I’ve heard Houser at Mud Island, spent an afternoon at Ernestine and Hazel’s, ate all I could at Charlie Vergos’ place and experienced a couple corners of Memphis I’d just as soon forget. It’s a fine place to hang out but a strange place to hold a golf tournament in August when the humidity arrives early in the morning and is slow to leave.
Roughly 120 of the best players in the world are in western Tennessee this week to compete in the first tournament of the FedEx Cup playoffs, battling for $15 million at TPC-Southwind, which is somewhere in the suburbs.
The par-70, 7,233-yard layout, designed by Ron Pritchard, is similar to most of the TPC courses built in the 1980s and 1990s. There are water hazards on 11 holes and a difficult finishing stretch. The zoysia fairways produce lies sweeter than the tea served in the clubhouse. The rough is thick this time of year and the Champion Bermuda greens are firm, fast and pure.
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Here are some other things to know about TPC Southwind
- The course features the 9th narrowest fairways on the PGA Tour and the penalty for missing them is steep. Pros hit the green only 41.7 percent of the time from the rough, compared to the Tour average of 50.9 percent.
- Strong iron play is critical here. Accurate ballstrikers and elite players (Daniel Berger, D. Johnson, Koepka, Justin Thomas and Abe Ancer have won here in recent years).
- Because the pros hit only 59.8 percent of the greens in regulation (compared to 65.7 at the average Tour stop), a strong short game out of the gnarly Bermuda rough is an asset.
- With the looming water hazards, we kept an eye on players who can manage their game and avoid disaster. The winning score is likely to fall in the 15-under range but with only two par-5s, both of which are reachable, avoiding big numbers and playing the 12 par-4s well is a good recipe for victory.
- Six of the par-4s measure between 450 and 500 yards, again emphasizing the need for a good week with the short-to-mid irons (but fewer wedges than a normal Tour event).
- The top-70 in the FedEx Cup standings after this week advance to next week’s BMW Championship at Wilmington (Del.) Country Club.
Fedex St. Jude Championship Fantasy Golf Power Rankings
25. Brendan Steele – Not many pros are striking the golf ball better (fifth in SG: Tee-to-Green last 36 rds.) and not many are putting the ball worse (lost 15 shots on the greens in last three tournaments). Since the Arnold Palmer Invitational has finished 26th or better five times, missing the cut only once.
24. Viktor Hovland – The Cat is back. Made us pay for leaving him out in the cold at St. Andrews. His short game is an everpresent concern and he’s also had a bad knack for making double bogeys in the last year. There are plenty of opportunities to do so in Memphis.
23. Patrick Cantlay – Top-15 in six consecutive starts with four top-8s during the run. Wouldn’t be surprised if he won another playoff event but don’t love this particular set up because he’s below the field average in Bermuda putting and Fairways Gained on tighter driving courses.
22. Joaquin Niemann – Only one top-10 since his impressive win in February at Riviera, which is surprising. Metrics aren’t bad, he’s just had a different weak spot to hold him back each week. Still, he’s ninth in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 36 rounds.
21. Alex Noren – Making his first start in a month and hopefully has worked out his iron game during that time but he’s a fader who had success at TPC Southwind in the past (T-12 in 2019). Had a pair of top-10s in last year’s playoffs.
20. Billy Horschel – Chipped away the rust from a lengthy layoff last week in Greensboro with a T-27 and he’s top-15 in the field in SG: Approach and Good Drives Gained. Also third in the field in scoring over the last 24 rounds at TPC Southwind.
19. Jordan Spieth – Finished in the top-10 in both starts in Scotland and landed T-12 in two of his last three starts at TPC Southwind. Driver is the question mark though he’s 11th in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 36 rounds.
18. Cameron Young – Model was unfavorable because of errant tee shots, but can’t overlook five top-3s in last eight starts, an elite short game, 15th in par-4 scoring and 3rd in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 24 rds. (not incl. his stats from The Open).
17. Aaron Wise – Despite a poor week of iron play, managed a T-13 at the Wyndham and returns to TPC Southwind for the first time since finishing T-6 in 2018. Top-35 in Good Drives Gained, SG: Approach and SG: Around-the-Green.
16. Sungjae Im – Finished runner-up in each of his last two starts, gaining 18 shots Tee-to-Green and looking solid through the bag. His fade should fit nicely at TPC Southwind and if he can avoid those dreaded double bogeys (66th in field) should flourish.
15. Corey Conners – Gained 4.5 shots on approach but lost three shots on the greens in a T-21 at the Wyndham. Ranks second in the field in Good Drives Gained and is 15th in SG: Approach. Shaky short game in Bermuda and mediocre course history are the negatives.
14. Jon Rahm – The fiery Spaniard has three weeks to change the narrative on his season. Just two top-10s in his last 10 starts. But he’s one of two players in the field to slot top-10 in Good Drives Gained (average or difficult fairways to hit) and Greens in Regulation.
13. Scottie Scheffler – Top-10 in par-4 scoring, SG: Around-the-Green on Bermuda, SG: Approach and Greens in Regulation. Yeah, he’s cooled off (had to) yet in his last six starts he’s finished runner-up twice and outside the top 25 only once.
12. Mito Pereira – Great spot to buy low on the Chilean rookie. Didn’t fare well on the links overseas. We won’t hold that against him. He’s top-10 in the model because he’s top-15 in the requisite fairway and green hitting stats.
11. Russell Henley – Gained 21 shots Tee-to-Green in finishing T-10 and T-5 the last two weeks. He’s also putted worse than the field average in five consecutive starts. Having the excellent green reader Andy Sanders on the bag now could help him break out of his putting funk. Leads the field in SG: Approach.
Fedex St. Jude Championship Fantasy Golf Picks
10. Collin Morikawa – Been a terrible season by his high standards. Finished T-5 at Augusta and the U.S. Open but he’s putted horribly, losing shots in eight tournaments in a row and Bermuda is easily his least favorite surface. Like his chances to rebound at a reasonable price.
9. Sam Burns – Loves the Bermuda putting surfaces, having won twice at Innisbrook and once in Jackson. Lost in a playoff here last season, gaining 4.4 shots on approach and 6.3 on the greens. Closer he gets to the lead, the better he seems to play.
8. Cameron Smith – Making his first appearance since his stunning Sunday run to The Open title and quite possibly one of his last as a PGA Tour member. Finished T-5 here last year despite losing shots on approach but his irons are a strength now. Worth noting he’s 87th in Good Drives Gained and 107th in Fairways Gained.
7. Rory McIlroy – After his crushing Sunday at St. Andrews, he returns to action in Memphis looking to continue a torrid stretch of golf. All the ballstriking stats are elite; he’s 68th in the field in SG: Putting on Bermuda but Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka finished 1-2 here two years ago losing shots on the greens.
6. Tony Finau – Could it be three in a row for Big Tony? He put on a video game display of ballstriking in Detroit, looking every bit like the dominant force many (including Tiger Woods) think he can be. Has four top-4s in last seven starts but T-35 and T-64 in last two trips to TPC Southwind.
5. Shane Lowry – A regular in Memphis with three top-30s, including a T-6 in the last three years. Finished T-83 last week but gained 4.3 shots on approach. Don’t ask about the putting. Top-5 in par-4 scoring and SG: Approach and one of the best scramblers in golf.
4. Justin Thomas – TPC-Sawgrass, Innisbrook, East Lake and Concession have the same grass as TPC-Southwind and Thomas is the only player in the field who has thrived on each course. He also won here in 2020 (with Bones on the bag). Always paying a premium for a man who is 53rd in Good Drives Gained and 106th in Fairways Gained.
3. Xander Schauffele – Here are his last seven finishes: 5-13-18-14-1-1-15. Yet he’s still sorta flying under-the-radar. Breaking news: He’s good at golf. Also finished T-6 here two years ago.
2. Matt Fitzpatrick – I cannot confirm this but it’s quite possible TPC Southwind prompted Fitzpatrick to start pitching the ball with a lefthand low grip. He lost 5.7 shots around the greens here last year. 5.7. Since that debacle, he’s been better than the field average most weeks around the greens. He avoids doubles better than anyone in the field, ranks top-10 in par-4 scoring and Bermuda putting and finished sixth here in 2020 and fourth in 2019.
1. Will Zalatoris – A change is gonna come. Sometimes the relationship between a pro and caddie simply runs its course. After three amazing seasons (but no victories) Zalatoris and looper Ryan Goble parted ways mid-tournament in Greensboro. He hired Joel Stock, formerly with Ben Crane, Kevin Tway and Cameron Tringale, to carry his bag for the next three weeks and I’m sticking to my prediction from last week: His first PGA Tour victory is imminent. In a test of ballstriking, ride with the hungry ballstriker. No different than Scheffler, or more recently, Finau, expect the first one to open the floodgates.
Fedex St. Jude Championship Fantasy Golf Picks: Bargain Bin
Tom Hoge, Stephan Jaeger, Matt Kuchar, Martin Laird, Luke List, Taylor Moore, Trey Mullinax, Matthew NeSmith, Jhonnatan Vegas.