WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational: Berger backed for a tasty threepeat

Golfer Daniel Berger
Daniel Berger - fancied to go in again in Memphis

We're off to Memphis on Thursday for the final World Golf Championship of the year so read Steve's comprehensive preview...

“Berger’s course form figures read 1-1-MC-2 so it’s hard to imagine him not contending given he’s just finished seventh in the US Open and eighth in the Open championship in two of his last three starts.”

Tournament History

The World Golf Championships began in 1999. The Bridgestone Invitational was 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. FedEx, who have had had a long association with the St Jude Invitational and the PGA Tour, stepped in.

The St Jude Invitational, originally known as the Memphis Open and first staged way in 1958, was a fairly big event on the PGA Tour for years but following the amalgamation with the Bridgestone, to become one of the four high-profile World Golf Championship events, its status has been elevated.

This will be the 33rd time in-a-row that TPC Southwind has hosted either the St Jude Invitational or the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational.

As is always the case with these WGC events, there will be no halfway cut and the top-class field off 66 includes 48 of the world's top 50 with only Jon Rahm and Christiaan Bezuidenhout absent.

Venue

TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tennessee

Course Details

Par 70 -7,233 yards
Stroke Index in 2020 - 69.55

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 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 dog-legs.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days beginning at 17:30 on Thursday

First Two WGC FedEx St Jude Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

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

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?

Justin Thomas ranked 44th for Driving Distance and 12th 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 three years ago when winning here for a second time. But four of the last 12 course winners have ranked 50th or worse for DD and two winners have ranked in the 70s, so bombing it miles isn't essential. Neither is hitting it straight off the tee if the stats are to be believed.

When ranking ninth in 2019, Koepka was the first winner since Brian Gay 10 years earlier to rank inside the top-10 for Driving Accuracy, although none of the 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 who finished tied for second last year tested that theory - ranking 36th, 52nd, 56th and 64th for DA.

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 11 years not to rank inside the top 10 for that stat. Thomas ranked seventh last year and two of the four to finish tied for second, Koepka and Tom Lewis, ranked first and third for GIR.

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 10 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 and Thomas rankled seventh last year.

Lewis (tied second) played the par fours better than anyone else last year and Thomas ranked second for Par 4 Scoring. 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 seven of the last eight winners have now ranked inside the top-four for that stat.

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

Is There an Angle In?

Previous course form has been vital of late. Justin Thomas had finished 12th on debut in 2019 before winning last year. Brooks Koepka now has course form figures reading 19-3-2-27-30-1-2 at TPC Southwind. Dustin Johnson was winning here for a second time in 2018 and Daniel Berger won back-to-back and was second again last year but, prior to five years ago, previous course form was far from essential and debutants had a really good record.

Justin Thomas wins FedEd st Jude.jpg

In his two visits before his win six 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 10 winners here were playing TPC Southwind for the first time and that could easily have been more. Tom Lewis finished second last year 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.

From a course correlation perspective, check out results for the Mayakoba Golf Classic, the Sony Open, the RSM Classic, Colonial 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 Golf Classic in Mexico after winning here eight 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 Justin Leonard, David Toms, Rory Sabbatini, Charles Howell II, and even a few more obscure players that rarely 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 example. He was tied fourth here in 2018 before finishing 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. That looks like an event that correlates well too. Justin Thomas and David Toms have also won at both venues, recent Southwind 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 Golf 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 year.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

The last five course winners have all been fairly well-fancied before the off and four of the last five winners have been in their 20s but historically, this has been a very good venue for outsiders and veterans. Now that the tournament played here is a WGC 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 six 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 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. In 2015, Gomez was 36 six years ago, Crane was 38 in 2014 and Frazar was only days away from his 40th birthday 10 years ago.

Course Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

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

Thomas sat fifth after the first round last year before falling back to 12th at halfway and he was matched at 95.094/1 during round two. Thomas trailed by seven strokes at halfway and that's as far back at that stage as any course winner this century. And Berger's victory five years was unusual given how slow he started too.

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 but that's not really surprising given the general rule of thumb here is to be up with the pace 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.

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 10th 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 six years ago, he sat fourth at halfway and he led after round three. When Crane won here seven 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.

Market Leaders

With current form figures reading 4-5-6, course winner and world number six, Brooks Koepka, is the man to beat. Famously renowned for raising his game to another level in majors, this is the one course at which he appears to shine repeatedly away from the majors.

Brooks Koepka wins St Jude.jpg

Those who managed to grab the early 17.5 available have a juicy price but odds of around 12/1 look about right.

Open Champion Collin Morikawa is impossible to ignore. He was only 20th on debut last year but he shot 67-66 over the weekend to move up from 49th at halfway, suggesting the venue suits him, and he arrives in Memphis in incredible form, with current figures reading 8-14-2-4-71-1-3.

Like 18 others in the field, Morikawa (who missed out on a bronze medal after losing the third-place playoff at Kasumigaseki County Club) appeared in the Olympics in Japan last week so he needs to overcome the 14-hour time difference. That could be significant.

Brand-new Olympic champion, Xander Schauffele, has improving TPC Southwind form figures reading 52-27-6. He's bound to be full of beans after his brilliant win in Japan but it would be an incredible feat to back up his first victory in two-and-half years with another seven days later on the other side of the world.

Selection

I had intended to back Brooks Koepka but, rather than take the 14.5 available yesterday, I dithered about and waited to see if I'd get bigger. My sole selection then is a very obvious one in the shape of Daniel Berger, who I backed yesterday at 28.027/1.

Berger's course form figures read 1-1-MC-2 so it's hard to imagine him not contending given he's just finished seventh in the US Open and eighth in the Open championship in two of his last three starts and that he's already tasted victory this season at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Selection:
Daniel Berger @ 28.027/1

I'll be back later with my Hero Open and Barracuda Championship previews.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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