St Jude Classic: Scotty a fair price but first timers also worth chancing

 Adam Scott – fancied to go well by The Punter
Adam Scott – fancied to go well by The Punter

With just one week to go before the US Open, Steve takes a look at this week's PGA Tour action in Memphis. Read his detailed preview of the St. Jude Classic here...


"Debutants have a really good record. Last year’s winner, Berger, was making his debut, the 2013 winner, Harris English, was playing in the event for the first time, the 2012 winner, Dustin Johnson, had never played here before either and neither had the 2011 champ, Lee Westwood, who beat another first-timer, Robert Karlsson, in a playoff."

Tournament History

Originally known as the Memphis Open, the St. Jude Classic has been in existence since 1958 so this will be its 60th edition.

This will the 29th time in-a-row that TPC Southwind has hosted the tournament and the event precedes the US Open (market here) for the tenth time in as many years.


Venue

TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tennessee.


Course Details

Par 70 -7,244 yards
Stroke Index in 2016 - 70.93

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 when 125 additional 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), fairways were re-contoured and narrowed and over 200 yards were added. The smaller than average greens, which will run at 11.5 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.

With its small high greens, TPC Southwind will offer up plenty of scrambling practice for those in the field preparing for next week's US Open.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday.


Last Five Winners

2016 - Daniel Berger -13
2015 - Fabian Gomez -13
2014 - Ben Crane -10
2013 - Harris English -12
2012 - Dustin Johnson -9


What Will it Take to Win the St. Jude Classic?


Last year's winner, Daniel Berger, ranked sixth for Driving Distance, Harrison Frazar ranked second when he won in 2011 and Robert Garrigus should have won here in 2010 when he hit it further than anyone else but DD is not a stat to get hung up on.

Dustin Johnson certainly hits it far but he reined his power in when winning in 2012 as he only ranked 20th for DD and the three winners before Berger ranked 69th, 62nd and 39tt. The average DD ranking of the last five winners is just 39 so power isn't an essential prerequisite.

Berger ranked 11th for Driving Accuracy 12 months ago and that's the best anyone's ranked for that stat since Brian Gay ranked ninth in 2009 and the six winners in-between Gay and Berger had an average DA ranking of 38.6 suggesting accuracy off the tee isn't vital either.

To compliment his excellent driving stats, Berger ranked number one for Greens In Regulation too and six of the last seven winners have ranked inside the top-ten for that stat.

Berger's Scrambling stats weren't as high as most winners here though. He only ranked 24th, whereas seven of the ten winners before him ranked no worse than seventh for that stat.

Fabian Gomez has a Putting Average of fourth but he's the only winner to rank any better than 14th in the last five years. Winners have had to putt reasonably well though as the average Putting Average ranking over the last five years is still only 15.

As is always the case on a par 70, Par 4 Scoring is a key stat and the last four winners have ranked third, fourth, third and second for that stat.


Is There an Angle In?


Previous course form is far from essential and debutants have a really good record.

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

Last year's winner, Berger, was making his debut, the 2013 winner, Harris English, was playing in the event for the first time, the 2012 winner, Dustin Johnson, had never played here before either and neither had the 2011 champ, Lee Westwood, who beat another first-timer, Robert Karlsson, in a playoff.

Four of the last six winners were playing TPC Southwind for the first time 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) and Graeme McDowell (7th in 2009), to name but a few.

There aren't that many teeing up at Southwind for the first time each year and I think it's a great angle in. Last year's winner didn't even have much practice around 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."

From a course correlation perspective, check out results for the OHL Classic, the Sony Open, the RSM Classic and the Puerto Rico Open. The venues used for those four events aren't too dissimilar to this and there many examples of form crossing over.

Harris English, went on to win the OHL Classic in Mexico after taking this four years ago, and Robert Karlsson, who has finished runner-up here twice, traded a heavy odds-on before a late collapse let in English in Mexico.

Brian Gay has won both this event and the OHL Classic, Robert Allenby has lost a playoff at both and the likes of Justin Leonard, David Toms, Rory Sabbatini, Charles Howell II, and even a few more obscure players that we rarely see feature, like Johnson Wagner, Heath Slocum, Dicky Pride, Bob Estes and Justin Hicks, have shown-up well at both venues.

This was Gomez's first PGA Tour title but he'd previously thrown away the Puerto Rico Open in 2013 and he's since gone on to win the Sony Open in Hawaii. And that looks like an event that correlates well too. David Toms has also won both tournaments and recent St. Jude Classic winners, Harris English, Harrison Frazar and Brian Gay, have all also been placed in Hawaii.


Is There an Identikit Winner?


Berger ticked the debutant box 12 months ago but given he was a fairly well-fancied 30.029/1 chance and only 23-years-old, he went against a couple of trends too.

Gomez was matched at 610.0609/1 two years ago and 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 years or so. Outsiders have a decent record here.

Prior to Berger's success 12 months ago, only four other men in their 20s had won here since 1989. Pride in 1994, Begay in 2000, DJ in 2012 and English in 2013. And in that period, six winners have been in their 40s. Gomez was 36 two years, Crane was 38 in 2014 and Frazar was only days away from his 40th birthday six years ago, so the more experienced pros fare well too.


In-Play Tactics


Getting off to a fast start is key here. Berger was tied for tenth and two back after round one 12 months ago and he was three clear of the field after rounds two three and finally four. Gomez was only two off the lead in a tie for eighth after round one two years ago. He sat fourth at halfway and he led after round three, so like many a St. Jude winner, he was always on the premises.

When Crane won here three 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.

The par five 16th hole is the easiest on the course and last year it only averaged 4.53 but the back nine is generally tougher than the front and the finish is fairly tough. In contrast, the front nine is easier (averaged 35.3 compared to 35.62) but the hardest hole on the course last year was the par four fifth.


Market Leaders


Rickie Fowler had a chance to win the Memorial Tournament on Sunday, right up to the penultimate hole, but he finished up losing by three having traded at just 2.021/1. He's only played here once before, finishing 13th in 2014, but it's venue that should suit him. He's a strong par 70 performer and a good putter on Bermuda. I can see him going well but he does have to get over Sunday. Being in-the-mix over the weekend and ultimately falling short can take it out of players and he's short enough for me.

With course form reading 19-3-2, Brooks Koepka was always going to be a popular pick this week but I'm more than happy to leave him out. His last three starts have seen him finish an uninspiring 16th at the Players Championship, 50th in the Byron Nelson and 31st on Sunday in the Memorial Tournament. He's won once from 66 PGA Tour starts and he makes no appeal at around 14.013/1.

Regular readers will know that I'm not a huge Adam Scott fan (betting wise) and that I very rarely back him but he's the stand out for me at the head of the market here.

In his sole appearance here to date, 10 years ago, he led by three with a round to go but finished seventh so we know the course suits his eye but so it should. Scott has a fine record on par 70 tracks and on Bermuda greens and given he's so lightly raced, it's a surprise to see him here ahead of the US Open. He was 31st last week in the Memorial Tournament but top tens at the US Masters and the Players Championship show he's in decent nick this year and with only 12 of the world's top-50 in attendance, he looks a great price in a fairly weak field.

I'm a huge Phil Mickelson fan and his course form reads an impressive MC-59-2-11-3-2 but he's not for me at around 20/1. His 18th place at the Wells Fargo is his best finish since he was eighth in Mexico in early March and he hasn't won anywhere in getting on for four years.

The only other player trading at less than 30.029/1 is Francesco Molinari and he's very easy to dismiss. He could well place again given he's in fair form but he's yet to win in the States and he's a very weak performer in-the-mix.


Selections


I've surprised myself and backed Adam Scott and I've taken a chance on four outsiders...

I'm not convinced the venue's right for Smylie Kaufman but he's been catching the eye of late and he's one of few making his debut so I've had a small wager on him and I've also played Chris Kirk, D.A Points and John Huh.

Kirk, who's a winner of the aforementioned RSM Classic, has played here only once before when he missed the cut in 2012 after a disastrous opening 78. He isn't in the best of form, although he did finish 12th at the Players Championship, but the venue should really suit him and he's a four time winner on the PGA Tour. And one extra fillip which may or may not be worth anything - he was born in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Points won the Puerto Rico Open back in March and whilst not in sparkling form since, his 12th in the Wells Fargo caught the eye. This course is right up Darren Andrew's street and whilst his form figures read an uninspiring 38-37-MC-W-18, last year's 18th came when he was woefully out of form and it was a better performance than the bare result suggests. He didn't do himself any favours with a slow start (sat tied 68th and six back after round one) but he was in second place with a round to go after rounds of 68 and 64! I though the 280.0279/1 available was very tasty.

My fifth and final pick is course debutant, John Huh, who's only win on the PGA Tour came at the previously mentioned OHL Classic, and so the course could suit him nicely.


Selections:
Adam Scott @ 16.5
Smylie Kaufman @ 120.0119/1
Chris Kirk @ 130.0129/1
D.A Points @ 280.0279/1
John Huh @ 290.0289/1


I'll be back on Thursday with the In-Play Blog.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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