The best players in the world have flown from Ireland to America this week, where TPC Southwind stages the third of this year’s four WGCs, the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational.
It’s the first time that the course has staged a WGC, but punters have plenty of course form to look through as there has been a PGA Tour held here for each of the last 32-years. However, this event has a completely new scheduling position, with the last 12 occasions it’s been used all coming before the US Open.
As the tournament name suggests, only a limited field go to post this week, with the invitees qualifying through a variety of criteria. This includes being ranked in the top-50 in the world and being a member of the last US or European Ryder Cup Teams. Winners of selected events on the PGA Tour, South African Tour, Japan Golf Tour, and Asian Tour have also qualified.
The Ron Prichard designed layout is a Par 70 that will play at just over 7,200 yards. Features include narrow fairways and the fast greens are smaller than those used typically on the PGA Tour. Nine holes play as doglegs whilst water features on 10 holes.
This tournament has replaced the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and the last five winners of that event where Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson, Shane Lowry, and Rory McIlroy. Dustin Johnson also won the last year’s regular PGA Tour event at TPC Southwind, but the courses used for those two events are very different. The four preceding winners at TPC Southwind before Johnson were Daniel Berger (twice), Fabian Gomez, and Ben Crane.
Winners at TPC Southwind have been a mixed bag over the years, with players that have driven the ball far and short and accurately both winning. Players have also won hitting a high percentage of greens in regulation, but it’s also possible to win here if you’re chipping and putting is on fire.
Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, and John Rahm are the four market leaders priced at up at 12/1 or lower with the bookmakers and they may all have something to prove after underachieving at last week’s Open Championship.
Johnson has a great record at TPC Southwind with two wins, a fifth, and a tenth in five previous visits. He also has a great record in WGCs, but he arrives here on the back of four consecutive lacklustre performances.
It also remains to be seen whether McIlroy can bounce back from last week’s disappointment, but a decent second round at Royal Portrush gives his fans some hope that he will.
Koepka also couldn’t add another major to his impressive haul but his fourth-placed finish at The Open suggested his game is in good order. The question is whether he’ll be tuned in for this second-tier event, but there’s hope that he will be now the majors have finished for the season, especially as he’s finished top-3 in two of his last four visits to the course.
Meanwhile, Rahm was in great form before the Open, but it may be too much to ask him to peak again after not quite playing his best golf last week, especially as he’s yet to play this course.
Justin Thomas is another player that’s not previously had TPC Southwind on his schedule, a comment which also applies to the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Cantlay, Justin Rose, and Hideki Matsuyama.
One player that would have loved to win The Open was Adam Scott, but the Aussie probably put too much pressure on himself before missing the cut. Interestingly, he’s finished top-10 on both his previous visits to this course and he could go well if getting off to the type of good start that motivates him for the rest of the week.
Another player who missed the cut in Ireland last week was Chez Reavie, but I doubt he wasted any time getting reacquainted with a course where he’s finished fourth and sixth in the last two years. Reavie finished third and first just three and four starts ago and he’ll probably never have a better chance of landing a WGC.
It’s also interesting that Danny Willett makes the journey across the Atlantic and three top-12 finishes in his last four events suggest he thinks he has his game somewhere near its best after undergoing swing changes this season. He started slowly in The Open but shot three decent rounds on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and his motivation to climb the world rankings again should mean he’s up for the challenge this week.