This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
WGC-FEDEX ST. JUDE INVITATIONAL
Winner's Share: $1.845M
FedEx Cup Points: 550 to the Winner
Location: Memphis, Tenn.
Course: TPC Southwind
2018 champion: Justin Thomas (WGC-Bridgestone)
Well, this is weird.
What we have here is a tournament switching locations to a course where there used to be a different tournament. The World Golf Championship event that for years was sponsored by Bridgestone and played at Firestone Country Club in Ohio has moved to Tennessee, and is now sponsored by FedEx. Memphis-based FedEx, in connection with the nearby St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, was the title sponsor of the long-time regular Tour event there. Got it? Well, if you think you do, answer this: Who is the defending champion? Is it Justin Thomas, who won the WGC-Bridgestone last year? Or is it Dustin Johnson, who won last year's FedEx St. Jude Classic? Well, in the Tour's eyes, it's Thomas. This is simply an extension of the WGC. But for our purposes, Johnson's Memphis success – he was a two-time winner – is far more relevant.
Since the tournament will be played at TPC Southwind, we'll be looking at past Memphis tournaments when formulating our picks, not past events at Firestone. The thing is, we must take into account that past Memphis events were laden with weak fields the week before the U.S. Open. Further, Thomas' victory cannot be dismissed, as there's a lot to be said about winning tournaments with the strongest fields. This week, most of the top golfers in the world will be on hand, though Tiger Woods is not among them. Forty-six of the top 50 in the world jetted in from the Open Championship to make up the bulk of this no-cut field of 64. Besides Woods, Rickie Fowler and Francesco Molinari are taking a pass, perhaps in large part because the three-event playoffs are now just two weeks away. No. 41 Bernd Wiesberger is also absent, as is Lee Westwood, coming off a tie for fourth at Royal Portrush. Last year in Memphis, only seven of the top 50 in the OWGR were on hand. Johnson is the only former Memphis champion in this field, having won last year and in 2012. Phil Mickelson is a two-time runner-up, in 2013 and 16, when he shared second place with Brooks Koepka. Henrik Stenson and Tony Finau were also in the field last year, part of a group of 40 golfers who have played Southwind at least once.
The PGA Tour has been coming to Memphis since 1958. The tournament was long associated with entertainer Danny Thomas and it was played at Southwind beginning in 1989. The course is long for a par-70. There are only two par-5s. It features eight par-4s of more than 450 yards and the greens average a smallish 5,400 square feet. That makes finding the putting surface a real challenge, something we'll be focusing on in the key stats and Champion's Profile below. The most noteworthy characteristic of Southwind, though, is water. It's on more than half the holes and there have been far more water balls at this track over the past 15 years than at any other on the PGA Tour, including TPC Sawgrass. Nowhere is there more danger than No. 18, a 453-yard dog leg with water almost the entire way.
Southwind was the 11th hardest course on the PGA Tour last year, and historically falls between 10th and 15th. With such a weak field every year – maybe 40 or 50 guys wouldn't have been in a top-flight event – it's reasonable to wonder whether the course is that hard, or the golfers collectively just weren't all that good. We should get an answer this time around, though the track surely has been further toughened for this elite field.
Weather-wise, if you thought Memphis was hot in June when the Tour used to stop there, wait until you see it now. Temperatures will be in the mid- to upper-80s all week, with high humidity, not much wind and no rain in the forecast. The golfers coming over from Northern Ireland won't know what hit them.
Fun facts: The first 59 in PGA Tour history was shot in Memphis. Al Geiberger did it at par-72 Cordova Country Club in the second round of the 1977 tournament then known as the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic. Geiberger won the tourney, three strokes ahead of former Memphis winner Gary Player. Also in 1977, get this: Former president Gerald Ford ... wait for it ... made a hole-in-one during the pro-am. You thought we were gonna say he plunked somebody in the head, didn't you?
Key Stats to Winning at TPC Southwind (in order of importance)
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Strokes gained: tee to green
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Scrambling/strokes gained: around the green
• Par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards
Past Champions (St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind)
Past Champions (WGC-Bridgestone at Firestone CC)
The winning score every year from 2010 to 2017 at Southwind fell between 9-under and 13-under-par. Last year, Dustin Johnson won at 19-under, but he was six shots clear of runner-up Andrew Putnam. So if we view Johnson's winning total as an outlier (he was at 9-under when he won in 2012), that's a pretty consistent track record. There aren't that many birdies, and the course plays hard. Year after year after year, we see that strokes gained: tee to green correlates to success here. It's really tough to get on the green, which heightens scrambling when determining lineup construction (remember that strokes gained: tee to green includes every SG category but putting). We don't need any big-time risk-takers this week, what with all the water around. Driving accuracy has long proven to be unimportant, as no winner at Southwind this decade has finished top-10 in the field in fairways hit, and most haven't even been in the top-30. All but one – Ben Crane in 2014 – were top-10 in greens in regulation.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Dustin Johnson - $11,400 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 10-1)
Johnson is a two-time winner here, both last year and in 2012 (he even won the old Bridgestone back in 2016). He's seen this course more than most of the other top guys. He does well here and here's why: He is ranked fifth on Tour in strokes gained: tee to green and is No. 1 in par-4 450-500 yards. Johnson wasn't in contention last week at Royal Portrush, and we think a lot of those guys will have a hard time recharging to play on Thursday. Besides, Johnson is probably the best on Tour at leaving the past in the past, and quickly.
Justin Thomas - $10,700 (16-1)
Thomas has to be sky-high after two great weeks in Europe, his best ever on the links (T9 followed by T11). Of course, playing in Scotland and Ireland won't prepare him for Southwind, but at least we see his wrist injury is a thing of the past. Thomas has not played this course before, but his game well suits it: ranked second on Tour in strokes gained: tee to green.
Patrick Cantlay - $9,800 (20-1)
Cantlay has cooled off a bit since his win at the Memorial, and understandably so. But that win, plus his tie for third right before that at the PGA, bode well for this week. Cantlay hasn't played Southwind before, but this track seems perfect for his game. He's ranked fourth on Tour in strokes gained: tee to green and is fifth in par 4 450-500.
Tier 2 Values
Matt Kuchar - $9,000 (30-1)
Last week's tie for 41st at the Open was one of the few blips on the radar during Kuchar's season. He used the play Southwind regularly, every year from 2002-06, but hasn't been back since. For what it's worth, he tied for fifth back in 2002. Kuchar ranks 13th on Tour in strokes gained: tee to green, is fifth in greens in regulation and eighth in par-4 450-500.
Adam Scott - $8,700 (30-1)
Like a lot of gamers, we were stunned by Scott's emphatic trunk-slam at Royal Portrush. He had been playing so well, with top-10s in two of the three majors and a top-20 in the the third. We don't see any reason he can't rebound, and quickly. Scott has played Southwind once before, tying for 12th two years ago. He's ranked sixth on Tour in strokes gained: tee to green and is 18th in par-4 450-500. And even though it didn't look like it last week, he's still 22nd in strokes gained: putting.
Webb Simpson - $8,200 (40-1)
We think Simpson can do well this week, and we certainly like him at a price bordering on Tier 3. This will be his first visit to Southwind since 2015. He missed the cut then, but tied for third the year before. Simpson has an elite short game, and he's also ranked 18th in strokes gained: tee to green. For a very short hitter off the tee, Simpson over-achieves with a ranked of 50th in par-4 450-500.
Tier 3 Values
Patrick Reed - $8,000 (40-1)
Reed plays a lot and, a lot like Dustin Johnson, seems to be able to quickly compartmentalize the previous week. Reed finished 10th at the Open, continuing his strongest stretch of the season. He hasn't played Southwind since the nascency of his career, when he missed the cut three times in four visits ending in 2014, though that fourth time was a tie for fifth. Reed's tee-to-green game is not the best, but he makes up for it with elite scrambling.
Rafa Cabrera Bello - $7,900 (50-1)
The Spaniard's run of three straight top-10s came crashing to an end with a missed cut at Royal Portrush. It was his best stretch of a so-so season for Cabrera Bello. He's played Southwind once before, tying for fourth two years ago. He also tied for 17th last year at the Bridgestone – and we mention that because sometimes it's hard to get up the week after a major, especially for a Euro the week after the Open. Cabrera Bello is ranked 23rd on the PGA Tour in par 4 450-500.
Phil Mickelson - $7,300 (100-1)
This, of course, is a complete crap shoot. We have no idea why Mickelson does well here year after year after year. He's so prone to wayward shots that we instinctively duck while typing this. But he's finished 12-9-2-3-11-2 the past six years at Southwind. Two years ago, he played the tournament even though he was skipping the U.S. Open for his daughter's graduation. It wasn't a tune-up. He just really likes the course. Mickelson hasn't had a price this low on DraftKings since the Nixon administration (and, yes, we know there was no DraftKings back then).
Keegan Bradley - $7,000 (100-1)
Bradley has a history of excellent showings at WGCs. Most of them came a number of years ago, but he did tie for 10th at the WGC-Mexico in February. If Bradley could only putt a little bit this week, he could thrive. That's because he's ranked 25th in strokes gained: tee to green and third in par 4 450-500.
Corey Conners - $6,300 (250-1)
Conners borders on elite when it comes to tee to green. He is ranked 10th on Tour in strokes gained: tee to green. But his putting is so horrid - ranked almost 200th in SG putting – that he's been having trouble making cuts since his breakthrough win at the Valero Texas Open in April. Of course, he won't have to worry about a cut this week. And we suspect that on a course where birdies may be hard to come by, Conners putting woes will be minimized.
Aaron Rai - $6,100 (500-1)
We've already made the cut. Now we're looking for a low-priced option who has the potential to climb the leaderboard, maybe get a top-25 or better, so we can load up on higher-priced guys. Rai is a 24-year-old Englishman who qualified by winning the Hong Kong Open last fall, a field that featured some top European players (Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Rafa Cabrera Bello). Then he tied for 51st at the WGC-Mexico, so Rai should be over the star-struck phase. He's ranked eighth in greens in regulation on the European Tour.