FEDEX ST. JUDE: Though the COVID pandemic robbed us of some great golf this year, the Open being the foremost example, it has created a unique situation where we have a backloaded schedule in which several very important tournaments are crammed into a relatively small window of time. And now, we’ve reached the golden hour: over the next 8 weeks, starting this week and running through September 20, we get a WGC event, the PGA Championship, the three-stage FedExCup Playoffs culminating in the Tour Championship, and the U.S. Open. Not bad, eh? And of course we’ve got a special treat awaiting us in November, as well…
With all of that championship golf on deck, it’s going to be more difficult than usual to appreciate each event on its own merit, and not become somewhat desensitized to the great fields and high stakes that will now become a weekly thing. But I believe that’s what they call a “first world problem”, right? And it shouldn’t be an issue at all this week, as we have a major championship-quality field doing battle at a familiar venue– the treacherous TPC Southwind– with a cool $10.5 million on the line.
The Memphis stop has been a fixture of the Tour’s schedule since 1958, and this was always an interesting tournament even before it was granted WGC status last year, as Southwind really keeps the players on their toes with the narrow fairways, long bermuda rough, and numerous water hazards. Given the severity of the course and the sweltering Memphis heat that always accompanies the proceedings, this is generally one of the few weeks where most players exude that misery/irritation/exasperation vibe that seems to be the default status for most of us weekend hacks. In the same way that it’s fun to see players take 4 shots to get out of a bunker at the Open or barely advance the ball out of thick rough in a U.S. Open, it’s enjoyable to see the guys melting in the Memphis heat and humidity while trying to feather a 6-iron from a flier lie in the bermuda to a rock-hard green with water on two sides. That, in a nutshell, is the TPC Southwind experience.
Of course, the weather plays a big role in the difficulty of the course, as it does with every course, and when Southwind is soft, the players can tear it up. Dustin Johnson reached 19-under in 2018, when the course was essentially there for the taking, but usually something in the 10-12 under range will get the job done. Last year wasn’t really an outlier– yes, Brooks Koepka reached 16-under, but he finished five clear of 4th place, and there were plenty of big numbers posted. If you’re not careful, Southwind can sneak up and bite you in a hurry. Trouble lurks everywhere, and despite the fact that the last two champions have been bombers, short-and-straight types have a pretty decent history at Southwind, with players like Justin Leonard, Brian Gay and Ben Crane hoisting the trophy in recent years.
So, where does that leave us? The last two champions here, DJ and Koepka, are both teeing it up but neither has been in top form lately, and with a field of this caliber it’s difficult to put your trust in someone who hasn’t been playing their best golf. Rory McIlroy (12.5) and Jon Rahm (13.0) head BETDAQ’s Win Market, and you could make a fine case for either, as you could for Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, and most of the other guys near the top of the market. When there are so many quality players sporting relatively fat odds, however, it can be difficult to swallow those short prices. I’ve tried to find a happy medium with this week’s selections:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Collin Morikawa (34.0)- I’ve watched a lot of pre-tournament analysis over the past couple of days and have come to the conclusion that everyone is sleeping on Morikawa. I realize he’s never played TPC Southwind in competition and has never seriously contended in an event of this magnitude, but in case you haven’t been paying attention, there aren’t five guys in the world right now who are playing better golf than Morikawa on a week-in, week-out basis. He’s only two starts removed from his victory at the Workday Charity Open, four starts removed from his runner-up at the Charles Schwab, and has posted top-25 finishes in 8 of his past 13 starts overall. Moreover, his game seems to be tailor made for Southwind– he’s super-straight off the tee and brilliant with the irons, ranking first in this field in Strokes Gained: Approach over the last 50 rounds. He’ll be tough to beat this week and is a terrific value at a price like 34.0.
Billy Horschel (70.0)- Horschel took a week off after the Travelers to straighten things out and whatever he did seems to be working, as he finished T7 and T13 in the two Muirfield Village events. Now, after another week off, he comes to one of his favorite stops on the schedule: TPC Southwind, where he’s logged five top-10s over the course of his career, including a T9 last year. Southwind is very similar stylistically to much of the golf that Horschel grew up playing in Florida– tee-to-green bermuda, water everywhere, firm greens, wind– so he’s obviously very comfortable here and the results bear that out. And while it’s true that Horschel doesn’t win enough, with his last non-team victory coming in 2017 (he won the 2018 Zurich Classic with partner Scott Piercy), it’s also true that he’s displayed a knack for bringing his best stuff on the biggest of stages, such as his victory at the 2014 Tour Championship, which won him the FedEx Cup. All things considered, I think the man known as Billy Ho is a sneaky-good value this week at 70.0.
Chez Reavie (158.0)- I realize WGC events are not often won by back-of-the-market types, and that the pre-event favorites have won the last two tournaments at TPC Southwind, but if you dig just a little deeper, you’ll find that a defining characteristic of Southwind is the different types of players and styles of play that the course accommodates. We’ve seen Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson get the job done here, but also Fabian Gomez and Ben Crane– and all since 2014. And if you’re looking for a long-odds type who just might shock the world this week, you could do a lot worse than Reavie, who is coming off back-to-back good tournaments (T22 at the Memorial; T17 at the Workday Charity Open) and has an excellent record at Southwind, finishing 27th or better in each of his past five appearances, highlighted by a T6 in 2018 and a T4 in 2017. Reavie is a threat anytime length off the tee is not a requirement, and as mentioned, there’s a lot of ways to skin the proverbial cat at Southwind. He’s worth a shot this week at better than 150/1.