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 Match Play has been the only WGC event staged this year and it's the only one pencilled in for next year too but this is now the first of three FedEx Cup Playoff Series events, the newly named FedEx St Jude Championship is still a very prestigious event.
The FedEx St Jude Championship replaces the Northern Trust, which had kicked off the FedEx Cup Playoff Series since its inception in 2007.
The FedEx St Jude Championship is a limited field event for the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings after the last counting event (last week's Wyndham Championship).
Of the 125 qualifiers, Tommy Fleetwood, Lanto Griffin, Daniel Berger, and Nate Lashley, will not play. Griffin, Berger and Lashley, who are all out because of injury, can't advance but Fleetwood can, although the FedEx Cup points are quadrupled in each of the first two Playoffs events. Whether he chooses to or not, we'll just have to wait and see.
The FedEx Cup Playoff Series was reduced from four events to three in 2019 so at the end of this event, the top 70 in the standings move on to the Wilmington Country Club 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 34th season in-a-row that TPC Southwind has hosted a PGA Tour event.
TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tennessee.
Par 70 -7,243 yards
Stroke Index in 2021 - 68.83
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.
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 dog-legs.
Live on Sky Sports all four days beginning at 12:00 UK time on Thursday
WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational Winners with Pre-event 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 Pre-event 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 the WGC - FedEx St Jude Championship?
Abraham Ancer ranked only 57th for Driving Distance and 10th for Driving Accuracy last year and neither stat is worth getting hung up on.
Nobody hit it further than Harrison Frazar when he won here back in 2011 and Dustin Johnson topped the DD rankings four years ago, when winning here for a second time, but five of the last 13 course winners have ranked 50th or worse for DD and two winners have ranked in the 70s, so bombing it miles isn't essential. And neither is hitting it straight off the tee if the stats are to be believed...
The last three course winners have ranked ninth, 12th and tenth for DA but when ranking ninth in 2019, Koepka was the first winner since Brian Gay ten years earlier to rank inside the top-ten for Driving Accuracy, although none of the ten winners in-between ranked any worse than 49th.
It's not so fiddly that you need to be arrow-straight off the tee but you can't just bomb it anywhere, although the four players that finished tied for second in 2020 tested that theory - ranking 36th, 52nd, 56th and 64th for DA - and Sam Burns was beaten in the playoff last year when ranking 47th.
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 12 years not to rank inside the top ten for that stat. Ancer ranked fifth for GIR last year and course specialist, Daniel Berger, who finished tied for fifth, topped the GIR rankings.
Berger's Scrambling stats were much worse than most Southwind winners. He ranked 24th five 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 rankled seventh in 2021 and Ancer ranked first last year.
Ancer ranked third for Par 4 Scoring last year and Thomas ranked second two 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 eight of the last nine winners have now ranked inside the top-four for that stat.
Par 4 Performance 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 three tournaments here in which there were SG stats, the winners have ranked first, first and fourth for SG Tee-to Green.
Is There an Angle In?
With previous figures reading 18-MC-15, Ancer didn't have a brilliant Southwind CV but previous course form has been key of late.
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 six years ago previous course form had been far from essential and debutants had a really good record.
In his two visits before his win seven 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 the event for the first time, 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 11 winners here were playing TPC Southwind for the first time and that could easily have been more. 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, should have got into the playoff at least last year (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 in January.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Ancer had just turned 30 when he won last year and four of the last six winners have been in their 20s. And we have to go back seven years to find the last triple-figure price 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 chance.
Gomez was matched at 610.0609/1 seven 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 seven years ago, Crane was 38 in 2014 and Frazar was only days away from his 40th birthday 11 years ago.
Course Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
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
A 62 in round two moved Ancer from tied 13th to second and he was never more than five adrift. The 2020 winner, Thomas, sat fifth after the first round before falling back to 12th at halfway and he was matched at 95.094/1 during round two. He trailed by seven strokes at halfway and that's as far back at that stage as any course winner this century but an off the pace winner can't be ruled out if last year's renewal is anything to go by.
Sam Burns and Hideki Matsuyama muscled their way into the playoff last year having both been matched at 1000.0 when trailing by eight and nine strokes respectively after three rounds and Berger's victory six 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 eight 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.
World number three, Rory McIlroy, heads the market but this is his first start since his disappointing final round at St Andrews and I'm more than happy to swerve him.
This is Rory's sixth visit to TPC Southwind, and he has a fair bank of form at the track reading 29-7-4-47-12 that could and probably should read better. He opened with a 72 last year before three rounds of 66 saw him climb from 62nd to 12th and he led by a stroke with a round to go in 2019 before a 72 on Sunday saw him slip to fourth.
The world number one, Scottie Scheffler, is next up but he too is fairly easy to dismiss. In his three starts since finishing second to Matt Fitzpatrick in the US Open he's finished 13th in the Travelers Championship, missed the cut at the Scottish Open and finished 21st in the Open and his course form figures, reading MC-43-15-14 can't be described as spectacular.
The reigning FedEx Cup champion, Patrick Cantlay, is yet to win this season and his course form is only ordinary. He finished 12th on debut in 2019 but in his two subsequent starts he's finished only 35th and 23rd but he is bang in form. Since missing the cut in the US PGA Championship, he's produced form figures reading 3-14-13-4-8-2 so there's every chance he can improve on his ordinary course form.
As already mentioned, the brand-new Open champion, Cam Smith, contended here last year so he clearly likes the venue but it would be quite an effort to go in again in his first start after winning his first major and I'm happy to swerve him too.
Matt Fitzpatrick is bidding to become the third US Open winner to win at TPC Southwind in the last five years, following wins by Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson and at 25/1 in the Sportsbook's Enhanced Win Only market, he's a fair price to emulate the pair.
Fitzpatrick has ticked over nicely since his brilliant win at Brookline, finishing sixth in the Scottish Open and tied 21st in the Open and he has already shown a liking to the venue.
Fitzpatrick led by two at halfway on debut in 2019 before slipping to fourth and he finished sixth 12 months later. He finished only 57th 12 months ago but he clearly wasn't at his best at the time. He'd finished down the filed on the DP World Tour (52nd in the Cazoo Open) prior to playing here and he missed his two subsequent cuts.
Fitzpatrick currently ranks second and 24th for the key traditional stats - Scrambling and Par 4 Performance - and he also tops the SG: Tee-to Green stats on the PGA Tour so he's a great fit statistically too.
Matt Fitzpatrick @ 25/1 - Enhanced Win Only (Sportsbook)
I'll be back later with my ISPS HANDA World Invitational preview.
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