The year’s second major is just around the corner as the PGA Tour heads to Memphis.
TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee has hosted the St. Jude Classic since since 1989, and measures 7,239 yards, which is lengthy for a par 70. The immediate concern for many players will be next week’s US Open, with the St. Jude Classic serving as the last chance for this year’s field to get in some tournament play before the nasty test of Shinnecock Hills.
Our first picks in well over a year have fared alright thus far. 20/1 priced Jimmy Walker finished a decent 6th at the AT&T Byron Nelson, while 80/1 Ross Fisher just placed for us in 8th at the BMW PGA Championship, though sharing that spot with three other players saw the each-way payout significantly reduced.
The course form for some players around TPC Southwind is prolific, suggesting that this is a specialist’s track, though current champion Daniel Berger won the tournament in his first appearance in 2016, as did Dustin Johnson (2012) and Harris English (2013).
Debutants this week include Tony Finau, Shane Lowry and Byeong-Hun An, with the latter currently in superb form following a runner-up place in last weeks’ Memorial Tournament.
The top three last year were 36th (Berger) and 51st (Charl Schwartzel and Whee Kim) in driving accuracy, hitting the fairway just over half the time. In 2014, none of the top seven in the field for driving distance finished higher than T19th. Ben Crane was 62nd out of 71 players in the statistic and won the tournament.
With 94 bunkers and ten water hazards in play, it’s worth looking towards those hitting the greens regularly (GIR), particularly in light of the course playing as a par 70.
The field is headlined by four major champions in Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson.
Dustin Johnson (7/1 fav) recently had his 15 month streak atop the World Golf rankings broken by Justin Thomas. After a fine start to the year, DJ has been quiet in recent months by his standards, though he made his first top ten since early March last week, with his final round containing seven birdies, something that even the stoic superstar could smile at.
Happy with 7 birdies today and how I played overall for the week. Off to @fesjcmemphis next!
— Dustin Johnson (@DJohnsonPGA) June 3, 2018
Phil Mickelson (14/1) has finished no lower than 11th in his last five attempts, and some decent showings at the Wells Fargo (5th) and the Memorial (13th) bode well as the left-handed maestro prepares for the only major he has never won.
Henrik Stenson’s (14/1) momentum of three consecutive top six results was halted, having only competed twice since the last of those at Augusta. Nonetheless, the Swede’s form hasn’t deserted him, going 23rd at The Players and 13th last week (where he also tied for 3rd in GIR). This is Stenson’s first visit to TPC Southwind in six years, but he is certainly capable of making his slim odds look valuable.
Daniel Berger (25/1) has won the last two staging’s of the event, though he arrives this week having failed to make the top ten in eleven 2018 outings. He led the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (SG) in both victories.
Further down the field, the likes of Abraham Ancer (150/1) could well feature in markets such as ‘first round leader’. The Mexican (who was 18th here in 2016) has started with rounds of 65 in recent weeks, good enough for joint leader at the Memorial and T4 at the Byron Nelson.
Matt Jones’ (150/1) recent visits here read 18th – 26th – 3rd, and he came 13th at the Byron Nelson last time around.
Brooks Koepka’s record here is encouraging. While only finishing 37th in 2017, he went on to claim the US Open the very next week, and previous visits here read 2nd – 3rd – 19th. The 28-year-old missed the first four months of 2018 with an injury, but has since returned with finishes of 42nd (Wells Fargo), 11th (The Players) and runner up at the Fort Worth Invitational.
Though only available at 10/1 generally, Koepka is our pick of the front-runners, and it would be no harm to get a win under our belts before Shinnecock Hills, which is likely to provide a similarly short-priced winner.
Joaquin Niemann (40/1) only turned professional in April, and has already compiled three top eights in just five starts (6th last week at the Memorial).
Jack Nicklaus’ tournament also saw the Chilean third in GIR (almost 78%), which bodes well for the in-form teenager. A sorely disappointing final round 73 saw Niemann fall out of the contention he was in all week, but we’re happy to back him on a course that plays to his current strength.
Keegan Bradley at 40/1 (still 50 with one or two bookies) is our last tip for the week. The 2011 PGA Championship winner hasn’t missed a cut since February, with his highlight since being a 7th at The Players.
At TPC Southwind, the American was third in GIR, and fourth in driving accuracy. Crucially, he has improved all round in his ball striking. 79th in SG: approach-the-green, and 30th in SG: tee-to-green in 2017, Bradley is 2nd and 8th on the PGA Tour this year in those respective statistics. Though some mediocre putting has prevented him from contending, there are signs that the 31-year-old is turning the corner – namely his 12th in putting average at TPC Sawgrass.
Bradley came 3rd in Colombus, Ohio on Monday in sectional qualifying for the US Open, earning his berth at Shinnecock Hills with a fine -8 total over 36 holes.
*UPDATE: Due to that US Open qualifying success, Bradley has withdrawn from the St. Jude Classic.
In his place, we’re backing Luke List at 35/1. List is third in SG: tee-to-green, 15th in SG: approach-the-green, has four top tens this year, and was 18th here in 2017.