WGC St. Jude ~ 2021
No Majors, but the beginning of what may prove to be one of the best quality 5 week periods of golf of the year. And then there’s the Ryder Cup. Plenty still to look forward to, and hopefully a few winners. The FedEx Playoffs are very nearly upon us, but first up we have the not so insignificant matter of the WGC St Jude Invitational. Indeed most of those invited have accepted, and we see 48 of the world’s top 50 players tee it up.
Held at TPC Southwind in Memphis, the St Jude Classic was upgraded to a WGC in 2019, and the brace of winners since suggest it was a course deserving of it. A Par 70 playing slightly over 7200 yards, length from the tee isn’t as big a factor here as at some other venues. Yes JT and Brooks have won the two most recent renewals, and Phil and DJ have thrived here in their pomp, but it is more a course which challenges the mind, tests the patience, and rewards accurate approach play. Being a Par 70, we have just two Par 5s, and though both of these are real scoring opportunities, they are a rare treat around here. With 8 Par 4s of over 450 yards, most of which feature in play water hazards, there is trouble aplenty to be found. Building your score on the two long holes, and protecting it on the rest will be a popular strategy. Though it’s a course where debutants have proved successful 4 times in the past 11 years, it offers up plenty of multiple winners and habitual contenders. Previous good course form here can certainly be taken as a positive indicator towards one’s chances of more success.
Many of the world’s best, and plenty of the market leaders arrive here fresh (or maybe not so fresh) from a shot at Olympic glory, and one wonders how much that whole experience will have taken out of them.
Players of Interest:
I’ve taken the view that I would like to swerve most of those who competed in Tokyo last week, especially those in the heat of contention for most of the week. Winning gold there may indeed prove the catalyst in Xander Schauffele becoming a more proficient closer of tournaments, but it would be some feat to back up that success here. He was in the heat of contention for the whole event, and having fallen short at the final hurdle so many times previously, he will no doubt have celebrated this success in a fitting manner! I can leave him alone this week.
It’s been a seriously impressive run of form from Collin Morikawa of late. 2nd at The Memorial, 4th at US Open, winner of The Open and just missing out on a bronze medal in a Playoff last week, he has been at the peak of his powers for a while now. When he won the PGA Championship a year ago, it did take him a few weeks to come back to his best after that maiden Major win, so it is a positive that he bounced out with a decent showing in Tokyo last week. I do feel though that all roads will now work backwards from the Tour Championship, and given his mentally draining schedule and performances of late, like Xander I think he can be passed over here. It is a course which should really suit him, and he can improve on last year’s 20th, but at just 14/1 he’s just not for me.
At 2 points shorter, I really see no negatives attached to BROOKS KOEPKA. The winner here in 2019, it is a course he has been very positive about in the past. That is no surprise really, as this isn’t your typical point and shoot layout that we see many weeks on the regular PGA Tour. They are where Brooks can lose focus, simply playing in attack mode, and when that goes wrong it can go badly wrong. Focus is required here, and it’s clearly a layout Koepka has the utmost respect for. He was second here as defending champion last year, and but for a poor closing 3 holes, he would have gone back to back. Arriving in off a bad run of form may have been critical in that failure to close it out, but we have no such worries this time around. 6th at The Open, 5th at Travelers, 4th at the US Open and 2nd in the PGA, the 4 time major winner typically hit form at the right time again. Some will question his motivation now the majors are behind us, but I don’t remember that being a problem when he was successful here two years ago.
Negotiating lengthy Par 4s successfully have been the backbone of so many of Brooks’ wins, and this aspect of a players game will be crucial in determining the outcome this week. His approach play continues in seriously good form, and the way he closed out his week at The Open is still fresh in the memory. But for no luck on the greens on those closing few holes, he would have set what would have then looked a tasty clubhouse target at the time. Putting is rarely as big a factor here as at other birdie fest layouts, and it is our man’s brilliance from the fairways that can be the catalyst in getting the job done here.
Without the worry about fatigue that most of the other market leaders have, coming in in the best form he has brought to the tournament in a number of years, and arriving to a tournament he has form figures of 3/2/37/30/1/2, everything seems in place for a big assault on the title. I have no doubt he is very much motivated by his run of recent close shaves, and will be eager to land another big win here. He rates a very good bet for me.
I mentioned earlier that TPC Southwind has seen its fair share of multiple winners, and one of those is DANIEL BERGER. He clearly relishes his time here, having not only won in 2016 and 2017, but also finished runner up last year. This is a tough challenge for the players here, but one which Berger has mastered better than most. His embracing of the tough and undulating Bermuda greens has been a help in that, a type which not all players have the same love for. It has been his tee to green game which has been doing the damage here though, that is the case with nearly all recent winners, and it’s a layout which really seems to fit the eye of Berger. His most recent outings bode very well for the chances of him once again contending here. 7th at the US Open and 8th at the British, they are two of his three best results in Major Championships. That he arrives at what must be his favourite venue, off those confidence boosting displays, suggests to me that he will be a very live runner this week.
Ahead of selecting Berger for glory at Pebble Beach back in February, I suggested he was a player ready to move to the next level. He didn’t notch that maiden Major win this term, but he could be only days away from bagging his first WGC. I want him on-side here.
Jordan Spieth has been a revelation this term, and went down fighting at Royal St George when we were on board. He has rarely produced a bad performance since rising from the ashes at the Phoenix, but I’m not so sure that TPC Southwind is the perfect layout for him. It would be some story where he ultimately to lift this year’s FedEx Cup, and he may well do so. I will no doubt re visit him in the coming weeks.
Justin Thomas still just doesn’t cut a confident enough figure to entice me into backing him, and Dustin Johnson, though armed with a formidable course record also continues to be below his best.
Scottie Scheffler was interesting. Fast becoming a player who seems to raise his game for the bigger events, I can certainly envisage him going well this week. 8th at The Open, 7th at the US equivalent, 3rd in the Memorial and 8th at the PGA, Scottie clearly knows how to golf his ball at the tougher venues. 15th here last year when nowhere near the player he is now, and arriving in off 3 missed cuts in 4, I would fancy he will improve on that here. Those that wanted an extra outright play, it is the 30/1 on Scheffler to 7 places with PP/BFSB that I would recommend.
As it is however, my final recommendation here is SERGIO GARCIA. The Spaniard let us down two weeks ago when we were on board for Top European. Having led there when he stood on the 71st tee, he 3 putted there, and found water on the last to ultimately lose out by a shot. Another Sunday blow in a season of them, but I am keen to have the former Masters winner on side here once again.
Had his putting been even approaching acceptable in the 3M Open, he could very well have landed the title outright, never mind just being Top Euro. Garcia has been on fire from the fairways for a few weeks now, and a combination of price allowing for the worry with his putting, and the fact that many recent winners haven’t set the greens alight here sees me including him at the 70/1 available. Arriving here off 5 consecutive top 25 finishes, Garcia is pushing hard for a place in Harrington’s Ryder Cup team, and this is the ideal layout for him to showcase his undoubted talents. One positive to be taken from his lethargic display on the greens at Twin Cities was that it didn’t overly upset him. He still ground away, still hit the next iron shot as if he had holed the previous putt. His head is clearly in a good place at the moment, he fought till the end at both the US and British Opens, and he is clearly keen to both land that Ryder Cup spot and force his way into the top 30 of the FedEx Cup standings as soon as possible.
If the putter does suddenly come alive here, Garcia could very well kill a few birds with the one stone, and at the 70/1 available I am more than happy to take my chances. That price is only with one firm, and to 5 places, but the 60/1 to 7 places with others is fine also.
In truth, not a lot that interested me this week. I did have a second look at Lee Westwood in the Top English category, but a respect for Matt Fitzpatrick there also has seen me leave that alone. I do however have one further official recommendation this week and one more for those who can get on at a price not widely available.
To put it simply, I think Hideki Matsuyama may struggle this week. Defending Masters Champion, heading to his home country to represent them in the Olympics, if last week takes more out of one player than any other, it is Hideki who would be my pick. That he was also in the heat of contention throughout is another drawback coming here, and he is one I want to swerve this week.
Though both SUNGJAE IM and Si Woo Kim competed in Tokyo also, I am of the opinion that they may bounce favourably this week. They would have been under immense pressure to Medal there, to relieve them of impending military duties, and as has often been the case of golfers underperforming when ‘expected’ we may see them in a better light here with the shackles off. I would expect one or both to topple Matsuyama here, and at the prices on offer, prefer the 3/1 on Im.
A closing 73 here last year was 8 shots worse than produced on Sunday by winner Justin Thomas, and he was only beaten by 10 in total. He was better than his ultimate finishing position of 35th suggests, and much better than what Kim produced in missing his only cut here in 2016. A classic second shot golf course, much like Augusta in that regard, I expect the 2020 Masters runner up to be more than capable of taming this week’s layout. In what is a relatively weak section this week, a worry over Matsuyama and the current form of Si Woo, the 3/1 on the selection looks rather tasty. Coral and Ladbrokes are not on Oddschecker, and along with VBet are the only firms offering this price, but I would be more than happy with the general available 11/4 also.
Top 20 Finish:
As the 2/1 I wanted to put this up as an official bet isn’t available with any firm that I would recommend to, I won’t count it as such. That 2/1 on SERGIO GARCIA is available with Mansion Bet, Sport Nation and Redzone, operators I am sure very few have accounts with. Those that do, and can get on, I would recommend a 6pt stake. As I type he is available for small money at the same price on the Betfair Exchange. He is currently rather weak on the win market there, so if left alone that could 3.0 available will likely get slightly bigger and stronger.
He has been very consistent in recent weeks, clearly has the bit between his teeth in a bid for a Ryder Cup spot, and arrives at a venue which I think really suits an in form Garcia. Elite ball strikers who tick off greens in regulation with monotony have consistently gone well here, and that is exactly what Sergio is producing at the moment. In a field of just 66 starters, allowing for it being a very strong one, I feel 2/1 underestimates his chances of notching a 5th Top 20 in his last 6 outings.
2.5pts ew Brooks Koepka 12/1 (⅕ odds 7 places, WK/Sky/Betfred) **Recommended Monday, still available with WH *10/1+ to 7+ places acceptable. 11/1 to 7 places currently with PP/BFSB/Sky/888)
1.5pts ew Daniel Berger 22/1 (⅕ odds 7 places, WH/PP/BFSB/Sky)
.5pt ew Sergio Garcia 70/1 (¼ odds 5 places, 365) *60/1 to 7 places with Sky/Betfred/888 also acceptable Top Asian:
5pts Sungjae Im 3/1 (Coral/Lads/VBet) *General 11/4 also fine
Top 20 Finish:
See Section Above
Running Totals 2021:
Back next week with the Wyndham Championship, regular Tuesday slot, with preview sent out again at 5.30pm. Best of Luck.