Golf’s St. Jude Invitational Trend Talk
Coming off an exciting weekend, where Shane Lowry scored his first major win in last week’s Open Championship, the golf world will move focus to a new event in Memphis July 25-28. While the Irishman is expected to sit out the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind, nearly all of the world’s top 50 players will compete in the revamped tournament, formerly known as the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Previously hosted at Firestone Country Club in Ohio, the WGC-Bridgestone transformed into the St. Jude Invitational after FedEx took over sponsorship and relocated to TPC Southwind, the former home of the St. Jude Classic.
Top names in the field
Defending champion and two-time St. Jude Classic winner Dustin Johnson is the favorite (+900) to claim the title on Sunday, while world No. 1 Brooks Koepka is close behind at +975. The two have played TPC Southwind three or more times since 2014, along with Billy Horschel (+6400), Phil Mickelson (+7000), J.B. Holmes (+10000), Kevin Tway (+12500) and Sung Kang (+25000).
FedEx Cup points leader Matt Kuchar (+3100) is another name to watch at the no-cut tournament. He finished 41st at the Open but has looked much better in his previous events, with a 16th-place U.S. Open finish, a fourth at the Canadian Open and an eighth at the PGA Championship.
Last year’s WGC-Bridgestone winner Justin Thomas (+1400) is regaining form following a wrist injury earlier in the year. He placed 11th at the British Open a week after scoring a top 10 at the Scottish Open.
One player who will be looking to recoup is 2014 WGC-Bridgestone champ Rory McIlroy. In his home country, McIlroy unraveled at the Open, but prior to that, he posted a top 10 at the U.S. Open and won the Canadian Open in June.
In order to perform well over the weekend, the 64-player field must overcome a few key challenges at TPC Southwind—mainly its abundance of water. Since 2004, when the course underwent renovation, more than 5,000 balls have succumbed to the aqueous hazard.
The 7,244-yard, par-70 dairy farm turned golf course is considered one of the more difficult setups on the PGA Tour. Designed by architect Ron Prichard, under the guidance of former U.S. Open champions Hubert Green and Fuzzy Zoeller, the layout features some of the toughest holes on tour, including the 162-yard, par-3 11th (often compared to the 17th island green at TPC Sawgrass), the 239-yard par-3 14th and the 453-yard par-4 18th.
Strokes gained approaching the green is a chief indicator of who should finish in the top 5. Going back to 2011, no winner of the St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind finished outside the top 20 in approaches. Only one champion finished worse than 16th in strokes gained—off the tee.
McIlroy, Johnson, Patrick Cantlay (+2000), Paul Casey (+4000), Gary Woodland (+5400), and longshot Corey Conners (+20000) all rank in the top 10 in both strokes gained off the tee and strokes gained approaching the green.
When it comes down to who is most likely to grab the first St. Jude Invitational title, though, it’s the Irishman many expected to win last week’s Open. McIlroy is first in strokes gained off the tee, fourth in par-4 scoring, sixth in strokes gained approaching the green and 19th in proximity to the hole. On top of all that, he played in TPC Sawgrass back in March, and navigated the water-laden course to win the Players Championship.
McIlroy fell to the pressure of the big stage last weekend, but there’s no way he’ll allow himself to repeat a similar performance at Southwind. He’ll bounce back with a vengeance Sunday to add his third victory of the year and push himself to the top of the FedEx Cup standings.
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