @ 95.094/1

Bet now

Poston was going to be a Find Me a 100 Winner selection but he's shortened up fractionally so I'll be back later on with just two picks at triple-figure prices.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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