WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis
Memphis is a great American city. It’s a culinary shame the Tour visits in August when the heat pummels a man into a puddle of sweat.
The not surprising forecast calls for temperatures in the low 90s. A big, hot sun and no wind is on the horizon for the 66 players and caddies trekking around TPC Southwind this week in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
Such oppressive heat can temper a man’s appetite for barbecue, which is unfortunate in a city that offers many delightful options. Then again the $10.5 million purse – $1.89 million to the champ – along with guaranteed points and cash is also delicious.
The course is a good, fair test, par 70, 7,233 yards, featuring pristine Zoysia fairways and typically excellent Bermuda greens. It just may be the best TPC course. It tests each aspect of a pro’s game and does so without resorting to anything too goofy.
The weather has been somewhat dry of late in Memphis but a couple of inches of rough is enough to protect some of the smallest greens on the circuit.
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The field has hit 59 percent of the greens in regulation in recent years (65.6 percent is the Tour average) and 56 percent of the fairways compared to 62 percent in an average event.
Smart lines off the tee and precise irons are required to solve a layout filled with doglegs and water hazards (11 holes). The second and third are straightforward birdie opportunities but there isn’t another pushover until the 16th, which will yield some eagles during the week. Those in contention must write down a four or better on the par 5 on Sunday.
We tried to identify golfers who have shown recent excellence in driving (distance plus accuracy), approach shot proximity and putting on Bermuda greens.
The winning score is likely in the 12-15 under range and 8 or 9 under will probably be good enough for a top 10. Evading disaster (i.e. water) is imperative. (Paul Casey is the best in the field at avoiding double bogeys or worse. Dustin Johnson is next-to-last. Also good are Paul Casey, Abraham Ancer and Daniel Berger – the Crown Prince of Southwind, if not the King in Waiting).
There are six par 4s that measure between 450-500 yards and 26 percent of the approach shots occur in the 150-175-yard range. (Ancer leads the field in proximity from that distance).
- Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover, Max Homa, Kevin Kisner, K.H. Lee, Kevin Na
As always, good luck. For those in Memphis, eat a half rack and pulled pork plate for me. I’ll be down by that river again someday, watching the ducks in the Peabody and soaking it in.
Golfer power rankings
15. Webb Simpson – The last three months have been lackluster for Simpson, however, I’m encouraged by his T-19 at The Open and it’s difficult to overlook his strong record at TPC Southwind, finishing T-12 and T-2 the last two years. He presents good value anytime hitting fairways, scrambling and putting on Bermuda are key skills.
14. Corey Conners – Leads the field in Good Drives Gained, is third in Greens in Regulation Gained and eighth in sand saves. Closed strong at The Olympics (66-65) to climb to T-13. He’s been T-27 and T-30 in his two WGC starts at TPC Southwind.
13. Harris English – There are eight players in the field who rank in the top 30 in the field in fairways gained, SG: Approach and putting on Bermuda. English is one of them. Making only his second start since he claimed his second trophy of the season at the Travelers. Hasn’t played TPC Southwind since 2016 but should feel right at home in the Memphis heat.
12. Matt Fitzpatrick – He’s 20 under the last two years at TPC Southwind with two top 6s. His ballstriking numbers were strong in his last two starts, the U.S. Open (T-55) and The Open (T-26). He’s fourth in the field in SG: OTT over the last 36 rounds and a renowned Bermuda greens specialist, gaining 0.839 strokes per round on the surface (leads the field over the last 36 rounds).
11. Joaquin Niemann – He’s 11th in the field in SG: Putting on Bermuda greens and 12th in SG: OTT as well as proximity from 150-175 yards. Shot 131 over the final 36 holes in Japan to finish T-10. Paul Azinger made a big deal about Niemann’s downward head movement during his downswing. Guess he never saw Lee Buck Trevino strike a ball.
10. Louis Oosthuizen – Obviously has never been priced higher. Over the last 36 rounds, only Morikawa and Spieth have played better golf. But, it’s worth noting that none of his recent string of top-3 finishes came on Bermuda greens. He’s just slightly better than the Tour average on the surface. But he finished T-6 here last year and loves events that feature strong fields.
9. Paul Casey – He ended in the logjam at third in the Olympics and subsequently lost in the playoff. But don’t expect a hangover. His combination of long, accurate driving and pinpoint iron play is a solid combo at TPC Southwind. Has been steady all season and played in the biggest events with topc15s in the last three majors.
8. Justin Thomas – The defending champion. His disappointing season continued last week in Tokyo as the putter remained cold. But 68-65 on the weekend in Tokyo is something to build upon. Even through his slump has gained shots Off the Tee. Loves the WGCs or any cut-free tournament.
7. Xander Schauffele – Can’t omit him but have to believe he’ll suffer a minor letdown after he snapped a 2-plus year victory drought and brought home the Olympic gold. Tied for sixth here last year. Thought his short game was sharp last week. Top 10 in Birdies or Better Gained and SG: Approach.
6. Dustin Johnson – Another past champion at TPC Southwind, he’s finished in the top 20 in this WGC event the last two years. Totally a course history pick because, somewhat unbelievably, he’s outside the top 15 in every Strokes Gained category over the last 36 rounds and 26th or worse in everything but SG: OTT. Things can change quickly though.
5. Daniel Berger – Course Horse. Won this event twice when it was a regular Tour stop. Finished T-8 at The Open the last time he teed it up. Has gained at least one shot on approach in his last nine measured starts and ranks 24th in the field in Good Drives Gained over the last 50 rounds. Tied for second in last year’s WGC-FedEx St. Jude.
4. Abraham Ancer – Shot four rounds in the 60s in Japan. Top 3 on two different models we built this week. He’s sixth in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 50 rounds and 15th in SG: Putting on Bermuda. Finished T-15 in his WGC-FedEx St. Jude debut last summer.
3. Collin Morikawa – Could pick him every week. Just stripes it down the middle and hits pinpoint irons which essentially gives him a six-shot edge over the average Tour player each week. Tied for 20th last year here. He’s 53rd in the field in SG: Putting on Bermuda
2. Brooks Koepka – Won and finished runner-up the last two years. Has four top-6 finishes in his last five starts, including both Opens. Tee-to-Green game has been ridiculous during the span (8.7 or more strokes gained in three tournaments). Of the top 8 or 9 salaried players in the field, only Schauffele putts better on Bermuda greens.
1. Jordan Spieth – I thought he’d win a major this year. Kiawah and Torrey Pines weren’t great course fits but he made a run at Augusta National and Royal St. George’s and could have had both if not for a couple of short putts or suspect 3-hole stretches. So it goes. Winning is hard. But he’s done it 12 times on the PGA Tour, most recently in April outside San Antonio. T-30 and T-12 the last two years at WGC-FedEx St. Jude. Has gained an average of six shots Tee-to-Green in his last five starts, including excellent driving. Gets back on the board this week.