PGA Core Plays
St. Jude Invitational
By Derek Hill
PGA Core Plays
Finally, it feels like we are entering the heart of the PGA Tour season! This week’s WGC – FedEx St. Jude Invitational will be a stacked tune-up before starting the season of the majors. That’s right, we are just over a week away from the PGA Championship at Harding Park!
The event this week will be a smaller field of 78 golfers. That number, believe it or not, is larger than the 63 that played this event last year. This will be another event with an expanded field due to COVID-19. There will be no cut so all 78 players will have 4 rounds to come out on top come Sunday. This allows players who get off to a poor start to have a reasonable shot at a comeback, so don’t count out your guys if they have a poor showing in round 1.
Notable players skipping the event this week include: Shugo Imahira, Francesco Molinari, Thomas Pieters, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Lee Westwood, and Tiger Woods. This will allow 15 players from outside the Top 50 the chance to play this week.
Most players are not skipping out this week. The field will include the top 9 in the FedEx Cup standing, the Top 8 in World Golf Ranking, and 45 of the top 50 ranked players in the world.
TPC Southwind will be hosting the event for just the second year. Brooks Koepka is the defending champion, having prevailed by 3 shots over runner-up Webb Simpson.
The scoring average last year was 69.504 which was just under par on this par 70 course. This course yields birdies but is known as a complete test of golf. Poor shots will be penalized and bogeys (or worse) will be made.
Distance is a plus on this course but is not required. The course measures 7,277 yards. A new sight will be the renovated bunkers which have been moved to more strategic locations. This means bunker play will likely be a bigger factor this week. Be sure to consider sand save % when making your picks. Bermuda grass greens are expected to roll at about 12 on the Stimpmeter. Putting is always important but I don’t expect it to be the most important stat to consider this week.
Let’s dive into the stats a little more. The last 3 winners of this event have been in the top 3 in both the FedEx cup standings and OWG ranking at the time the event was played. This might make you consider taking Justin Thomas this week since he is the only player that fits into both of those categories. Koepka is the only winner of the last 5 who finished in the top 10 in driving accuracy. Chez Reavie led the field last year and finished in the middle of the pack (T27.)
The areas of most importance this week IMO, are the following:
GIR (protected greens will cause a lot of misses)
Scrambling (a lot of misses into greens means scrambling will be very important)
Sand Save % – more strategic bunkers will require good bunker play
Bogey Avoidance (9/18 holes last year played over par which means that making par will gain you strokes on the field on half of the holes this week)
There is one player in the field this week that ranks in the Top 11 on tour in every one of these categories and that’s Bryson DeChambeau.
Weather is expected to present a challenge to players this week. This time of year in Memphis means hot/humid conditions. We are expecting to see rain and plenty of wind. This could be enough to move those guys to the top who are proven in tough conditions. Is there a possibility of a leaderboard that is top-heavy with foreign players?
Justin Thomas: 7 top 10s in last 10 WGC events. 3 top 10s and a T18 in 5 events since the restart. As was mentioned he is the only one that fits the mold of the past 3 winners here, ranking in the top 3 in the OWG ranking and FedEx Cup standings. If he can avoid his short spurts of poor play that occasionally plague him, he has a tendency to rise to the top over the course of 4 rounds. 6th in Bogey Avoidance and 3rd in sand save %
Bryson DeChambeau: Missed the cut at The Memorial, but that was exclusively due to the fact that he lost his mind for about 20 minutes on one hole that resulted in a 10. If you eliminate that one hole, he should be the clear favorite. Let me tell you why. He is the only player to rank inside the top 20 (he ranks inside the top 11 in all of them) in the following important categories this week: Bogey Avoidance, Scrambling, Sand Save %, and GIR. Add in the fact that he is 14th in SG:Putting. I won’t even get into his insane run of top 10s before his miss at the Memorial.
Webb Simpson: TPC Southwind fits his game really well and his runner-up finish last year proves it. Ranks inside the top 13 in Bogey Avoidance, Scrambling, and GIR.
Joh Rahm: His first event since claiming the title and number one golfer in the world. He shined in a very difficult test at the Memorial. 4 wins worldwide in the last year and placed 7th in this event last year.
Top-End Maybe: Rory McIlroy
Daniel Berger: 5 top 10 finishes in his last 6 starts. Returning to TPC Southwind for the first time since 2018. He won back to back events on this course in 2016 and 2017 before it started hosting this WGC event. Ranks 11th in Bogey Avoidance, 2nd in scrambling, and 20th in Sand Save %. Won at colonial and 3rd place at Harbour Town.
Matthew Fitzpatrick: T27 in difficult conditions at the Memorial. Rejoins forces with his regular caddie this week. That team finished T4 last year in this event. Will likely gain some strokes on the field if conditions are poor this week. He is one of those guys who loves it when conditions go south. He is a great “feel” golfer and that will likely be needed this week.
Tyrrell Hatton: In last 4 starts he has finished in the top 6 every time, including one win. Ranks first on tour in more than one category, including putting and bogey avoidance. Also ranks 3rd in scrambling.
Billy Horschel: Since 2013 he is 6-6 in cuts made with 5 top 10s on this course. Not only that, but he is playing well lately on other courses too, notching top 15s in his last 2 events.
Mid-Tier Maybe: Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth, Marc Leishman
Value Play Love:
Ian Poulter: Greens that are small play to his advantage with his good scrambling ability. He has putted very well lately. If that continues this week, he could find himself in the top 10 for a second consecutive year. T14 at Heritage and T5 at Workday.
Value Play Like:
Matt Wallace: T4 at Memorial 2 weeks ago. Placed T27 last year, but is playing better golf and is a good golfer when conditions get tough. The wind is expected to blow and there is likely rain in the forecast. This means he could gain some shots on the field.
Brenden Todd: Probably not a name you expect to see in a loaded field like this one. However, Todd’s game projects well this week. I think it is worth the shot to pick him. He ranks inside the top 20 in: Bogey Avoidance (14th), Scrambling (1st), and Sand Save % (5th).
Value Play Maybe: Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Li Haotong