Paul Williams

Paul Williams' WGC FedEx St Jude Tips 2021

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With the Majors all done and dusted by mid-July nowadays, the WGC FedEx St Jude is a welcome elite-level event to keep us going ahead of the PGA Tour Playoffs which start in a fortnight’s time.

Of course we had the Olympics last week which featured a number of the leading players here, however this time we’re playing at more familiar surroundings at TPC Southwind for what has essentially been an upgrade of the FedEx St Jude Classic to WGC status for the past couple of seasons.

A limited field of 66 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 Jon Rahm and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, 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 the two WGC FedEx St Jude Invitationals from the past two seasons, we have lots of course history to explore in this week’s stats pages.

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 the last two years nevertheless.

Brooks Koepka just about edges out Collin Morikawa for favouritism this week at a best price of 14/1 at the time of writing, however with Olympic Champion Xander Schauffele, defending champion Justin Thomas and a rejuvenated Jordan Spieth all around the 16/1 mark – and that’s not to mention Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy who are a few points longer – we have a fascinating event to try to unpick.

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TPC Southwind, Germantown, Memphis, Tennessee: Designer Ron Pritchard 1987 with PGA Tour re-design 2004; Course Type: Technical; Par: 70; Length: 7,233 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 11; Fairways: Zoysiagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass 2.5″; Greens: 4,300 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.

TPC Craig Ranch and before that Trinity Forest for the AT&T Byron Nelson, TPC Southwind (WGC-St Jude Invitational & FedEx St Jude Classic), East Lake (Tour Championship) and last week’s Olympic venue in Japan all feature Zoysia fairways. These fairways also featured at the 2011 PGA Championship hosted at Atlanta Athletic Club and at Bellerive Country Club which hosted the 2018 PGA Championship.

Hitting the tight 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 (formerly at the 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: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 from both the pre- and post-WGC status events: 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: 2020: Justin Thomas, 12/1; 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. Winds are light at typically 5-10mph, so scoring should be on the lower side this year.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Analysing the final stats from the last 2 years, plus 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:

  • 2020: Justin Thomas (-13). 296 yards (44th), 69.6% fairways (12th), 70.8% greens in regulation (7th), 76.2% scrambling (6th), 1.75 putts per GIR (45th).
  • 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 48 players in total across 2012-2020 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.

From a Strokes Gained perspective, rarely do you see a sequence of results with such consistency. 4 of the last 5 winners here at TPC Southwind topped SG Tee to Green on their way to victory; the outlier was Brooks Koepka who still ranked 6th. 4 of 5 winners also ranked inside the top-5 for SG Off the Tee and 3 of the 3 ranked 1st or 2nd for SG Approach:

  • 2020: Justin Thomas: T: 16th; A: 2nd; T2G: 1st; ATG: 4th; P: 55th
  • 2019: Brooks Koepka: T:  5th; A: 11th; T2G: 6th; ATG: 54th; P: 1st
  • 2018: Dustin Johnson: T:  4th; A: 2nd; T2G: 1st; ATG: 14th; P: 12th
  • 2017: Daniel Berger: T:  3rd; A: 12th; T2G: 1st; ATG: 10th; P: 44th
  • 2016: Daniel Berger: T: 5th; A: 1st; T2G: 1st; ATG: 29th; P: 19th

Key: T: SG Off the Tee; A; SG Approach; T2G: SG Tee to Green; ATG: SG Around the Green; P: SG Putting.

For a summary of the Strokes Gained performances from this week’s field here at TPC Southwind since 2016 click here.

Current Form: Last 10 event form from the last 2 years, plus from the FedEx St. Jude Classic winners from 2010-18, reads as follows:

  • 2020: Justin Thomas: 1/MC/3/MC/6/10/8/MC/2/18
  • 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 5 winners here at TPC Southwind had all recorded at lest one top-10 finish in their previous 4 starts and last year’s winner Justin Thomas had lost out in a play-off to Collin Morikawa at the Workday Charity Open on his penultimate start.

For a current form summary of this week’s field click here.

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

  • 2020: Justin Thomas: 12
  • 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

For a course form summary of this week’s field click here.

In Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Daniel Berger, 3 of the past 4 winners here 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. Last year’s winner Justin Thomas had finished 12th on debut in 2019, despite a final round 71 which prevented him from getting closer to the top of the leaderboard.

For me, players who can maximise SG Tee to Green 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.

My selections are as follows:

Collin Morikawa 4pts win only 14/1 with bet365

While I tend to prefer backing players with a little more juice in their price, this event and this quality of field means that the players at the top of the betting demand the utmost respect. The two winners of this since the St Jude gained WGC status have rated as 11/1 and 12/1 shots, and seeing another winner produced from that sort of price range wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

Brooks Koepka undoubtedly needs to be part of the consideration. Incoming form of 4th, 5th and 6th – the first and last of which were Majors – coupled with course form of 1st and 2nd over the past two years here, plus earlier finishes of 2nd and 3rd from before the WGC days, makes a pretty strong case. Brooks though is a Major-focussed machine and with the Masters 9 months away, I wonder how focussed he really will be on this week having skipped the Olympics.

Xander Schauffele will need to raise himself after the exhilaration of winning Olympic gold on Sunday and bagging a long-awaited win after a string of runner-up finishes since the start of 2019; Jordan Spieth on the other hand will need to be at his very best from a ball-striking perspective if he’s going to feature this week on a track that demands most of your strokes gained from tee to green and on approach.

Justin Thomas improved as the week progressed in Japan, however my preference goes to Collin Morikawa who I think should be clear favourite for this week. Missing out on Olympic bronze will only be a minor setback when he looks at the Claret Jug on his mantelpiece and I think the uber-talented 24 year-old can continue his inexorable rise with victory here this week.

Judging by the last 5 winners here, players who excel in both SG Approach and SG Tee to Green are the perfect fit for TPC Southwind. For the season-to-date, Collin averages 1.502 SG Approach – that’s nearly 0.6 strokes better than Paul Casey in 2nd place – and he also tops SG Tee to Green, ahead of the likes of Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Put simply, he’s the best ball-striker on the planet right now and that bodes very well indeed for this week.

Now, if we were to try to pick holes in the justification for backing Morikawa then last week’s effort in Japan was poor by his standards in terms of approach play. What we’re seeing more and more from him though is a swift and immediate correction of anything that’s holding him back, typically in time for the next event. We only have to look at the massive improvement that he made with the putter between finishing 71st at the Scottish Open and winning at Sandwich for evidence of that.

20th here last year on course debut was useful mileage around this track and don’t forget it was the warm-up event for the PGA Championship at the time, which he went on to win; with the next big target being East Lake in a month’s time, there’s no such scenario here this week. In fact, counting that PGA Championship win, his Open Championship success plus his wins at the Barracuda Championship and Workday Charity Open, 4 of his 5 titles to date have come in July and August. RESULT: T26

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Daniel Berger 2pts EW 25/1 (7EW, 1/5) with William Hill

While I was tempted to go with 2 win-only bets on Morikawa and Koepka – and I wouldn’t put anyone off a forecast bet on the Morikawa/Koepka 1-2 when the markets form later in the week – instead I’ll go with some each-way fancies given that we’re once again getting some excellent terms given the short field.

First up, Daniel Berger who has the most impressive record here at TPC Southwind of all of this week’s attendees and clearly loves the track. A win here on debut in 2016 was swiftly followed up with a successful defence the following year, and the 28 year-old proved he could contend here in stronger company, finishing in the 4-way tie for 2nd place despite a lacklustre opening round of 71.

Excluding the missed cut here in 2019 when he’d failed to register a top-10 finish in the season to that point, his other 3 attempts here have seen him rank 3rd and 5th for SG Off the Tee, 1st, 6th and 12th for SG Approach and 1st, 1st and 8th for SG Tee to Green. Put simply, this track suits him down to the ground.

A winner at Pebble Beach earlier in the year, Berger has maintained the momentum that started building here a year ago and he’s not dropped outside the OWGR top-20 all year, despite some fierce competition. 9th at The Players Championship, 7th at the US Open and 8th on his last start at The Open are all impressive finishes in elite company and when you couple that with his fit for this track, it’s understandable to see him in the second tier of pricing this week. RESULT: T5

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Brian Harman 1pt EW 70/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

With 2 players near the top of the market in the team, I’ve looked a little further down the betting for a couple of more speculative picks. First up, Brian Harman who’s made a habit of popping up on elite-level leaderboards this season and could sneak into the places here this week despite not having the cast-iron credentials in terms of game-shape as some others I’ve mentioned thus far.

3rd at The Players Championship in March was the first time that we really got a feeling that the 34 year-old had stepped up his game after a quiet spell following his 2017 Wells Fargo Championship win at Eagle Point, and he followed that up on his next start with a quarter-final appearance at the WGC Match Play.

18th at Quail Hollow, 8th at Colonial and 5th at TPC River Highlands have all followed, however it’s his Major efforts that attract more interest in my view. 12th at Augusta saw the Georgia native sitting in 2nd place heading into the weekend, and 19th at The Open featured an opening round of 65 which placed him 2nd at the time. 19th also at the US Open in between times completes an impressive 3 out of 4 Majors this year and he’s clearly not overawed playing with the top boys.

For those who don’t excel in terms of SG Tee to Green here, really the only other way to get into a strong position around TPC Southwind is to ensure that missed greens don’t result in bogeys and in that respect the 2-time PGA Tour winner is excellent: 12th on Tour for the season for scrambling, that translates to 23rd for SG Around the Green from a lot more rounds than many of those above him on the same count.

From 4 attempts here at TPC Southwind from its pre-WGC days, Brian has a best finish of 6th back in 2014 when still a Tour maiden. 7 years down the track and inside the OWGR top-50 now courtesy of the season that he’s having, I suspect that he’s got the game and confidence to make an appearance on the leaderboard once again this week. RESULT: T36

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SiWoo Kim 1pt EW 125/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Finally, I’m going more speculative still with SiWoo Kim. One narrative last week in Japan was about how the South Korean pair needed to secure a medal to swerve compulsory military service which looms large for both Kim and Sungjae Im. Many a punter latched onto this fact, however the pressure to perform was understandably huge for both of them and in the end Im finished 22nd to Kim’s 32nd.

Now with that opportunity passed, how each player reacts to that disappointment remains to be seen. Kim is the more emotional of the pair, however he also strikes me as the type who could thrive now that the pressure has been lifted from his shoulders and he’s effectively free-wheeling until his service starts.

With the intangible elements on the table, or my interpretation of them at least, there’s a little more to this bet than pure speculation about the 26 year-old’s state of mind. Already a winner in 2021 on Bermudagrass greens at the American Express, this type of putting surface undoubtedly appeals with further wins at TPC Sawgrass and Sedgefield to his name, the latter of which is on Champion Bermuda as per this week. 5th and 3rd since that win at Sedgefield proves that his win was no fluke, as does 9th at The Players this season.

In general, it’s Kim’s long game that has got him into contending – and winning – positions, improving from 67th for SG Tee to Green last season to 42nd so far this, and from 127th to 45th for SG Off the Tee.

1st for scrambling last week at the Olympics suggests that his short game is in good order heading to an event where everybody is likely to miss more greens than normal and if you’re a believer in history repeating itself, which we see more than perhaps we should in golf, then the person who won the PGA Tour event immediately after the 2016 Olympics was Siwoo Kim of course, at the aforementioned Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield. RESULT: 65th

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:05BST 2.8.21 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.