The first World Golf Championship since golf's restart takes place this week in Memphis and Steve Rawlings provides our comprehensive preview...
"From a course correlation perspective, check out results for the Mayakoba Classic, the Sony Open, the RSM Classic, the Charles Schwab Challenge and the Puerto Rico Open. The venues used for those five events aren't too dissimilar to this and there are many examples of form crossing over."
The WGC - FedEx St Jude Invitational was originally known as the Memphis Open and the first edition was way back in 1958. It's been a fairly big event on the PGA Tour for years but its status was elevated higher last year when it became one of the four high-profile World Golf Championship events. Although with the cancellation of the Match Play event in Texas in March, there are only three this year.
The World Golf Championships began in 1999 and the Bridgestone Invitational had been an ever-present on the four-event rotation since day one but when it became clear that Bridgestone wouldn't be sponsoring in 2019, a change needed to be made and FedEx, who have had a long association with this event and the PGA Tour, stepped up.
This will the 32nd time in-a-row that TPC Southwind has hosted the tournament and in the 12 years between 2007 and 2018, this event preceded the US Open. This year it precedes the first of the year's three majors - the US PGA Championship.
The 78-player field includes players from 19 different countries and the top eight players in the Official World Golf Rankings.
TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tennessee
Par 70 -7,237 yards
Stroke Index in 2019 - 69.5
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), 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. Featured Group coverage begins at 17:00 UK time and full coverage starts at 19:00 on Thursday.
Last Five FedEx St Jude Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Brooks Koepka -16 [11.0]
2018 - Dustin Johnson -19 [8.2]
2017 - Daniel Berger -10 [34.0]
2016 - Daniel Berger -13 [30.0]
2015 - Fabian Gomez -13 [600.0]
Last Five WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Winners
2018 - Justin Thomas -15
2017 - Hideki Matsuyama -16
2016 - Dustin Johnson -6
2015 - Shane Lowry -11
2014 - Rory McIlroy -15
What Will it Take to Win the WGC - FedEx St Jude Invitational?
Brooks Koepka drove the ball superbly last year, ranking fourth for Driving Distance and ninth for Driving Accuracy and Daniel Berger, who won back-to-back here in 2017 and 2017 also drove the ball well. He ranked sixth and 14th for Driving Distance and 11th and 36th for Driving Accuracy but neither stat has been vital over the years.
Nobody hit it further than Harrison Frazar when he took the title back in 2011 and Dustin Johnson topped the DD rankings two years ago, when winning here for a second time, but four of the last 11 victors 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...
When ranking ninth last year, 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.
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 the title because he scrambled and putted brilliantly but GIR is usually a great indicator and Crane's the only winner in the last ten years not to rank inside the top ten for that stat. The first three home last year ranked eighth and tied fifth for GIR and Matthew Fitzpatrick, who finished tied for fourth, ranked second for GIR.
Berger's Scrambling stats were much worse than most winners. He ranked 24th four 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 and Koepka ranked number one last year.
Koepka and Webb Simpson, who finished second last year, ranked first and third for Par 4 Scoring and DJ and Andrew Putnam, the first two home in 2018, ranked first and second for Par 4 Scoring so six of the last seven winners have now ranked inside the top-four for that stat.
Par 4 Scoring and Scrambling are the two stats to concentrate on.
Is There an Angle In?
Previous course form has been vital of late. Brooks Koepka had previously finished third and second at TPC Southwind, Dustin Johnson was winning the event for a second time in 2018 and Daniel Berger won it back-to-back but prior to four years ago previous course form had been far from essential and debutants have a really good record here.
In his two visits before his win five 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 nine winners were playing TPC Southwind for the first time and that could easily have been more. Tommy Fleetwood, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Jon Rahm were all in-contention last year 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 though.
From a course correlation perspective, check out results for the Mayakoba Classic, the Sony Open, the RSM Classic, the Charles Schwab Challenge and the Puerto Rico Open. The venues used for those five events aren't too dissimilar to this and there are many examples of form crossing over.
Harris English, went on to win the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico after taking this event seven years ago, and Robert Karlsson, who has finished runner-up here twice, traded a heavy odds-on there before a late collapse let in English in Mexico.
Brian Gay has won both this event and the Mayakoba 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, Justin Hicks and Richy Werenski, have shown-up well at both venues. Werenski is the latest prime example. He was tied fourth here in 2018 before finished third in Mexico
This was Fabian 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, recent FedEx St. Jude winners, Harris English, Harrison Frazar and Brian Gay, have all also been placed in Hawaii and Matt Kuchar ties them all up nicely. As already stated, he was fifth here on debut and he's won both the Mayakoba Classic and the Sony Open.
Toms is also a winner at Colonial and so too now is fellow two-time Southwind winner, Daniel Berger, who won there last month.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
The last four winners have been fairly well-fancied before the off and Daniel Berger was in his 20s but historically, this has been a very good venue for outsiders and veterans. Now that the tournament is WGC event, outsiders and veteran winners may be a thing of the past but it's a course that doesn't need to be overpowered.
Gomez was matched at [610.0] five years ago and Ben Crane was a [270.0] 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 four 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 five years ago, Crane was 38 in 2014 and Frazar was only days away from his 40th birthday nine years ago.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2019 - Brooks Koepka second - trailing by one [3.45]
2018 - Dustin Johnson - tied for the lead [1.46]
2017 - Daniel Berger T9 - trailing by three [20.0]
2016 - Daniel Berger - leading by three [2.44]
2015 - Fabian Gomez - tied for the lead [6.8]
Berger's victory four years was unusual given he started so slowly. He trailed by six after the opening round and by seven at halfway. He was matched at a whopping [190.0] in-running but that's not really surprising given the general rule of thumb here is to be up with the pace throughout.
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.
A year earlier, DJ sat tied for 13th and just two off the lead after round one but he led all the way after that. In 2016, Berger had been tied for tenth and just two back after round one but 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 five years ago, he sat fourth at halfway and he led after round three and when Crane won here five years ago, he was the sixth wire-to-wire winner since 1996. 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.
Brand new world number one, Jon Rahm, heads the market following his impressive success at Muirfield Village two weeks ago and judging by his eight-under-par 62 to open up last year, this venue is right up his street.
He lost his way a bit after the opening round and was eventually beaten by six in seventh place but he could very easily improve on that this time around. Winning back-to-back tournaments is usually quite tough but Rahm tends to hold his form nicely once found and he won the DP World Tour Championship in his next appearance after winning the Open de Espana last year. A worthy favourite and a fair price given his impressive strike-rate.
Rahm may have led after round one last year but it was Rory McIlroy that led with a round to go. Matched at a low of [2.06], he registered just one birdie on Sunday and was soon trailing Koepka, eventually losing by five.
Last year was Rory's first visit to TPC Southwind in seven years and I'm not surprised he'd stayed away given he'd also led at halfway in 2012 before eventually finishing seventh. He may well be hungrier than ever after being knocked off the top slot by Rahm but he isn't showing enough consistency to make much appeal at [13.0].
The extra incentive of losing the world number one slot might spur him on to a fast start though and he could be an interesting back-to-lay and a possible play in the 1st Round Leader market.
Justin Thomas was a never-in-contention 12th on debut last year but given he's so prolific, has already won a WGC event, is in decent form, is a former winner of the Sony (by seven strokes!) and that he ranks highly for both Scrambling and Par 4 Performance, it would be no surprise at all to see him contend. He's my idea of the best value towards the head of the market.
Bryson DeChambeau has course form figures reading 45-MC-48 and he missed the cut at the Memorial Tournament last time out, having won the Rocket Mortgage Classic in his previous start. Although he ranks highly for both Scrambling and Par 4 Performance, his course form and his performance last time out are a concern and I'm happy to swerve him.
I was happy to have a small saver on Justin Thomas at [14.5] and I've also backed England's Tyrrell Hatton, who has been playing some terrific golf of late.
Hatton signed of 2019 with a win in Turkey on the European Tour and he won the last event before the break - the Arnold Palmer Invitational back in March - having finished sixth in the WGC - Mexico Championship in his only other start in 2020. It would have been understandable if he'd returned to the fray a bit rusty following the break and his win but in his two starts back, he's finished third at the RBC Heritage and fourth at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. He was only 43rd here on debut last year but he opened up with a round of 66 to sit tied for seventh and I fancy him to contend again this week.
I really like the look of Brendon Todd at a big price. Last year's Mayakoba Classic winner was bang in-contention at the Travelers Championship until deep into the back0nine on Sunday and he played nicely enough last time out at the Muirfield Village.
He has only patchy form figures here, reading 12-MC-18-MC but he's fired in rounds of 65 and a couple of 66s and he's the number one Scrambler on the PGA Tour at present. He also ranks 17th for Par 4 Performance and I thought he was a very interesting runner at [200.0].
Like Todd, fellow [200.0] chance, Kevin Kisner, has plenty of form at the right correlating courses and he has the added incentive of not being able to defend his WGC-Match Play title. Having finished third at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in his penultimate start, he has shown signs of lie recently and although he has only ordinary course form figures, reading 38-13-50-27, last year's effort is interesting. He sat tied for 63rd after an opening 77 but shot 67-66-67 after that to climb into the top-30. He too could go well at a huge price.
Justin Thomas @ [14.5]
Tyrrell Hatton @ [36.0]
Brandon Todd @ [200.0]
Kevin Kisner @ [200.0]
I'll be back tomorrow with my Hero Open and Barracuda Championship previews.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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