US Open Pre-Event Preview. Steve Bamford takes you through some of his early thoughts that will shape next week's US Open tips - read it here!
The week before the US Open is always an interesting scenario on the PGA Tour. The FedEx St Jude Classic is the traditional curtain-raiser for the US Open and tends to be either all or nothing for the few elite players who bother to attend. World Top 20 players in the form of Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood have won this tournament in recent years, but so have Tour maiden Harris English (66/1), Ben Crane (175/1) and Harrison Frazar (275/1) so anything is possible in Memphis this week. On the European Tour we have the Lyoness Open in Austria - Paul Williams' preview gives you all the required lowdown to Diamond Country Club and the event's runners and riders.
2015 Punters League
Ben Beattie grabbed himself a free bet with Paddy Power last week with Alex Noren and Francesco Molinari delivering him top spot. Sean Colgan still leads overall after 22 weeks, but 2nd place man Simon Blight made a dent in his advantage. New entrants are always welcome, so enter your 6 players across St Jude and Lyoness our facebook group now!
The FedEx St Jude Classic is always one of the busiest events to keep on top of as the Monday U.S. Open qualifiers around the country dictates that the field flexes well into Tuesday with some qualifiers preferring to focus their attentions on next week's Major Championship. I constantly mention the dynamics of tournaments before a Major and the St Jude Classic this week is sure to feature a mix of elite players attempting to grab a welcome PGA Tour victory versus a number of Tour members who will still be looking to grab an invite to the US Open via a coveted Official World Golf Ranking Top 60.
Here's my St Jude preview which walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
Course Guide: TPC Southwind is a tough, technical Par 70 which has been the hardest non-Major Par 70 on the PGA Tour in 2 of the past 3 years. But it's not only the course that's difficult as sweltering temperatures in Memphis, allied to high humidity, traditionally turns this tournament into a real grind. Bermuda rough at 2.5" doesn't help the scoring and Southwind also features 8 Par 4s of over 450 yards - plus of course only 2 Par 5s to take advantage of. Green complexes aren't huge and feature grainy Champion Bermudagrass that aren't to every player's taste.
TPC Southwind, Germantown, Memphis, Tennessee: Designer Ron Pritchard 1987 with PGA Tour re-design 2004; Course Type: Technical; Par: 70; Length: 7,239 yards; Fairways: Zoysiagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass 2.5"; Greens: 5,420 sq.ft average featuring Champion Bermudagrass; Tournament Stimp: 11ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 71.24 (+1.24), Difficulty Rank 10 of 49 courses. 2013: 70.76 (+0.76), Difficulty Rank 14 of 43 courses. 2014: 70.72 (+0.72), Rank 12 of 48 courses.
Course Overview: TPC Southwind is a real brute which in the past 3 seasons has ranked as the 10th, 14th and 12th hardest course on the Tour. Hitting the tight, Zoysiagrass (a grass shared only with East Lake, home of the Tour Championship) fairways is a huge challenge, but in essence a lack of driving accuracy is not a huge penalty here as the average winner's rank for accuracy across the past 5 years is 36th. Instead the key to unlocking Southwind is a mix of patience, aggression on the right holes and mastering of the Champion Bermudagrass putting surfaces, which aren't for the faint hearted. Birdies come at a real premium; on the flip side both of the par 5s, namely the 3rd and the 16th, are Eagle opportunities. It's all about being aggressive at the right times as purely grinding pars is not enough.
Winners: 2014: Ben Crane (-10); 2013: Harris English (-12); 2012: Dustin Johnson (-9); 2011: Harrison Frazar (-13); 2010: Lee Westwood (-10); 2009: Brian Gay (-18).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published St Jude Classic predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players included in the Top 5 of the Predictor include Dustin Johnson (Predictor number 1 and 2012 winner), Harris English (2013 winner), Jerry Kelly, David Toms (150/1) and Luke Donald.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the AT&T Texas Open / Hassan II events and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2014: Crane 175/1; 2013: English 66/1; 2012: Johnson 20/1; 2011: Frazar 275/1; 2010: Westwood 12/1; 2009: Gay 40/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for TPC Southwind is here. Germantown, Tennessee will yet again test the energy levels of the players this week. Humidity is always a factor at the St Jude and a fine forecast will see 'feels like' temperatures rise to the low-to-mid 30 degrees centigrade. Course conditions look to be as standard for TPC Southwind and 12-15 mph breeze will be a factor across Friday to Sunday. Technical scoring yet again looks inevitable
US Open Cut Off: Here's a list of players by current OWGR who aren't yet qualified for the US Open (Top 60). This weekend marks the cut-off for OWGR qualifying category, current OWGR in brackets: Steven Bowditch (64), Harris English (68), Matt Jones (72), Russell Knox (77), Shawn Stefani (83), Padraig Harrington (91).
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 5 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
A razor-sharp short game looks to be the prerequisite at TPC Southwind where simply hitting fairways and greens won't get the job done. Mastering the gnarly putting surfaces really is the key here, as is top-notch scrambling. Only 10 players across 2012-2014 have broken 70% Greens in Regulation at Southwind, so it's clear that making par from off the green is critical. Top-level Champion Bermuda putting is critical for anybody who wants to top what is sure to be an extremely tight leaderboard. It's worth noting that Sedgefield has featured Champion Bermudagrass greens since 2012 as did Annandale before it disappeared from the Tour schedule in 2013 if you're looking for comparisons.
The metrics this week at St Jude are a little confusing. 12 months ago Ben Crane missed out on US Open qualification in Memphis and then proceeded to shoot blistering opening rounds of 63-65 to take total control of the tournament by Saturday morning (play was delayed by thunderstorms). His win came at a juicy 175/1. Prior to Crane, Harris English again came off the back of missing out on U.S. Open spot at the Monday Qualifier and grabbed his first ever PGA Tour victory at 66/1. Harrison Frazar in 2011 qualified for Congressional on the Monday and then arrived at TPC Southwind with little form and delivered a 275/1 victory for the bookmakers. However those kind of results go alongside 2008, 2010 and 2012 where Justin Leonard, Lee Westwood and Dustin Johnson could focus solely on the tournament in Memphis rather than the U.S. Open for which they were already safely qualified.
So what's the key this week? Well in my mind only look at elite players who desperately need a win to fulfil a winless streak or President's Cup qualification - current rankings are here. Billy Horschel clearly likes Southwind and Webb Simpson was 3rd here 12 months ago and hasn't won since October 2013. Both sit outside the President's Cup qualification spots, but have form momentum so a win here makes a level of sense if you're prepared to take very short prices. Instead I'm going for a longer price option where a Top 5 (or Top 6 with Paddy Power) makes us profit. This tournament really is wide open and, in my view, the nature of this technical test lends itself to players who are currently confident with the putter and with the tricky Champion Bermuda putting surfaces.
Key Bookmaker Offer: Paddy Power have again gone 6 places each-way at FedEx St Jude Classic. Full details and latest odds here.
My selections are as follows:
I've made it clear that Shawn Stefani is due his maiden PGA Tour win in the near future and for me TPC Southwind is a logical tournament where the Texan can grab his first professional win since the Miccosukee Championship (on Bermudagrass greens) on the web.com Tour back in 2012. Tour maidens are more than capable of getting the job done here in Memphis and Stefani, who will be playing his 59th main Tour event this week, has always shown a liking for Bermuda greens and isn't afraid of technical challenges. A renowned ball-striker, it's been interesting to see Shawn work on both his scrambling and especially his putting over the past few months. That's clear when you see he ranks 36th in Stokes Gained Putting (up 90 spots from 2014) and 8th in All-Round (up 46 spots) 2015 PGA Tour skill categories. His scrambling performance is also improving, so I'm expecting to see the 33 year-old go well this week on a course where he finished 7th on debut in 2013. RESULT: MC
Left hander Brian Harman makes lots of sense on a course that favours a right-to-left ball flight and the 28 year-old from Sea Island, Georgia always plays better on shorter/tighter formats. Ever since Harman touched down on the Tour in 2012, his best results in the main have always been at tournaments with higher scoring - indeed a high-profile 5th at The Barclays held that year at Bethpage Black secured his playing privileges. A stellar 2013/14 campaign saw Harman collect 5 Top 10 finishes prior to surprising me by shooting -22/262 and landing the John Deere Classic at 150/1. 2015 has been far quieter, but 13th at Waialae, 11th at PGA National, 8th at TPC Sawgrass and 10th at Colonial continue to tell-the-tale of a shorter course specialist. A tenacious putter, who can be an aggressive shot-maker when he needs to be, Harman was 6th here last term and his love for Champion Bermuda can be seen by his 3rd place at Sedgefield back in 2013. RESULT: MC
Unsuccessful yesterday in US Open qualifying, I've always had a soft spot for Chesson Hadley after he delivered a 50/1 win in Puerto Rico for us last year. The 27 year-old from Raleigh, North Carolina has never lacked confidence since he touched down in the main Tour in September 2013 and he was rightfully won Rookie of the Year. 2015 has seen Hadley mature a little on-course and results have become far more consistent. Hadley's weakness is inaccurate driving, but this week on a course where you can recover I have a feeling that his prowess on the Par 4s and on the greens will see him levitate towards the upper reaches of the leaderboard. Arriving here 12 months ago in terrible form, Hadley shot rounds of 67, 67 and 69 to finish 13th where he ranked 2nd in Greens in Regulation. Recent form has been excellent and 4th at TPC San Antonio, 8th at TPC Louisiana and 3-straight Top 25 finishes at TPC Sawgrass, Quail Hollow and Colonial highlight a talent that's maturing. It's also worth noting that he won the web.com Tour Championship on the Bermudagrass Dye Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass in 2013 with a -10/270 winning total. If the course suits, he can grind. RESULT: MC
A real Bermuda specialist, Every finds himself safely into next week's US Open plus the Open Championship, PGA Championship and Bridgestone Invitational based upon his fantastic win at Bay Hill in March. A fantastic putter, Every has always shown a liking for classical and technical tests, and with his PGA Tour future safe for many seasons to come it will be interesting to see if the 31 year-old Floridian can establish himself in, or around the World Top 50. For now, TPC Southwind is a track that's undoubtedly perfect for him (he was 3rd here last year) and his liking for Champion Bermuda is even clearer when you consider his 14th (2012) and 5th (2013) at Sedgefield. This week is a real opportunity if he wants to take it. RESULT: WD
Camilo Villegas reminds me a little of Ben Crane here 12 months ago. Awful form, but just the glimmer that he's found something. A true course specialist, Villegas made the cut last week at Muirfield Village for the first time since Bay Hill, where he ultimately finished 40th. The Colombian, who could still get into the mix for a President's Cup spot, is easy to read. He thrives on Bermudagrass and Champion Bermuda is certainly his friend. The winner at Sedgefield last August, Camilo has 6 Top 20 finishes here, including a 3rd here in 2011. 2nd after 36 holes here 12 months ago, Camilo continued his upward trend by qualifying in Ohio (on Bentgrass greens) for the US Open at the competitive Brookside G&CC qualifier where he shot the best round of 64 in Round 1. You can guarantee though that this week will be his focus. RESULT: T18
First Round Leader Market
After a near-miss in the FRL market at The Players on Ben Martin and Paul Williams' successful Dantorp FRL tip last week, I can't resist John Merrick this week. 142nd in the FedEx Cup and with a season in the web.com potentially looming, Californian Merrick has been striking the ball beautifully for months. However the putter has been ice-cold. Well that all changed at TPC Four Seasons a fortnight ago where he finished strongly with 5 birdies in 11 holes to deliver 16th. In the main this was powered by a top-15 Strokes Gained Putting performance and all of this on a course where he has had no success previously. Well he has had success here at TPC Southwind in the past and has a track record of starting fast. 100/1 is too tempting when Skybet offer as short as 50/1. RESULT: Lose
Our predictions and final tips for the 2016 FedEx St Jude Classic will be published here on the Tuesday before the event.