New name, familiar venue: WGC-FedEx St. Jude Preview

July 24, 2019
Justin Ray

On his road to chasing the immortal records of Jack Nicklaus (18 professional majors) and Sam Snead (82 PGA Tour wins), Tiger Woods has set some untouchable benchmarks of his own.

Tiger’s record of 142 consecutive PGA Tour cuts made is nearly 100 events longer than any other player in the last 40 years. He has won seven different PGA Tour events five or more times – more instances on his own than the rest of the sport combined during his era.

And then there’s the WGCs – it is likely impossible for anyone to catch Tiger Woods’ record for World Golf Championship victories, with 18.

Consider this: Dustin Johnson, who is second in WGCs won all-time with six, could win every World Golf Championship event contested through the 2022 WGC-Mexico Championship (assuming it is still called that then) and still be one behind tying Tiger’s mark.

But over the last few seasons, as Woods has battled to stay on the golf course, it’s DJ who has become the king of these four-times-annual events.

DJ is 120 strokes under par in WGC stroke play events since the beginning of 2014 – 24 shots better than any other player in that span. His 4.58 birdies/eagles per round and 37 rounds in the 60s are also both best by any player during that stretch. In his last 15 WGC stroke play events, Johnson has five wins and nine top-five finishes.Couple that with the fact that Johnson has won twice on this course, including last year, and it’s easy to pencil him in as the betting favorite despite finishing tied for 51st at The Open.

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NEW NAME, FAMILIAR COURSE

– No longer held at Firestone Country Club, the WGC Invitational (formerly sponsored by Bridgestone, now FedEx) shifts from Ohio to Memphis, Tennessee. TPC Southwind, the event’s new home, has hosted PGA Tour events since 1989, lending some familiarity to this week’s proceedings.

Southwind has been among the toughest courses on the PGA Tour this decade in terms of greens in regulation. 2019 marked the ninth consecutive year that this Ron Prichard layout has ranked in the top-ten in GIR difficulty on the Tour.

Since 2010, the players with the best scoring averages at TPC Southwind have been Johnson (67.8), Daniel Berger (67.8) and Phil Mickelson (68.0). Mickelson has the best score to par here since 2014, at 37-under.

NOTES ON PLAYERS HEADLINING THE FIELD

wgcRory McIlroy will try to rebound from an emotional, disappointing missed cut at The Open this week in Tennessee. Recent history says McIlroy has a short memory when it comes to missing the weekend – in three of his previous four missed cuts, he immediately followed it up with either a victory (2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational, 2019 RBC Canadian Open) or a runner-up finish (2018 BMW PGA Championship). This is the first time Rory has played TPC Southwind since 2012.

McIlroy is a two-time World Golf Championships winner, taking this event in 2014 and the match play the following year. Since 2010, Rory has the best scoring average in WGC events at 69.43 (minimum thirty rounds played).

Brooks Koepka admitted he doesn’t practice much for non-major tournaments in the press center last week at Royal Portrush. Over his last eleven official starts, that strategy seems apparent in his performance. In the four major championships in that stretch, Brooks has four top-five finishes and a scoring average of 68.8. In the seven non-majors during that run, he has just one top-five and a scoring average of 69.7.

– Speaking of Koepka, with the major season in the rearview mirror, it’s worth updating a statistic we’ve proliferated throughout the season. Since the beginning of 2017, Brooks is a combined 70-under-par in major championships, 36 shots better than any other player in that span (Rickie Fowler is second, at -34). Only Fowler and Jordan Spieth are within fifty strokes of Koepka in the majors during that stretch.

wgc_1– The men to finish second and third at The Open last week, Tommy Fleetwood and Tony Finau, sit on top of a list they would like to remove themselves from post haste. Over the last three seasons, the two Ryder Cuppers have the most top-ten finishes on the PGA Tour without a victory: Finau with 23, and Fleetwood with 14.

Fleetwood has assembled another surprising statistic in 2019 on the U.S. tour, this one in regarding scoring average by round. Tommy is fifth on the PGA Tour this season in first round scoring average and third in second round scoring. The weekend is a different story, however, where he ranks 138th in round three, and 191st on Sundays.

– Champion Golfer of the Year Shane Lowry, who may still be still be deservedly celebrating his life-altering Open victory, withdrew on Tuesday and will not tee it up this week. One for the next time he plays: who was the last player to finish in the top-five in his start immediately following a win at The Open? That would be McIlroy – who backed it up with wins at Firestone and the PGA Championship at Valhalla.

J.B. Holmes, always a lightning rod for debate over slow play, shot a final round score of 87 at Royal Portrush. Holmes, who is in the field this week in Memphis, began Sunday in third place before disaster struck. J.B. became the first player in 114 years to begin the final round of The Open in the top-five and shoot 87 or worse. In 1905, Tom Williamson began the day tied for fifth, but shot 87 to drop into a tie for 13th. Holmes finished T-67 last week.

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