Out of the Rough: FedEx St. Jude Championship (2023)
The 2022-2023 PGA TOUR regular season has come to a close as we enter the end-of-the-season three week long FedEx Cup Playoffs.
The first of three stops is the FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind.
The top 70 golfers in the season-long FedEx Cup standings have advanced to this stage of the season, as the number has decreased from 125 golfers in the playoffs from a season ago.
From here, the top 50 golfers in the FedEx Cup Standings will advance to next week’s BMW Championship at Olympia Fields North Course and ultimately the top 30 will advance to the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Course.
There is still time for those in the 51-to-70 range ro make some moves as players received 500 points for winning a regular PGA TOUR event but can receive 2,000 points for winning this week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship.
This event was established as the Memphis Open in 1958 before becoming the St. Jude Invitational in 1970. In 2018, the event became a World Golf Championship event, elevating its status.
The World Golf Championship is no-longer a thing but this event still holds a prestigious tag after replacing the Northern Trust a year ago as the kick-off tournament for the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Of course, all of the PGA TOUR’s best will be in attendance this week with the toughest-to-win TOUR Championship on the line - the end of the season PGA TOUR Championship.
Will Zalatoris is the defending champion of this event but of course will not be playing this week as he continues to recover from a back surgery.
Jon Rahm enters this event first in the FedEx Cup Standings after winning the Tournament of Champions, American Express, Genesis Invitational and The Masters on the season. Rahm has not won since April but returned to form a few weeks back at The Open with a second place finish.
Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) World #1, Scottie Scheffler, comes in second in the standings as he has had 13 top-five finishes on the season. Nobody on TOUR is even close to that number. Scheffler also won the WM Phoenix Open and THE PLAYERS Championship this year.
Rory McIlroy rounds out the ‘big-three’ of the PGA TOUR and comes into this week third. He is also the defending PGA TOUR Champion from a season ago. He has victories on the season at the CJ Cup and the Genesis Scottish Open
Max Homa, Wyndham Clark, Brian Harman, Viktor Hovland, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler and Tony Finau round out the top ten of the FedEx Cup Standings respectively.
Of the notable names who missed the top 70 cutoff and not playing in this season’s end-of-the-year playoffs include Justin Thomas, Shane Lowry and Alex Noren.
Former winners of this event and playing this week are Jason Day (2016) and Tony Finau (2021.)
To best describe TPC Southwind, we can simply take a look at its name. The course embodies all of the characteristics of a southern Bermuda course while also susceptible to high winds. Simple enough.
TPC Southwind was designed by Ron Prichard in consultation with Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green and opened in 1988.
The course, upon opening, offered a stern test to the world’s best but was made even more difficult in 2004.
A total of 125 trees were planted and 15 new bunkers were installed (totaling to 96.) Additionally, the par five fifth hole was converted to a par four which reduced the par from 71 to 70.
The fairways were re-contoured and narrowed as well as over 200-yards were added to the course.
The course now plays as a par 70 measuring 7,244 yards.
The fairways are undulating and water is in play on ten holes. The track also features nine holes that include doglegs.
The course shows its teeth when playing from outside of the fairways. TPC Southwind ranks top six in penalty from missed fairways and approach difficulty from the rough. It also features top-ten most-narrow fairways on TOUR.
This will add an emphasis on driving accuracy off the tee as golfers will look to find the fairways with such difficulties coming if they are missed. Additionally, with the greens rolling firm and fast, there will be an emphasis on scrambling this week as well.
However, accuracy isn’t the end all, as it has proven in year’s past that this course can be attacked by bombers and fairway-finders alike.
TPC Southwind also features smaller-than-average Bermuda greens that run at 12 on the stimpmeter.
The greens roll firm, fast and true and traditionally serve as some of the easiest in putting difficulty on the entire PGA TOUR.
This will allow for the field’s weaker putters to come back to field average. In the same sense, elite putters may receive an even bigger benefit as they have the opportunity to ‘explode’ on the greens this week.
As of the time of writing this, there is a large chance for precipitation this week. Right now, there is a 70-percent chance of precipitation on Thursday, 30-percent chance on Friday and 50-percent chance on Saturday. Winds are set to be at the highest on Thursday at 11 miles-per-hour before gradually decreasing to seven miles-per-hour come Sunday. Of course, the course is susceptible to higher winds at any time. Temperatures will increase from 86-degrees on Thursday to 92-degrees from Sunday. At this point, weather looks like it may be a factor this week, especially on Thursday.
Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (SG: TTG)
Greens in Regulation Percentage (GIR%)
Strokes Gained: Approach
Strokes Gained: Off the Tee (SG: OTT) / Driving Accuracy
Strokes Gained: Putting on Bermuda (SG: PUTT Bermuda)
Par Four Average Scoring
Birdie or Better Percentage
Proximity to the hole from 150-175 Yards
Sand Saves Percentage
This price range might as well be re-named the Jon Rahm ($11,100) and Scottie Scheffler price range. Rahm comes second in my model this week as he is currently first on TOUR in birdie or better percentage, third in all of SG: TTG, SG: APP, ball striking and GIR%, fourth in bogey avoidance, sixth in par four average scoring, seventh in proximity to the hole from 150-175 yards, 16th in SG: OTT, 56th in scrambling, 64th in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 89th in sand saves percentage and 101st in driving accuracy. He has four victories on the season at The American Express, the Genesis Invitational, the Sentry Tournament of Champions and The Masters. He hasn’t recorded a victory since April but placed T2nd at The Open in his last outing. He additionally went T10th at the U.S. Open. He’s returning to form at the perfect time as we enter the FedEx Cup Playoffs. His odds are too slim at +800 for me to get on board but I wouldn’t be surprised if he won this event. Also consider Scottie Scheffler ($12,100.) I know you’re spending up for Scheffler here but on a course where putting isn’t the most important stat, it’s hard to ignore him. He is currently tops on TOUR in all of SG: TTG, SG: APP, ball striking, GIR%, SG: OTT, par four average scoring and bogey avoidance. He is also third in birdie or better percentage, 14th in scrambling, 20th in proximity to the hole from 150-175 yards and 50th in driving accuracy. His downfalls come on the greens as he ranks 155th in SG: PUTT Bermuda as well as hitting from the sand where he ranks 171st in sand saves percentage. The good thing about Scheffler is that he doesn’t find himself in sand all that often. Scheffler won the WM Phoenix Open and THE PLAYERS Championship this season. He also has 13 top-five finishes on the season.
My overall favorite this week per my model is Patrick Cantlay ($9,800) and I’m not too sure how I should feel about that. Either way, the model has done me well this season so I can’t deviate away from it now. Outside of a missed cut at the Genesis Scottish Open, Cantlay has been in some great form. He placed T33rd in his last outing at The Open but prior to that he had four top-fives dating back to the Genesis Invitational. More recently he placed T4th at the Travelers Championship, T14th at the U.S. Open and T9th at the U.S. Open. His game matches up perfectly here as well, which is evident to his top placement in my model this week. He is currently second on TOUR in both par four average scoring and birdie or better percentage, fourth in both ball striking and SG: OTT, fifth in both SG: TTG and bogey avoidance, 14th in driving accuracy, 15th in GIR%, 26th in SG: APP, 36th in scrambling and 69th in SG: PUTT Bermuda. His downfall comes with a 127th placement in sand saves percentage. Like Scheffler, the saving grace for Cantlay there is that he doesn’t find himself in the sand all that often. He’s on my card at +1600 and I’ll be riding three units there. Also consider Tyrrell Hatton ($9,700.) Hatton has very quietly been one of the hottest golfers on TOUR. He placed T27th or better in nine consecutive tournaments and if you exclude the T27th at the U.S. Open, he placed top 20 in eight-of-nine tournaments. That stretch of tournaments has been highlighted by a T3rd at the Wells Fargo Championship, T3rd at the RBC Canadian Open, T5th at the AT&T Byron Nelson and T6th at the Genesis Scottish Open. He is currently seventh on TOUR in SG: TTG, eighth in par four average scoring, tenth in SG: OTT, 12th in SG: APP, 16th in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 19th in birdie or better percentage, 22nd in bogey avoidance, 23rd in scrambling, 41st in proximity to the hole from 150-175 yards, 47th in ball striking, 86th in GIR%, 91st in driving accuracy and 108th in sand saves percentage.
My first suggestion in this price range is Tony Finau ($8,700.) Finau is currently sixth on TOUR in SG: TTG, seventh in SG: APP, ninth in both ball striking and birdie or better percentage, 16th in par four average scoring, 17th in GIR%, 22nd in bogey avoidance, 31st in scrambling, 40th in sand saves percentage, 41st in SG: OTT, 48th in proximity to the hole from 150-175 yards, 69th in driving accuracy and 75th in SG: PUTT Bermuda. In other words, he’s well above average in each of the 13 statistical categories I took into consideration this week. Finau did miss back-to-back cuts at the Rocket Mortgage Classic and The Open but bounced back with a T7th at the 3M Open. He did win earlier this year at the Mexico Open at Vidanta and the Cadence Bank Houston Open. He’s on my betting card for two units at +3000. Also consider Jason Day ($8,900.) Day is currently second on TOUR in scrambling, third in both par four average scoring and bogey avoidance, 18th in birdie or better percentage, 20th in SG: TTG, 23rd in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 27th in both ball striking and SG: OTT, 28th in sand saves percentage, 52nd in SG: APP, 56th in driving accuracy, 58th in GIR% and 96th in proximity to the hole from 150-175 yards. Like Finau, Day is above average in each of the statistical categories I took into consideration this week. Additionally, like Finau, Day is finding some form as of late. He did have a stretch between the PGA Championship and U.S. Open where he missed three straight cuts but went T45th at the Travelers Championship and had a very impressive showing at The Open where he finished T2nd along Rahm. He had a win earlier this season at the AT&T Byron Nelson back in May. Day is on my betting card at +3300 for one unit.
After cashing a +11000 ticket last week on Lucas Glover ($7,400) at the Wyndham Championship, I’m going back to the well. Glover had missed the cut a week prior to his victory at the 3M Open but did put together a run of three tournaments where he went T4th at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, T6th at the John Deere Classic and fifth at the Barbasol Championship. Since his change somewhat recently to the ‘belly-putter’ he has been a totally different golfer, which has been evident with his run of form. He is currently seventh on TOUR in driving accuracy, ninth in GIR%, 12th in ball striking, 15th in proximity to the hole from 150-175 yards, 16th in SG: APP, 30th in par four average scoring, 32nd in both SG: TTG and bogey avoidance, 39th in SG: OTT, 41st in scrambling, 48th in birdie or better percentage and 56th in sand saves percentage. His downfall in our model comes with his year-long SG: PUTT Bermuda number where he ranks 157th. If we take a look recently at what he’s done on the greens he gained 4.875 strokes at the Wyndham Championship, 3.582 at the John Deere Classic and 5.414 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Also consider Tom Kim ($7,800.) Now, there is some concern that Kim won’t be 100-percent after the ankle injury he suffered at The Open but he did go on to finish T2nd at The Open along with Rahm and Day. He also placed T6th a week prior at the Genesis Scottish Open. He also placed T8th at the U.S. Open back in June. He’s been recovering since his ankle injury and I expect him to be just fine this week. Kim is currently eighth on TOUR in par four average scoring, ninth in both SG: APP and driving accuracy, tenth in ball striking, 12th in GIR%, 15th in bogey avoidance, 18th in SG: TTG, 21st in birdie or better percentage, 24th in proximity to the hole from 150-175 yards and 57th in SG: OTT. His downfalls come as he currently ranks 154th in SG: PUTT Bermuda and 167th in sand saves percentage. Kim gained 4.035 strokes on the greens at the Genesis Scottish Open recently. The way his game lines up this week and with his recent form, that’s a perfect storm. He’s on my betting card at +4500.
My first suggestion in this penultimate price range is Alex Smalley ($6,800.) Smalley is currently 18th on TOUR in GIR%, 29th in both ball striking and bogey avoidance, 30th in both SG: TTG and par four average scoring, 34th in SG: APP, 37th in proximity to the hole from 150-175 yards, 53rd in both SG: OTT and sand saves percentage, 66th in scrambling, 93rd in driving accuracy, 107th in SG: PUTT Bermuda and 110th in birdie or better percentage. Not a bad resume for someone in this price range and on the betting card at +15000. Smalley comes into this week on the backs of back-to-back missed cuts, which is helping keep his price down. Prior to those missed cuts he had a run of four events where he made the cut, highlighted by a T2nd at the John Deere Classic and T9th at the Travelers Championship. You best believe he’s on my betting card. Also consider J.J. Spaun ($6,600.) Spaun is currently eighth on TOUR in both scrambling and bogey avoidance, 21st in ball striking, 22nd in par four average scoring, 23rd in sand saves percentage, 30th in GIR%, 37th in SG: TTG, 42nd in driving accuracy, 49th in SG: OTT and 73rd in SG: APP. His downfalls come in the form of 120th in birdie or better percentage, 136th in SG: PUTT Bermuda and 137th in proximity to the hole from 150-175 yards. When we get down to this price range. Spaun has made four consecutive cuts coming into this week. He has made the cut in eight of his last ten tournaments.
Patrick Cantlay (+1600) - 3u
Tony Finau (+3000) - 2u
Jason Day (+3300) - 1u
Tom Kim (+4500) - 1u
Alex Smalley (+15000) - 1u