FedEx St Jude Classic Tips

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Steve Bamford's Tips for the 2017 FedEx St Jude Classic. Follow Steve on twitter: @bamfordgolf

We landed a full each-way return on Rickie Fowler last week at 28/1, but naturally it could have been so much more. Typically Jason Dufner - who I backed the week before at Colonial when he missed the cut - delivered his 5th PGA Tour victory at The Memorial. Both Dufner and Fowler, who have U.S. Open pedigree, are now definite candidates at Erin Hills next week.

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 Daniel Berger (33/1), Fabian Gomez (400/1), Harris English (66/1) and Harrison Frazar (275/1). This week the field includes Rickie Fowler (OWGR No.9), Adam Scott (No.12), Francesco Molinari (No.16), Charl Schwartzel (No.21), Brooks Koepka (No.22) and Phil Mickelson (No.23) who has decided to give next week's U.S. Open a miss. All in all though, it's traditionally one of the weaker tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule and offers a big opportunity for those whose game fits TPC Southwind.

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 5 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. 2016: 70.93 (+0.93), Rank 10 of 50 courses.

TPC Southwind Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for TPC Southwind and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on the PGA Tour:

Course Overview: TPC Southwind is a real brute which in the past 5 seasons has ranked as the 10th, 14th, 12th, 9th and last year the 10th 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 7 years is 33rd. 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 was lengthened by 5 yards for 2016 to 162 yards, taking the overall course length to 7,244 yards. That makes TPC Southwind the longest full-field par-70 of the regular PGA Tour season.

Inaccuracy off the tee is a problem that virtually all players have at TPC Southwind. The course ranked 7th toughest for fairways hit in 2016, and although that is not necessarily a problem for PGA Tour professionals, the course traditionally ranks 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 11th toughest for par-4 Scoring Average in 2016, so again look for those comfortable scoring on par-4s.

Winners: 2016: Daniel Berger (-13); 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'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 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 Russell Henley (No.1), Billy Horschel, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Shell Houston Open and includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

Winners & Prices: 2016: Berger 33/1; 2015: Gomez 400/1; 2014: Crane 175/1; 2013: English 66/1; 2012: Johnson 20/1; 2011: Frazar 275/1; 2010: Westwood 12/1. Average: 140/1.

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Germantown, Tennessee is here. We may not see typical, fast running ground conditions across Thursday / Friday as 58mm of rain has fallen across the past 2 weeks including 35mm on Sunday. Greens may be a little receptive at the start of the tournament, but conditions will continue to firm up throughout. The course is long and arduous and some noticeable breeze across both Thursday and Sunday will only increase that difficulty.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 7 winners of this event 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:

Daniel Berger (2016): "My speed control has been great. The greens feel like I'm just at home and, you know, I love the Bermuda and I don't even read grain here. I just look at it and see it and it's just from years and years of putting on it. It's nice to kind of get two grind-out pars on last two holes. It's the hardest course I've ever played in my life. It's just extremely long and extremely penalizing. The greens are very slopey. You have 10-footers that break four, five feet. Speed control is going to be huge, and fairways."

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 7 winners:

Incoming form of winners since 2010:

First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their group and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.

For the record, here's the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:

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: Hudson Swafford (81st - win), Ian Poulter (83rd - win), Sung Kang (85th - win), Ryan Palmer (95th - 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 2012-2016 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 course comparisons. The alternate Barbasol Championship event, played in Alabama at Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, also features Champion Bermudagrass putting surfaces.

The metrics this week at St Jude are a little confusing. The talented Daniel Berger captured his first PGA Tour title here 12 months ago at a very nice 33/1. 10th at Augusta and 9th at TPC Sawgrass had marked him out as one to follow and he also became the 4th maiden PGA Tour victor in 7 renewals at Memphis since 2010 to win this title - so don't be scared of non-winners if they fit your criteria this week. Berger has also shown a liking for Bermudagrass greens across both the PGA and Tours. Fitting the maiden pattern, Fabian Gomez won at a whopping 400/1 in 2015. 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 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, 2012 and 2016 where Justin Leonard, Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson and Daniel Berger could focus solely on the tournament in Memphis rather than the U.S. Open for which they were already safely qualified.

Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.

My selections are as follows:

Brooks Koepka 2pts EW 12/1 with Coral Free Bet Bet £/€5 get £/€20 plus 7 places each way, 1/5 odds - get it here: Coral Free Bet

Last week we had Rickie Fowler on board to contend for the title at The Memorial on the basis that he tends to perform well pre-Major. I was surprised to hear on Thursday that he'd added TPC Southwind to his schedule at the last minute and he probably regrets it now after a very strong outing in Ohio. Expect another strong performance this week, but I can't have him at single digits with his relatively low contend/win conversion rate. Instead I've gone with another Floridian in the form of Brooks Koepka who I think will be focussing on capturing his 2nd PGA Tour title at a course he clearly loves. 27 months have passed since his maiden victory at TPC Scottsdale in 2015 and despite winning the high-profile Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan last November, the ultra-talented World Number 22 must be keen to add another victory as soon as possible. Pipped by Kevin Chappell as recently as TPC San Antonio, Koepka would love nothing more than victory in Memphis to pretty much guarantee a Presidents Cup spot within Team USA and send him into the U.S. Open on a high. It's a pattern that Brooks has used for 3 seasons now as 19th (2014), 3rd (2015) and 2nd (2016) at the FedEx St Jude has then translated to 4th (2014 - Pinehurst Number 2), 18th (2015 - Chambers Bay) and 13th (Oakmont) a week later at the second Major of the year.

Koepka for me is always one to follow when he's confident with his approach play, so the fact that he was 2nd for Greens in Regulation and in the top 13 for SG Approach the Green at Muirfield Village last week is a huge plus. +1.05, +1.42 and +0.45 SG Putting statistics on the TPC Southwind greens (2014-2016) highlight a player who's comfortable on the grainy Champion Bermudagrass putting surfaces. Accurate with a mid-iron, Brooks also fits the bill with his strong mid-range putting on these sloping greens, so I'm happy to be backing the 27 year-old this week.

Russell Henley 1.25pts EW 33/1 with Coral Free Bet Bet £/€5 get £/€20 plus 7 places each way, 1/5 odds - get it here: Coral Free Bet

After his win at the GC of Houston in April, Russell Henley also finds himself in with a shout when it comes to the Presidents Cup and another win would see him almost guarantee a Team USA spot. The talented Georgian, who lives on the Atlantic coast at Kiawah Island in South Carolina, has always been par-70 positive and the natural putter is a real handful on Bermudagrass greens as well. The 3-time PGA Tour winner has landed titles at both Waialae (2013) and PGA National (2014), plus he's always been the sort who thrives on particular courses he likes. Rounds of 68 and 66 here on course debut back in 2013 helped land a top-30 finish and on his last visit here in 2016 Henley got to grips with the course, producing 68-68-70-67 to land 7th and a spot at the Open Championship in the process - that suggests that TPC Southwind could be another pro-Henley track. 6 Bermudagrass green outings this season have produced 14th (CC of Jackson), 10th (Sea Island), 13th (Waialae), 9th (Copperhead) and 26th at Harbour Town and Russell must be looking forward to the humid climes of Tennessee this week as 5 of his professional wins have been across the naturally warm states of Florida (x2), Hawaii, Georgia and Texas. This week's Predictor Model Number 1, Henley sits 20th in Birdie Average, 33rd in par-4 Birdie Or Better Conversion and 7th in Putting from 15-25 feet PGA Tour skill categories.

Billy Horschel 1.25pts EW 33/1 with Coral Free Bet Bet £/€5 get £/€20 plus 7 places each way, 1/5 odds - get it here: Coral Free Bet

Another course specialist is Billy Horschel who sparked to life at another left-to-right shot shape track at TPC Four Seasons 3 weeks ago. I followed Billy the week after at Colonial, but a lack of course knowledge on tricky, complex greens resulted in 34th spot. A missed cut at Memorial last week is no great shakes in the grand scheme, especially as the Floridian now arrives in Memphis, where he has delivered 10th (2013), 6th (2014) and 8th (2015) across his last 3 appearances, with a nice price to back. 8 of his last 12 rounds here have been in the 60s and as we know Billy loves hard golf courses and is very par-70 positive. Horschel always looks forward to his visit to TPC Southwind, a course he truly loves as his comments in this 2015 interview highlight, "I think it's underappreciated. I think this is an underrated golf course. I think it's probably one of the top 5 golf courses in my opinion, but you don't get the big names here because of Open the week after. I love coming here. I love this event. My wife loves coming here. We have friends that live here now. I would love to have more of the bigger names come here, but obviously with the U.S. Open the week after, everyone's schedule is a little bit different."

30th in par-4 Birdie or Better Conversion and 32nd in Putting from 15 to 25 feet PGA Tour skill categories, Horschel has already finished 2nd at Sea Island and 4th at PGA National on Bermudagrass greens this season and is this week's Predictor Model Number 2.

Steve Stricker 1pt EW 50/1 WD Pre-Event

Steve Stricker is enjoying a renaissance and is sure to be buoyed by qualifying for his home U.S. Open at next door Germantown Country Club yesterday as the medallist. 40th last week at Muirfield Village (he was 15th after 54 holes), the World Number 84 (remember he plays a part-time schedule) was 7th at Colonial 2 weeks ago and the 12-time PGA Tour winner is playing some strong stuff right now. 1st in Driving Accuracy, 33rd in Scoring Average, 13th in Proximity to Hole and 21st in Strokes Gained Putting are PGA Tour statistics worth taking note of, especially as Stricker has only played tougher golf courses. Correlating course form into TPC Southwind is endless (I won't bore you) and Steve's first visit to Memphis in 10 years, 12 months ago, gleaned a runner-up finish, tied with Koepka and Mickelson. The Wisconsin native is undoubtedly in better form 12 months down the line and it's worth remembering that he finished 4th in the Open Championship last July. The guy can undoubtedly still cut it.

Scott Brown 0.5pt EW 150/1 with Coral Free Bet Bet £/€5 get £/€20 plus 7 places each way, 1/5 odds - get it here: Coral Free Bet

I'll finish with Scott Brown who we know performs admirably in hotter, more humid climes. 2nd last month when partnered with Kevin Kisner at TPC Louisiana in New Orleans, Brown grabs me as the type who could win this at a triple-digit price. He's undoubtedly been showing signs this season that a long-awaited 2nd PGA Tour victory could be on the cards. 2nd behind Dustin Johnson at Riviera back in February was hardly noticed even though it was probably his best performance ever on the PGA Tour and, since the Zurich Classic, the South Carolina-based 34 year-old has been in the mix at both TPC Four Seasons and Colonial. 12th here in 2015 doesn't tell the whole story as Brown's opening round -5/65 left him 4th after Round 1, which he improved to 3rd after 54 holes. But a final round +2/72 dropped him down the field as Fabian Gomez finished like a train to capture the title. Like Gomez though, Brown shares an affinity with Coco Beach G&CC in Puerto Rico and the Georgian also has lots of linkable form across PGA National (10th 2016), Copperhead (7th 2016), Harbour Town (5th 2014), Sedgefield (3rd 2015), Annandale (5th 2012), El Camaleon (5th 2015) and Sea Island (4th (2013). He clearly loves Bermudagrass greens, warmer climes and with best mate on Tour Kevin Kisner winning 2 weeks ago at Colonial, Brown is likely to take inspiration from that this week.

Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel

Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 06:50BST 6.6.17 but naturally subject to fluctuation. Author Steve Bamford, Find us on Google+




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