This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
WGC-FEDEX ST. JUDE INVITATIONAL
Winner's Share: $1.89M
FedEx Cup Points: 550 to the Winner
Location: Memphis, Tenn.
Course: TPC Southwind
2020 champion: Justin Thomas
Olympic golf is over, and it's now August. A PGA Tour season unlike any we'd seen before or likely will see again is winding down. But not without one more big-time tournament in a season filled with big-time tournaments. A World Championship Golf event matters enough all on its own, especially this one, though this year it carries the extra weight of being one of the final events to determine Ryder Cup teams.
There are four tournaments remaining in U.S. qualifying – through the second playoff event, the BMW Championship – to secure one of the six automatic berths. Steve Stricker will make his controversy-laden six captain's picks two weeks after that, a week after the Tour Championship. So while there's still time after Memphis to qualify or even alter Stricker's thinking on his captain's picks, this week's elite, international field should carry more weight than any remaining tournament.
All that said, the best golfer in the world will not be taking part: No. 1-ranked Jon Rahm is one of only two players in the top-50 skipping the 66-man, no-cut event (also No. 44 Christiaan Bezuidenhout). A positive test kept Rahm out of the Olympics, but he had previously announced that this would be a week of rest and scheduling maintenance. We should see him in two weeks as the FedEx Cup playoffs get underway at the Northern Trust.
Justin Thomas, who has slipped to No. 5 in the world, is back to defend his title, as are 2019 champion Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson, both of whom were part of a four-way tie for second a year ago. Two-time Memphis winners Dustin Johnson and Daniel Berger are also here.
But the alpha dog this week will be Xander Schauffele, fresh off his gold-medal winning performance, who is among 19 Olympians in the field. It will be hard enough for Schauffele to refocus so soon after the biggest win of his career, but it could be difficult for anyone coming from Tokyo to negotiate the severe time change, jet lag, etc. Making the blanket statement to avoid anyone who was in the Olympics might be too strong, but if you are deciding between someone who was in Tokyo and someone who wasn't, there are worse tiebreakers.
As for lineup construction, the field is small even for a WGC, so finding separation from other gamers will be a challenge. Stars and scrubs? Balanced? With so many big names, some quality golfers have dipped well into the $8,000s or even $7,000s. All players from the previous Presidents Cup get in, as do some international players who simply aren't of the same caliber as the top PGA Tour pros – or even lesser PGA Tour pros. As we saw at the Olympics and in other WGCs, those internationals really have a hard time keeping up, though at least they (and you) are guaranteed four rounds. We are leaning toward going with an unbalanced lineup.
This is the third year since this WGC event moved from Firestone Country Club (when it was called the Bridgestone) to TPC Southwind, which was familiar to golfers as the host course for the old FedEx St. Jude Classic. There is no bigger sponsor on the PGA Tour than FedEx, so a regular Tour event just wasn't enough. There are no title sponsors of majors, so a WGC or playoff event is the next best thing (next year, this tournament will become the first playoff event instead of a WGC in the new 2021-22 schedule announced by the Tour on Tuesday morning).
The PGA Tour has been coming to Memphis since 1958. The tournament was long associated with the late entertainer Danny Thomas and it was played at Southwind beginning in 1989. The course is long for a par-70. There are only two par-5s. It features eight par-4s of more than 450 yards and the bermudagrass greens average a tiny 4,300 square feet. That usually has made greens in regulation a real challenge. The most obvious characteristic of Southwind is water. There are 11 water hazards affecting 11 holes and there have been far more water balls at this track over the past two decades than at any other on Tour, including TPC Sawgrass. Nowhere is there more danger than at No. 18, a 453-yard dog leg with water almost the entire way.
Southwind annually was a very hard track – it was the 11th hardest on Tour in 2018 and generally fell between 10th and 15th. But two years ago it was middle of the road, at 25th hardest, even though they made it even harder for the WGC. Which brings up an interesting hypothesis. Because the field was always so weak in the regular event, maybe the course wasn't THAT hard and it was just the quality of the golf and the golfers. It was 14th hardest out of 41 in 2020.
Weather-wise, it looks like a dry, hot and humid week ahead, with temperatures moving into the steamy 90s by the weekend. The wind is forecast to be light to moderate.
Fun Memphis golf factoids: The first 59 in PGA Tour history was shot in Memphis. Al Geiberger did it at par-72 Cordova Country Club in the second round of the 1977 tournament then known as the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic. Geiberger won the tourney, three strokes ahead of former Memphis winner Gary Player. Also in 1977, get this: Former president Gerald Ford hit an incredible shot during the pro-am ... no, he didn't plunk a spectator in the head as he was wont to do – he made a hole-in-one!
Key Stats to Winning at TPC Southwind
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Strokes gained: Tee-to-Green/Ball Striking
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation
• Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling
• Par-4 Efficiency 450-500 yards
Let's focus on the past two years. Not because the course changed but because the quality of the field did. Thomas was not in the top-10 in driving distance last year; in fact, only two of the top-15 finishers were. But Thomas shined elsewhere, ranking second in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach, fourth in SG: Around-the-Green and first in both proximity and SG: Tee-to-Green. But he was only 55th in putting. Again, only two of the top-15 finishers were in the top-10 in putting. The year before, Koepka was as strong as Thomas was from tee-to-green, but he also was among the distance leaders off the tee and in putting. Many weeks, that awesome display of balance would win by more than three shots. The thing is, so many of the leaders excelled across the board. You don't usually see the longest hitters also among the most accurate, or among the best putters. So to summarize, two years ago when Koepka won at 16-under, the putting really mattered. Last year, when Thomas won at 13-under, it wasn't so prevalent. Golfodds.com pegs the over/under on the winning score this year at 266.5 – 13.5 under par.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Brooks Koepka - $10,600 (Winning odds at DraftKings Sportsbook: +1200)
Sometimes, it's best not to overthink things. Koepka tied for second last year, won the year before. If that's not enough, he's ranked 11th on Tour in Par-4 Efficiency from 450 to 500 yards. Lastly, the guys in front of him on the DK board – Collin Morikawa ($11,000) and Xander Schauffele ($10,800) – played the Olympics last week.
Justin Thomas - $9,900 (+1800)
Thomas has been far from his usual self the past few months, the latest example being a backdoor top-25 in Tokyo. But at least it was a stress-free week for him, and now he heads to a course that could be the perfect antidote to his recent troubles. Thomas is ranked top-10 on Tour in SG: Approach, Around-the-Green and Tee-to-Green. Southwind puts a premium on iron play, and the small greens can help mask Thomas' putting woes, which was his recipe for victory a year ago. He's also ranked 19th in Par-4 450-500.
Louis Oosthuizen - $9,600 (+2000)
This is not a major, where Oosthuizen has gone 2-2-3 in the past three, but it's the next best thing. The South African, who not only leads the Tour in putting by a wide margin, is also ranked fourth in Par-4 450-500. That explains him finishing sixth here a year ago and 20th in 2019.
Tier 2 Values
Daniel Berger - $9,200 (+2000)
If there was any doubt about Berger after he twice won the old Memphis tournament at Southwind, he was runner-up here last year in a significantly-stronger field. When you see he's ranked 14th on Tour in SG: Approach, eighth in greens in regulation and 27th in SG: Putting, his past results here make perfect sense.
Scottie Scheffler - $9,100 (+2800)
Scheffler has quietly been having one of the best years of anyone in the big tournaments – he has finished top-8 in the Open Championship, the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship, the WGC-Workday, the Memorial and even the Match Play event, where he was runner-up. He's ranked 12th on Tour in Par-4 450-500 and finished T15 here a year ago.
Matt Fitzpatrick - $8,800 (+2800)
You wouldn't figure the slightly built Englishman to succeed at such a long track with so many long holes. But he tied for sixth here a year ago and for fourth the year before. It all ties together when you see he's ranked 13th on Tour in Par-4 450-500, 35th in SG: Tee-to-Green and 22nd in SG: Putting.
Tier 3 Values
Harris English - $7,600 (+3500)
If the world-rankings point system went back only one year, and not two, English might be a top-5 golfer, certainly top-10. As it is, he's 14th. It was almost a year ago, at the Northern Trust playoff event, that English started his career renaissance. We have no recent course history here for him the past two years – he wasn't good enough to qualify for the WGC – but he did win the regular Tour event here way back in 2013. None of English's stats really stand out; rather, he's very balanced and does virtually nothing poorly.
Brian Harman - $7,500 (+5000)
Harman normally wouldn't come to mind on a long track like Southwind. But this has been such a terrific year for the diminutive left-hander, he's shown he can complete on any course. For example, he was top-20 at the U.S. Open at uber-long Torrey Pines. If Harman isn't too affected by Southwind's length, his superior short game – top-25 on Tour in both SG: Around-the-Green and Putting – could carry him up the leaderboard.
Sergio Garcia - $7,300 (+7000)
Much like Thomas, Garcia has the ball-striking game well-suited for TPC Southwind – elite tee-to-green, hide your eyes on the green. He is ranked third on Tour in SG: Off-the-Tee and 10th in both greens in regulation and SG: Tee-to-Green. Garcia has even been playing well of late, arriving with five straight top-25s, two of them in majors.
Billy Horschel - $7,100 (+7000)
Horschel was a machine at Southwind last decade, finishing top-10 in four straight visits from 2013-2017. He then tied for ninth when it became a WGC in 2019, and tied for 25th last year. Horschel's stats could talk you out of picking him, but don't let that happen.
Max Homa - $6,700 (+15000)
Homa by and large has had a subpar past 4-5 months. But his few bright spots have been very bright – and at long, difficult tracks with at least some similarities to Southwind: 10th at Bay Hill, sixth at Copperhead, sixth at the Memorial. Homa missed the cut at THE PLAYERS, Masters, PGA and U.S. Open, but he won't have to worry about that here. He's ranked a not-too-bad 48th in SG: Approach.
Phil Mickelson - $6,600 (+9000)
Yeah, we're thinking the same thing you're thinking: This has a chance to go very wrong. But Mickelson has thrived at Southwind, even last year (T2) when his game was every bit as bad as it is now. He as two other runners-up there and a boatload of top-12s over the past decade. This likely will be Mickelson's last, best chance to show Stricker he deserves a spot on the Ryder Cup team.