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The week before the US Open is always an interesting scenario on the PGA Tour. The FedEx St Jude Classic is the traditional warm-up 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 maidens Fabian Gomez (400/1), Harris English (66/1) and Harrison Frazar (275/1). Throw in William McGirt's (200/1) win last week at Muirfield Village where he saw off Jon Curran (400/1) in a play-off - despite the World's Top-5 being in Ohio - and I'm sure that you will agree that anything is possible on the PGA Tour, let alone in Memphis this week. It's never been truer to say that anybody can win these days on the PGA Tour.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Lyoness Open - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: TPC Southwind is a tough, technical track which has been the hardest non-Major par 70 on the PGA Tour in 2 of the past 4 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 which isn'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: 7,244 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 8; 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. 2015: 70.93 (+0.93), Difficulty Rank 9 of 52 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for TPC Southwind and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Overview: TPC Southwind is a real brute which in the past 4 seasons has ranked as the 10th, 14th, 12th and 9th 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 6 years is 37th. Instead the key to unlocking Southwind is a mixture 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. The par 3 11th has been lengthened by 5 yards for 2016 to 162 yards, taking the overall course length to 7,244 yards.
Inaccuracy off the tee is a problem that virtually all players have at TPC Southwind. The course ranked 10th toughest for fairways hit in 2015, and although that is not necessarily a problem for PGA Tour professionals, the course has also ranked in the top-20 toughest for rough proximity. So look for players who are excellent out of the rough and who can still get the ball relatively close when off the short stuff. TPC Southwind is also renowned for a tough set of par 4s - the standard par 70 set-up includes 12 of them. The course ranked 9th toughest for par 4 birdie or better conversion in 2015, so again look for those comfortable on par 4s.
Winners: 2015: Fabian Gomez (-13); 2014: Ben Crane (-10); 2013: Harris English (-12); 2012: Dustin Johnson (-9); 2011: Harrison Frazar (-13); 2010: Lee Westwood (-10).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week which are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well: 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 model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Dustin Johnson (Predictor Number 1) Tim Wilkinson, Aaron Baddeley, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the Shell Houston Open and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. 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: 2015: Gomez 400/1; 2014: Crane 175/1; 2013: English 66/1; 2012: Johnson 20/1; 2011: Frazar 275/1; 2010: Westwood 12/1; 2009: Gay 40/1. Average: 165/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Germantown is here. With no rain or thunderstorms in play across the whole of the week leading up to the tournament or during it, expect some fast running fairways and greens which are typical for the tournament. Temperatures will be scorching throughout - up to 35 degrees Celsius on Saturday - with the lightest of winds.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners of the St Jude Classic since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how TPC Southwind has set up in the past and what specific skills it requires:
Fabian Gomez (2015): "I'm the kind of guy that usually, you know, my driver is straight. And in this course, you know, many, many holes you have to be really, you know, competitive with your driver. And also so many holes you need to play like a fade, you know, and I cannot play that for me, really tough to hit a fade and that's the situation. Also, it's a course that usually you have to play with the wind. And I'm the kind of player that I feel comfortable playing with the wind, you know."
Greg Owen (2015): "Yeah, the fairways aren't as firm as they normally are. They firmed up since the practice days because of the rain, but they're not bouncing like they can do in previous years. The greens are perfect. I mean, they really are good. They're rolling properly. They're accepting good shots. It's all about hitting fairways and greens. I hit most of them today, so it's always well for a good score. It suits my eye pretty good."
Ben Crane (2015): "I got in the rough a number of times. I'll tell you what, this is no golf course to play from the rough. It makes it so difficult. You get a lot of fliers, hard to control the ball. Scrambling around these greens is just incredibly difficult with the rough around the greens. Grainy lies. It makes some of the guys look silly. I'm telling you, this is a tough golf course right now. It's drying out and, you know, I mean, I think single digits might even win this tournament. Kind of depends what a few guys do. It is a very tough test of golf right now."
Lee Westwood (2014): "It's quite tight. You need to drive the ball straight although, you know, it does give you opportunities, you know, where it's not driver on every hole as well. But there is a massive premium on hitting the fairways here. You know, holes like 18, 12, you know, if you're not in the fairway there and 15, you can make par difficult. So, you know, the fact I think it tests up every aspect of your game. You got to drive the ball well and hit the fairway. Lots of greens sort of run across you so not only got to hit the right distance and the right line and right distance as well. The greens are immaculate, really. There's no excuses for not making putts."
Retief Goosen (2014): "I like this golf course. It's a golf course you need to hit a lot of different kind of shots off the tee. It's not a golf course that you can just blast away at it, not that I can anymore anyway. So actually a lot of holes now doglegs I don't have to worry about running out so that's good. The course is in really good shape. A little bit more rough throughout than there has been in the past. You pretty much have no chance of stopping it on these greens with the rough. Today, I kept it fairly good on the fairway and the back-9 was a couple of bad drives but depends what happens now, the weather this afternoon. If it rains the greens will get softer and make the course play quite a bit different than it did this morning. This course played tough this morning. The fairways running out pretty good and, like I say, some of the greens are really tough to get close. Yeah, it could rain, could have a delay and come back tomorrow morning, no wind and the guys shoot 7, 8-under. Who knows? As it's playing now, it's tough out there. Hopefully we won't get too much rain. I prefer the course to play hard and fast."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
US Open Cut Off: 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 and result needed at Southwind to qualify in brackets: Ryan Palmer (61st-solo 11th), Gary Woodland (64th - solo 7th), Fabian Gomez (68th - solo 4th), Francesco Molinari (81st - win), Matt Jones (82nd - win), Charles Howell III (83rd -win), Jon Curran (89th - win).
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 17 players across 2012-2015 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. Fabian Gomez won at a whopping 400/1 12 months ago. With a top-20 at Colonial 2 outings prior to arriving in Tennessee, Gomez captured his first PGA Tour title here whilst the big guns all started slowly or faded away. Gomez has a history of playing well in Puerto Rico and had won a web.com tournament at Le Triomphe Country Club in Louisiana in 2010. In 2014, Ben Crane had 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 Ryder Cup qualification. I'm going for a mix of one elite player with longer price options where an each-way return makes us profit. This tournament really is wide open and, in my view, the nature of the this technical test lends itself to players who are currently confident with the putter and with the tricky Champion Bermudagrass putting surfaces.
Bookmaker Offers. A number of bookmakers have extended their each-way terms again this week plus there are a couple of other offers out there:
My selections are as follows:
Kyle Reifers has undoubtedly raised his stock in 2016. Currently 41st in the FedEx Cup standings, the Columbus, Ohio born 32-year-old had a 'home game' at Muirfield Village last week and his 20th was yet another career best finish - his tenth of the season. Renowned for his ball-striking prowess, Kyle has finished 6th at Silverado, 11th at Coco Beach G&CC, 7th at GC of Houston, 10th at TPC Four Seasons and 5th at Colonial this season. 3 appearances at TPC Southwind have yielded nothing, but the North Carolina resident is a different proposition these days and there are a couple of angles which really make him appeal this week. His only Nationwide Tour win came at the Chattanooga Classic hosted at the Black Creek Club in Tennessee in 2006 and that liking for hot, humid conditions comes through in his results profile. 6th at Panama GC in 2011 plus 2nd (2010) and 3rd (2014) at Le Triomphe Country Club in Louisiana marry up well with the conditions the field will face this week. They also link well to last year's winner Fabian Gomez who has won at both Le Triomphe and Coco Beach - Reifers was 3rd after 36 holes in Puerto Rico in March and finished 11th. Throw in 5th on Champion Bermudagrass at Annandale, Mississippi in 2013 and 5th at Colonial last month and it's clear that Reifers plays well in hot/humid conditions. I'm also a fan of Kyle this week on the basis that his putting has been excellent on his last 2 outings registering +1.420 and +0.603 Strokes Gained Putting in his last 2 appearances. That's a considerable step change. Reifers is undoubtedly becoming far more comfortable in contention and recent wins for William McGirt, Brian Stuard, Jim Herman and Vaughn Taylor can only inspire. RESULT: MC
A wizard with the flat-stick, Freddie Jacobson has had a decent enough 2015/16 season to date. He started the campaign having to earn his PGA Tour card from a Major Medical Extension which he successfully did with 17th at El Camaleon and 5th at Sea Island. From that point 4th at Pebble Beach and 4th at Torrey Pines has set the Florida-domiciled Swede up for a decent campaign where he currently finds himself 52nd in the FedEx Cup. Freddie has always been comfortable in hot, humid conditions as 5 top-19 finishes across El Camaleon and Coco Beach G&CC from 6 appearances since 2011 highlight. 3rd at the 2011 CIMB Classic hosted at the Mines Resort speaks volumes, as does a number of high-profile Far East results in his earlier days including winning the 2002 Hong Kong Open on the European Tour. Of late the 41-year-old Swede has been putting with his usual Strokes Gained Putting exuberance, but a solid level of ball-striking has been found which makes him a dangerous proposition on the right track. An opening round 64 at TPC Four Seasons propelled him into contention in Texas - so we know he's close - and Freddie finished 3rd, 5th and 5th here across 2003-05. RESULT: T12
Tim Wilkinson has come to the party in recent weeks. A short-game specialist, the Florida resident has always surfaced on the Tour's quirkier courses. The New Zealander sits 11th in Strokes Gained Putting this season and amazingly 2nd in this week's Predictor Model which makes him an attractive proposition at a triple-digit price point. It's always a strong ploy to back a streaky player like Wilkinson when they're in decent form and his relative success of 11th at Quail Hollow, 4th at TPC Four Seasons and a solid 47th at Colonial has - Quail Hollow apart - come from an uncharacteristic burst of hitting a decent level of greens. Form in humid conditions abounds with 6th at Coco Beach, 3rd at TPC Louisiana and 2nd at La Cantrera (Texas Open) all coming in 2008 which was his best ever season on Tour. 6th at Harbour Town (2009) and 10th at El Camaleon (2013) also make sense in terms of correlating form. The World Number 358 was also 7th here last term before falling away on Sunday, but his performance at TPC Four Seasons a few weeks back when he hung around at the top of the leaderboard while Jordan Spieth went backwards suggests he's in a confident place mentally entering Memphis. RESULT: MC
Buoyed by qualifying for the US Open through 36 holes of sectional play yesterday, David Toms must be worth a small wager in such a poor quality field. Naturally his affinity with TPC Southwind is without question with 7 top-10 finishes reading 4th (02), 1st (03), 1st (04), 2nd (05), 10th (06), 3rd (07) and 2nd (09). No meaningful results since 2009 will put some off, but David was in 7th spot here after 54 holes 12 months ago and in weaker events he can still finish in the each-way places. 2nd on the Champion Bermudagrass greens at the Country Club of Jackson back in November (where he tied with last week's winner William McGirt) highlights he can still mix it and Toms was also 5th at Montreux (2015) and 4th at Coco Beach (4th) in weaker company. His affinity with Champion Bermudagrass and humid conditions is easy to see - hardly surprising growing up in Louisiana - and his all-round game at another favourite course of his Colonial last time out gets him the nod this week. RESULT: T26
Another who loves humid, tropical conditions is Troy Merritt who again struck a blow for the low achievers when he won his maiden PGA Tour title at Tiger Woods' Quicken Loan National last July. A sharp short-game practitioner by trade, Merritt, who lives in Phoenix, has a rare habit of popping up on courses that feature Bermudagrass greens. His maiden professional win on the Nationwide Tour arrived in 2009 at the Mexico Open hosted at El Bosque Golf Club and overlooking his shock win at Robert Trent Jones GC 10 months ago, his main Tour top-6 finishes have been at TPC Louisiana (3rd 2010), Copperhead (6th 2015), Harbour Town (3rd 2015), Bay Hill (3rd 2016) and here at TPC Southwind (2nd 2014). All on Bermudagrass set-ups across Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee. I was alerted to him at Colonial 2 weeks ago when 17th spot around the old, classical par-70 was the product of a tidy performance where he was 4th for Greens in Regulation, 5th for Putting Average and 7th for Strokes Gained Putting. His ubiquitous missed cuts either side of Colonial have also featured his trademark positive putting performances and tidy enough driving accuracy. Another great feature of Merritt is his propensity to convert contending performances into at the very least each-way returns. RESULT: T68
Brooks Koepka is winless in 17 months and comes into his 3rd appearance at TPC Southwind in the heat of a Ryder Cup qualification battle. Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar, J.B. Holmes and Koepka himself have upped their games in recent outings and that's hardly surprising as they all look to get into the top 9 spots. However as we know from Brooks' time in Europe, the 26-year-old from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, is a winning-machine and his narrow defeat to Sergio Garcia (another elite player who needed a win desperately) at TPC Four Seasons 3 weeks ago will simply motivate him to go well this week in Tennessee. He chooses to play TPC Southwind for the third time after 19th on debut in 2014 and 3rd 12 months ago and statistically Brooks is the perfect match for the tough par-70 with his ability to move the ball left to right, punish par-4s, get close from the rough from circa 200 yards and his uncanny ability to putt/scramble well for a ball-striker. His putting at both TPC Sawgrass and at TPC Four Seasons was excellent and some work on his swing should see him in fine fettle for what has to be a huge opportunity for him this week. RESULT: T2nd
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