Hosting a tournament one week prior to a major is something of a double-edged sword: some players will want to take the opportunity to find some form, while others prefer a week of r&r prior to an assault on the biggie.
That is the scenario that befalls the St Jude Classic, held at the famous TPC Southwind club in Memphis, Tennessee. With the US Open just seven days away, many of the golfing world’s brightest stars have decided to hone their game behind closed doors, so it’s a coup for the tournament organisers here to have the likes of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson turning out.
Alongside that big three we have Fabian Gomez, the reigning champion, here to defend his crown, alongside former winner Harris English. Rising stars Daniel Berger and Colt Knost will be hoping to make their breakthrough in such a limited field, while grizzled veterans such as Retief Goosen and Ernie Els will be hoping for one last dance around the maypole.
TPC Southwind – How Does it Play?
This is one of those short and testy Par 70s that your grandma warned you about. Measuring a touch over 7,200 yards, the emphasis here is on precision rather than power.
Narrow fairways and smaller than the norm Bermudagrass greens require arrow-like ball striking, as do the overhanging trees and water hazards which require pin-dot placement to avoid.
We can ignore those with big-hitting credentials and instead focus on those accurate players who tend to come into their own in tournaments like these. Greens in Regulation, Scrambling and (to an extent) Driving Accuracy will all be required, and as we know Par 70 courses have more Par 4 holes than any other, so an ability to score low on those is a bonus.
Lastly, a bizarre correlation between the St Jude and the OHL Classic dictates that we look for previous form in each. Harris English and Brian Gay have won both tournaments, while a host of players have finished in the top five of each.
Brooks Koepka (12/1)
Most in the golfing community are waiting for Brooks Koepka to make his breakthrough from talented young star to world-class performer, and it is tournaments like these that represent his best chance of doing just that.
A third-place finish here is indicative of this suitability for the course, and that is backed by his statistical make-up which dictates that he plays the Par 4s better than most on tour; ranking in the top-ten as he does for Par 4 Scoring Average and Par 4 Birdie Leaders.
We are always on the look out for current form as a guide and Koepka offers plenty: three outstanding rounds at the Byron Nelson event took him within a fraction of lifting the title just a fortnight ago.
And a seasonal stretch that has witnessed him finish in the top ten in 4/13 tournaments entered is a fantastic record; he should achieve that, at the very least, this week once again.
Gary Woodland (22/1)
There has been a clear and defined upturn in the fortunes of Gary Woodland since he reunited with coach Butch Harmon earlier this year, and that improvement in technique, confidence or a blend of the two has witnessed the Kansas man return a 12th at the Byron Nelson and a superb fourth at last week’s Memorial Tournament.
Woodland is a big hitter by trade but he is capable of reining in his natural instinct; an 18th here last year was pepped up by a final round of 64, so clearly he came to terms with the unique rigours of this course by the close of the weekend. That should stand him in very good stead this time around.
A two-time tour winner, you get the impression that number three is just around the corner.
Charles Howell III (50/1)
Some bookmakers are still offering 50/1 on old Chucky this week, and while he isn’t a prolific winner by any means – his last tour victory came back in 2007 – a season that has returned a remarkable five top-10 finishes indicates how good a player he is.
We love a good stat and they come at you at from all angles with Howell III: few players rank amongst the elite for four key categories like he does, namely GIR, Scrambling, Par 4 Scoring Average and Par 4 Birdie Leaders. With those tools in the bag, surely he should go close here?