WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational
This week sees the first World Golf Championship since the return of professional golf at TPC Southwind, while the UK Swing continues in England at the Forest of Arden for the Hero Open.
Last week we saw an exciting end to the 3M Open with Alex Noren, Tony Finau, Max Homa and Adam Long all pushing the tournament to the final few holes, but Michael Thompson was to be the eventual winner by a two-shot margin.
In my eyes, not many could have foreseen Thompson securing his first PGA Tour victory since the Honda in 2013. Alternatively, Renato Paratore is somebody who caught my eye at Close House, unfortunately I decided to choose Adri Arnaus instead.
Sepp Straka was our only ray of hope as he fired a final round 63 to post -13, but it was just too little too late to grant him a place after a disappointing Saturday at Twin Cities.
Nonetheless, we move onto another week – an exciting one at that – at the WGC Fedex St. Jude Invitational, a mouthful I know.
With the PGA Championship just around the corner, the PGA Tour season is moving towards the crucial part in this slightly abnormal golf season, starting this week at TPC Southwind.
In its inaugural WGC event last year, Brooks Koepka stormed to his first WGC victory with a flawless final round, fending off playing partner Rory Mcilroy in the process.
However a repeat of those events seem somewhat unlikely given Koepka’s recent form, mostly since he had an enforced week off at the Travelers Championship due to his caddy testing positive for COVID-19.
Mcilroy was 4th here last year and 7th in his previous visit, Jon Rahm was 7th last year, Webb Simpson was runner-up, while both Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay were 12th, meaning almost all of the top names have very strong form at Southwind.
I’m willing to ignore his missed cut at the Memorial as a minor blip, and a week off to freshen the mind should have helped his preparation for Southwind.
Winning in Phoenix and at the RBC Heritage, while finishing outside the top 10 on only three occasions since the beginning of the new season, it has been an extraordinary year for Simpson.
Despite the momentum coming to a temporary halt at a brutal Muirfield Village, I’m backing him to return to his best at a course where he finished runner-up to Koepka last year.
With him finishing also finishing 3rd back in 2014 at the St. Jude Classic, when his golf was at a level nowhere near what he is capable of at the moment, the world number 5 has two terrific finishes in Memphis.
It seems only a matter of time before Simpson adds another world class win to his 2012 US Open and 2018 Players victories, and this week is a great opportunity to do so at Southwind.
When mentioning strong history at Southwind, there is arguably nobody better than back-to-back winner in 2016 and 2017, Daniel Berger (28/1).
Like Simpson, he too missed the cut at the Memorial, but in a similar way to his fellow American or anyone in this field for that matter, I think two bad days in Ohio can easily be forgiven.
Berger hasn’t had an as intense return to the PGA Tour like some players, only teeing it up at Colonial, the RBC Heritage and the Memorial.
But with one of those being a victory, at the Charles Schwab, and another being a top 5 at Harbour Town, I think some rest will stand him in good stead heading into this week.
Like I mentioned, he was able to clinch back-to-back victories here a few years ago, and that was before he was able to put together any sort of consistency like he has this year on tour.
Stretching all the way back to the ZOZO Championship, he has finished outside the top 30 only twice in nine events, with four consecutive top 5s in that time frame as well.
There is absolutely no doubt about his ability to compete with the best either. His win at Colonial came in a world class field, and his top 5s this year at both Harbour Town and the Honda came against very strong competition.
Berger has shown both a fierce competitiveness and a real ability to close since the restart, defeating Collin Morikawa in a play-off, unlike Justin Thomas, and I strongly believe in his ability to win here again this week.
I came incredibly close to backing Billy Horschel (45/1) at the Workday before switching to Chris Kirk at the last minute, but I will not make that mistake this week.
Regrettably at half the price he was that week, Horschel isn’t as appealing. But with such a phenomenal track record in Memphis, he mustn’t be ignored again.
Five top 10s in his last six visits to Southwind, the 2014 FedEx Cup champion loves it in Memphis, even despite not having won there.
Even with the added pressure of a WGC and a more world class field last year, he was still able to clinch a top 10, again signalling just how comfortable he feels here.
After a slow start from Colonial through until the Travelers, he had a wonderful two weeks at Muirfield Village, where something must have clicked in his game.
Potentially favouring the more tricky conditions, Horschel was able to post consecutive top 20s at Jack’s Place, with one of those being a top 10 at the Workday.
Although conditions are unlikely to be as tricky as the Memorial here with the average winning score being -13 over the past 7 years, he will have a tremendous field to contend with this week.
I’m banking on the fact that he will relish the opportunity to compete with the very top players again this week, and that in addition to his track record will hopefully make him a strong contender for the trophy in Memphis.
Finally for the St. Jude, there are few better to choose from in the lower end of the market than Ian Poulter (80/1).
8-31-6 in his last three visits, albeit slightly spread out back to 2014, the Englishman has performed well here, and has performed well since the re-start.
Again he was somebody who missed the cut in his last event, at the Memorial, but he did manage to finish 5th a week before that on the same golf course.
There have always been question marks over Poulter’s capability of closing, particularly in stronger fields. But as a top 10 or each way bet, Poulter represents very good value in my opinion, with him playing some especially good golf since the return.
To go with that 5th at the Workday, he’s had a 29th at Colonial and followed that with a 14th at the Heritage.
His putting especially has been very strong since the PGA Tour’s return, ranking inside the top 20 for SG: Putting at Colonial, Harbour Town and the Workday.
If his putting continues to click and his tee-to-green game can improve even only slightly, Poulter could find himself finishing in the top 10 once again this week at Southwind.
Shifting across to the UK at the Hero Open, it is a very difficult week to judge on the European Tour.
With very few rounds played for a lot of the guys heading into this week, it’s tough to call who is either playing well or well suited to this golf course.
Without statistics too, which aren’t being updated on the European Tour since the return, it’s even harder to delve further into players form on the European Tour or see how their underlying games were last week.
Based just on an eye test from last week, Eddie Pepperell (25/1) may have finished 47th, but I think his price is too good to turn down.
An opening day 67 looked promising at Close House and opened up the possibility of a second British Masters win, only for a poor weekend to decimate any chances of that.
Although he obviously won’t be sky high after that final round 77 in Newcastle, the torrid conditions on the final day should allow him to forget about it quite easily.
He clearly enjoys playing in his home country, as the British Masters win he has on the mantelpiece shows. With this field weakened even compared to last week, I think he will have plenty of confidence about his chances of winning at the Forest of Arden.
Keeping Englishmen in mind, Oliver Fisher (80/1) is a surprisingly big price last week after an impressive display at Close House last week where he finished 7th.
To be playing in England, where he will feel comfortable of his surroundings once again, while he will undoubtedly also feel some momentum after last week, Fisher’s price seems exaggerated to say the least.
His 7th last week came almost out of the blue with him playing pretty dreadfully before the European Tour’s break, but that shows both how important the time away has been to some players and arguably how pointless form before that could be for anyone.
In his time off he has clearly worked relentlessly on his game, and I’m willing to take a chance that his form from last week could carry over to another event in the UK Swing.
Webb Simpson (22/1) – 2.5 pts e.w.
Daniel Berger (28/1) – 2 pts e.w.
Billy Horschel (45/1) – 1 pt e.w.
Ian Poulter (80/1) – 0.5 pts e.w.
Eddie Pepperell (25/1) – 2 pts e.w.
Oliver Fisher (80/1) – 0.5 pts e.w.