Paul Williams

Paul Williams' WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational Tips 2020

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By this point in the year we should be through the Majors and have crowned the Champion Golfer of the Year, however the reality is that much of the season’s top-class golf is yet to come. The rearranged schedule places this WGC – effectively the replacement for the WGC Bridgestone Invitational – in its previous position immediately prior to the US PGA Championship, with what is essentially the promotion of the FedEx St Jude Classic to WGC Invitational status, as per last year.

A limited field of 78 players and no halfway cut will see the bulk of the world’s top 50 plus qualifiers battle it out for the title. Notable exceptions include Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Francesco Molinari and Shugo Imahira, however this still has to be described as a thoroughly stacked field.

With a wealth of data from the FedEx St Jude Classic, which was hosted here at TPC Southwind from 1989, as well as last year’s inaugural WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational, we have lots of course history to explore. The Classic was traditionally the warm-up event for the US Open so attendance from this week’s field wasn’t universal by any stretch of the imagination, however many had played here prior to last season nevertheless.

Whilst the course has been a constant through the event’s transition to WGC status, its scheduling immediately prior to the rearranged US PGA Championship does create a different dynamic – it followed the Open Championship 12 months ago – and how the elite will approach this week, with the season’s first Major the main goal for many, remains to be seen.

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Course Overview.

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.

TPC Southwind is a tough, technical track, but it’s not only the course that’s difficult as sweltering temperatures in Memphis traditionally turned this tournament in its pre-WGC guise 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 and only 2 par-5s to take advantage of. Green complexes aren’t huge and feature Champion Bermudagrass which isn’t to every player’s taste. You can also say the same about the Zoysiagrass fairways which many say promote flyers.

Hitting the tight, Zoysia (a grass shared only with East Lake, Trinity Forest and the 2018 US PGA Championship at Bellerive) fairways is a huge challenge, but in essence a lack of driving accuracy isn’t a huge penalty here as the average winner’s rank for accuracy across the past 10 years is around 30th. Instead the key to unlocking Southwind is a mixture of patience, aggression on the right holes and mastering of the Champion Bermuda 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.

Greens feature Champion Bermudagrass. These greens can be found across PGA Tour stop-offs at Quail Hollow (Wells Fargo Championship), Sedgefield Country Club (Wyndham Championship), Trinity Forest (Byron Nelson Championship), the Country Club of Jackson (Sandersons Farms Championship) and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (Barbasol Championship). The 2011 PGA Championship hosted at Atlanta Athletic Cub and won by Keegan Bradley also featured Champion Bermudagrass putting surfaces.

wgc fedex st jude invitational tips

Let’s take a view from players as to how TPC Southwind has set up in the past and what skill-sets the course favours:

Daniel Berger: “This golf course is playing tougher than last year. You just have to hit it in the fairway, otherwise it’s difficult to get it close and as the week goes on, its going to get firmer and faster so it will be even tougher. As a group we made some birdies early, but the momentum fizzled out. That was mainly because we didn’t hit enough fairways on the back-9.” 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: “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: “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: “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: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: “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.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s WGC that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well on this track: Form/Course Combined Stats | Current Form | Course Form | First Round Leader Stats.

Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.

Winners & Prices: 2019: Brooks Koepka, 11/1; 2018 (FedEx St Jude Classic): Dustin Johnson, 7/1; 2017: Daniel Berger 28/1; 2016: Daniel Berger 33/1; 2015: Fabian Gomez 400/1; 2014: Ben Crane 175/1; 2013: Harris English 66/1; 2012: Dustin Johnson 20/1; 2011: Harrison Frazar 275/1; 2010: Lee Westwood 12/1.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. Hot and sticky conditions are expected throughout with temperatures approaching 90 Fahrenheit in the afternoons. Thunderstorms are a threat throughout the tournament, with the strongest wind expected on Thursday with gusts of 20-25mph.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Analysing the final stats from last year and of the 9 winners of the FedEx St Jude Classic played here before the event gained WGC status gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2019: Brooks Koepka (-16). 309 yards (4th), 66.1% fairways (9th), 69.4% greens in regulation (8th), 90.9% scrambling (1st), 1.62 putts per GIR (7th).
  • 2018, Dustin Johnson (-10). 320 yards (1st), 53.6% fairways (36th), 68.1% greens in regulation (10th), 78.3% scrambling (4th), 1.59 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2017, Daniel Berger (-10). 305 yards (14th), 55.4% fairways (36th), 68.1% greens in regulation (10th), 65.2% scrambling (38th), 1.69 putts per GIR (21st).
  • 2016, Daniel Berger (-13). 310 yards (6th), 60.7% fairways (11th), 75.0% greens in regulation (1st), 66.7% scrambling (24th), 1.69 putts per GIR (15th).
  • 2015, Fabian Gomez (-15). 293 yards (39th), 53.6% fairways (43rd), 68.1% greens in regulation (8th), 73.9% scrambling (8th), 1.61 putts per GIR (4th).
  • 2014, Ben Crane (-10). 271 yards (62nd), 58.9% fairways (30th), 58.3% greens in regulation (47th), 83.3% scrambling (2nd), 1.69 putts per GIR (14th).
  • 2013, Harris English (-12). 290 yards (69th), 53.6% fairways (40th), 66.7% greens in regulation (9th), 70.8% scrambling (17th), 1.69 putts per GIR (14th).
  • 2012, Dustin Johnson (-9). 301 yards (21st), 57.1% fairways (18th), 69.4% greens in regulation (4th), 68.2% scrambling (7th), 1.74 putts per GIR (28th).
  • 2011, Harrison Frazar (-13). 317 yards (1st), 57.1% fairways (46th), 69.4% greens in regulation (8th), 77.3% scrambling (2nd), 1.64 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2010, Lee Westwood (-11). 302 yards (15th), 60.7% fairways (42nd), 65.3% greens in regulation (9th), 72.0% scrambling (12th), 1.70 putts per GIR (16th).

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 37 players across 2012-2019 have broken 70% Greens in Regulation at Southwind, so it’s clear that making par from off the green is as critical as maximising the number of greens hit in the first instance.

Current Form: last 10 event form from last year’s winner plus from the FedEx St. Jude Classic winners from 2010-18 reads as follows:

  • 2019: Brooks Koepka: 56/56/2/4/1/50/2/57/65/4
  • 2018: Dustin Johnson: 1/9/2/16/7/59/10/16/17/8
  • 2017: Daniel Berger: MC/7/MC/16/MC/39/5/27/36/65
  • 2016: Daniel Berger: MC/28/11/61/5/10/20/17/9/67
  • 2015: Fabian Gomez: 57/MC/70/47/44/MC/59/MC/27/MC
  • 2014: Ben Crane: 69/69/32/MC/43/MC/MC/MC/MC/37
  • 2013: Harris English; MC/7/57/50/61/MC/6/33/17/MC
  • 2012: Dustin Johnson: MC/38/WD/43/61/5/4/9/35/19
  • 2011: Harrison Frazar: MC/54/51/MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/14
  • 2010: Lee Westwood: 3/2/17/9/30/8/2/38/4/10

The last 4 winners here at TPC Southwind had all recorded at lest one top-10 finish in their previous 4 starts and last year’s winner Brooks Koepka had finished 4th the year before the Open Championship before flying across the Atlantic to win here.

Course Form: previous form here at TPC Southwind of those same winners reads as follows:

  • 2019: Brooks Koepka: 19/3/2/37/30
  • 2018: Dustin Johnson: 1/10/24/5
  • 2017: Daniel Berger: 1
  • 2016: Daniel Berger: Debut
  • 2015: Fabian Gomez: 15/MC
  • 2014: Ben Crane: MC/6/33/39/14/12/MC/18
  • 2013: Harris English: Debut
  • 2012: Dustin Johnson: Debut
  • 2011: Harrison Frazar: MC/MC/WD/MC/69/14/MC
  • 2010: Lee Westwood: Debut

In Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Daniel Berger, the past 3 winners of this event had each proven that they could turn their hand to playing TPC Southwind. DJ and Berger were both previous winners – indeed Berger successfully defended in 2017 – and Koepka had also come close twice around these parts at the FedEx St Jude Classic.

For me, players who can maximise GIR and also scrambling when inevitably missing greens will prevail this week. Par 4 performance is key, however chances must be taken wherever possible and those most comfortable on the Champion Bermuda putting surfaces should hold an advantage. A smattering of recent form is also good judging by the most recent winners on this track, however with the schedule upheaval caused by Covid-19 perhaps that will be less of a guide this time around.

My selections are as follows:

Xander Schauffele 2pts EW 22/1 (7EW, 1/5) with William Hill

In a seriously elite field, striking any of those players from the top of the market off of your shortlist is a dangerous game. Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Bryson Dechambeau and Justin Thomas all rate in the 11/1 to 12/1 range this week at the time of writing, and a case can easily be made for each and all. One player who caught my eye who’s around double those prices though is Xander Schauffele and the chance to take on and beat the best in world golf right now should be enough to get his juices flowing.

Since finishing runner-up at Augusta a year ago, the 26 year-old has finished 2nd on 3 further occasions – at the Tour Championship, WGC HSBC Champions and Sentry Tournament of Champions – and he’ll undoubtedly be keen to convert the next opportunity that comes his way.

More challenging tests are the California man’s forte – he’s been quite open about his favouring of difficult tracks as opposed to resort-style birdie-fests – so this week should be right up his alley. East Lake – with its Zoysia fairways the same as here which flummox a number of professionals – is a case in point with course form of 1/7/2, and despite not having the most sparkling of TPC Southwind records, I expect over time that he corrects that score and potentially as soon as this week.

3rd at the Charles Schwab Challenge on the Tour’s re-start following the Coronavirus break was encouraging for Xander as he ranked 3rd for Total Driving and 1st for Ball-Striking, however he went a step further on his last start at Memorial, posting field-leading stats for both Driving Accuracy and GIR as well as Ball-Striking. That long-game confidence is a long way ahead of how we was playing 12 months ago when he arrived here directly from finishing 41st at the Open Championship.

A previous winner at WGC level (2018 WGC HSBC Champions) and one of the most likely future Major Champions in the current crop of golfing talent, Schauffele winning this week while others have more of an eye on next week would not surprise me one bit while his game’s in great shape. Strong on Bermuda greens, 5th on Tour for Par-4 Scoring and hitting more greens than most at present, Xander has just about the complete package for me this week. RESULT: T6

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Patrick Reed 2pts EW 35/1 (7EW, 1/5) with William Hill

The week before a Major Championship can result in players having different motivations and some of the elite are quite open about using preceding tournaments as a fine-tuning exercise, even if it’s at WGC level such as this. One player who I think will be hungry for the win regardless this week is Patrick Reed who has a number of motivational factors to go well here.

About as ‘Marmite’ a player as you’re likely to get, Reed has ruffled feathers since confidently proclaiming on the eve of his maiden WGC victory at Doral back in 2014 that he was a top-5 player in the world. Although he’s never quite fulfilled that prophesy – he made it to 6th after finishing in 7th place at the Charles Schwab Challenge after the Covid-induced lockdown – he has the chance to leapfrog his nearest rivals this week and finally make his assertion a reality.

As well as his own personal OWGR goals, another big win here would reinforce his position at the top of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, which has become increasingly more straightforward for him to win as the events have tumbled off of the schedule.

Whilst many more popular or ‘trendy’ golfers have their prices slashed after a strong performance – or in some cases just in general – Reed is always one of those who’s positioned at a backable price, despite having proved himself at the very top level with his Masters win 2 years ago and arriving here having won the last WGC played on Tour back in February in Mexico.

10th on his last PGA Tour start at Memorial suggests that his game is in good shape and that he’s focussed on results given the severity of the test that week; 5th here at TPC Southwind in 2013 when the event carried PGA Tour status and 12th last year in its WGC guise suggests that he can play the course just fine and I’m happy to take a chance on him here. RESULT: T47

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Matt Wallace 1pt EW 125/1 (5EW, 1/4) with Unibet

Even on the European Tour, Matt Wallace isn’t the kind of player who’s going to leap to the top of any statistical model, however there’s one thing that can be quantified with the Englishman and that’s an ability to convert a chance into victory.

10 wins from 121 professional starts globally is impressive, and although you can quickly counter that statistic with the fact that all have been at lower than WGC level – and indeed PGA Tour level for that matter – he’s the type of character who’s capable of stepping up further in my view.

Top-50 in the OWGR for coming on for 2 years now has been fuelled with elite level finishes including 19th at the 2018 US PGA Championship, 12th at the 2019 US Open and 3rd at the 2019 US PGA Championship as he’s quickly got to grips with competing at the top table. WGC-level performances aren’t quite so impressive, however 27th here 12 months ago is his best result in these events and a further improvement on that this week isn’t out of the equation whatsoever. That effort was immediately following the Open Championship and he took to the putting surfaces here quite nicely, ranking 8th for putting on the week.

2020 started in quiet fashion for the 30 year-old, however the fruits of his labour with swing coach Robert Rock are starting to wash through and none more so than on his last start at Memorial where he finished 4th on a challenging week which many of his peers failed to handle anywhere near as well. That grinding, tenacious and mentally-focussed approach is ideal for a test like TPC Southwind and having taken last week off after playing 6 weeks straight, he should be rested and ready to go here. RESULT: T59

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Chez Reavie 1pt EW 125/1 (7EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Finally I’m going to take a chance on another 3-figure shot given the generous each-way terms available in this short field, this time in the shape of Chez Reavie.

The 38 year-old recorded his second PGA Tour victory last June at the Travelers Championship, holding off the field by 4 full strokes and building on the promise that he’d shown the previous week where he finished 3rd at the US Open when carrying our cash. That effort at Pebble Beach wasn’t completely unexpected as he’d been generally improving at the very top level, having finished 12th and 14th on his previous two Major starts, and a Major-level WGC such as this shouldn’t hold the fears that it may once have done.

The Kansas-born golfer struggled a little with his long game following the lockdown period, however normal service has resumed over his last 2 starts at Muirfield Village, ranking 3rd for Driving Accuracy and 9th for GIR at the Workday Charity Open and then 4th and 14th on the same counts a week later at The Memorial. That’s Chez’s game in a nutshell and a strong long game bodes well as he returns to TPC Southwind where he’s finished inside the top-6 on 2 of his last 3 attempts.

27th here last year was his first cut made since that aforementioned success at TPC River Highlands so stronger incoming form this time around suggests an improvement on that finish is possible, as does a 5th place finish at East Lake last year which features Zoysia fairways, the same as here. RESULT: T6

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:00BST 27.7.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.