- 2018: Dustin Johnson (-19)
- 2017: Daniel Berger (-10)
- 2016: Daniel Berger (-13)
- 2015: Fabian Gomez (-13)
- 2014: Ben Crane (-10)
- 2013: Harris English (-12)
Normally it’s a good idea to take a look at past leaderboards, see what types of golfers comprised it and what did they do well in that year. But because past St. Jude Classic fields are so weak compared to the one on tap this weekend for the WGC – FedEx St. Jude Classic, there really isn’t a whole lot of insight to gain from it.
Rather, the best way to look at it from a betting perspective is by evaluating the actual in-tournament statistics of the former St. Jude Classic overall and then applying that to the layout of the golf course. That will best be able to break down the tournament from a macro level to a micro level, which is quite helpful with such a strong field that we have at TPC Southwind.
Thanks to the good folks of DataGolf, they provide a breakdown of where scoring has come from at the golf course:
Strokes Gained Breakdown – TPC Southwind
Overall, performance off the tee and with the irons are a much stronger contributor to scoring at TPC Southwind in comparison to the PGA Tour average. Offsetting this is a decreased importance in the short game and putting. This makes sense with the way the golf course is laid out. TPC Southwind is a point and shoot golf course, meaning it is very apparent to the golfer where exactly to hit it onto the fairway to primarily avoid trouble (i.e. avoiding water hazards or fairway bunkers), and the longer they can hit it off the tee the better. From there they can pick a small target on the green to hit to for a good look at birdie. It’s a test power and execution at TPC Southwind, not of touch or creativity.
Next, one must look at the golf course and identify what distances the players will have into the greens. That will reveal which proximity to the hole or relative-to-par scoring distances on approach shots to emphasize more.
Here’s a table of the approach distances most golfers will have into the green, assuming they have a good look at it with their second:
Because the golf course is a Par 70, players will have to be more on point on the Par 4’s this week. On these holes, the players will most be tested with their mid irons (or wedges for the longer hitters), as most approach shot distances will be between 150-200 yards in. While some holes will see everyone holding a wedge to hit into the green, overall the players who wish to be in contention this weekend must be sharp with their mid irons at TPC Southwind.
Lastly, there is a lot of talk about how many balls are hit into the water at the golf course. This stat is a little overrated for a few reasons. For one, the field this week is comprised of significantly better and more consistent ball strikers than those seen at the typical St. Jude Classic. The old tournament struggled to fill out all 156 spots, and the vast majority of players who competed in the event were very mediocre to poor professionals. It’s no surprise then that many of these players would hit poor shots into water hazards at a higher frequency. I don’t expect the more elite players in this year’s WGC to be bothered all that much by them.
Next, most of the water hazards come into play when a player has an iron in hand. They’re primarily used as a defense against the greens at TPC Southwind. Players must avoid the water on their approach shots on Hole No’s. 3, 9, 12, 15, 18, and on three of the four Par 3’s. The only time water comes into play off the tee (other than on the Par 3’s) are on Hole No’s. 12 and 18. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot of trouble a player can get into off the tee at TPC Southwind.
Using this information, long and straight drivers off the tee and players with elite accuracy on 150-200 yard approach shots are the players I’m looking to identify to place a futures bet on or to play in a matchup prop. Conversely, it will be golfers who struggle in these area that I’ll look to fade.
Here’s who I like this week (with odds courtesy of mybookie.ag)
Jon Rahm – 12/1: A pair of double bogeys early in the 2nd and 4th rounds seemed to be Jon Rahm’s undoing at the Open Championship. But other than these two hiccups, Jon Rahm overall had a very good performance at the Open Championship and for the most part kept his head in a positive place. He especially fought back well on Sunday in brutal conditions, and after starting his first five holes at +4 he played level par the rest of his round. That was quite impressive considering how difficult the Back Nine played all week and the weather ejected almost everyone late afternoon on Sunday. For the most part, Rahm kept his composure and finished out the tournament well.
Rahm has torn apart many golf courses that elevated long and straight hitters off the tee, and Rahm has struck his irons beautifully for the past month. This trend continued at the Open Championship where he finished 13th in the field in greens in regulation. While he fell short of my expectations at Royal Portrush, I still remain high on him and expect him to play well enough at TPC Southwind to put himself in contention for the win.
Justin Thomas – 14/1: Everything has finally all come together for Justin Thomas. Following the arm injury that ruined the middle part of his 2019 season, his elite ball striking had returned but his putter had mysteriously gone ice cold. That all changed at Royal Portrush, however, where he finished 8th in the field in putts/round to rally from a slow start on Thursday to a T11 finish.
Whereas some golf media members are starting to wonder why Justin Thomas has struggled to regain the dominant form he showed in 2017, I’m starting to get optimistic that wins are just around the corner. Now that it seems like his putting woes are behind him, he can pair that with the elite ball striking he’s currently showing, and there are very few golfers in the world who hit it as good as he is when he’s on. I like Thomas to carry the positive momentum he had to close the Open Championship over to Memphis this week.
Patrick Cantlay – 22/1: Patrick Cantlay’s chances to claim his first major championship were derailed by very poor putting. While he finished the week tied for 11th in greens in regulation %, he was 72nd in the field in putts/round (which was tied for dead last). That was an unusually poor performance on the greens for him, as up until last week the flat stick had worked well for him.
A return to bermuda greens that runs faster on the stimpmeter should be what the doctor ordered. Additionally, the ball striking for Cantlay remains strong, especially with his irons. While he can sometimes get a little loose off the tee with his driver, other than Holes 12 and 18 there aren’t many penal areas for him to hit his drives into at TPC Southwind. I remain bullish on Cantlay and like his odds to score another big time victory.
Others To Consider:
They were discussed already in the DFS column, but I like Bryson DeChambeau (30/1), Tony Finau (33/1), Patrick Reed (40/1) and Marc Leishman (66/1) as longer shots to win the tournament. Not only do I like them to be one of the bedrocks of a good DFS lineup, they’ve each individually shown signs in either recent form or golf course fit that gives them a great shot to take down the victory.
Props and Matchups
Rory McIlroy Top 10 – EVEN: I was nervous that Rory would get off to a slow start due to all the attention he received from the media and his fellow Irishmen in the days leading up to the Open Championship. That proved to be correct, as he pumped his opening tee shot out of bounds on the way to a devastating quadruple bogey. Though he was able to find his sea legs, he closed his first round with a double bogey and triple bogey on two of his last three holes, finishing the day with a disappointing 79.
But he didn’t quit, as he came back the next day and shot a 65 to just miss the cut by one. He deserves all the praise in the world to put the bad round behind him and go out and put on a show for the gallery. After the round he was emotional and disappointed that he didn’t make the weekend, but he went out with his head held high.
Throughout his career, Rory has bounced back very nicely following a poor tournament. Since 2011, Rory has missed the cut in 27 worldwide events, and bounced back to finish inside of the Top 10 in 13 of those with 3 wins.
If I wasn’t bound to consider odds, Rory would be my pick to win this week. TPC Southwind sets up so well for him, as he can pound away with the driver all day long and his ball striking with his irons is as good as ever. But because I’m not too keen on his 10/1 odds against one of the strongest fields in golf, putting down a Top 10 prop on him and then hoping to get lucky on another futures pick on someone else is probably the way to go.
If you aren’t as sensitive to his 10/1 pricetag, by all means bet that along with a few futures bets I recommended above.
This isn’t the only spot where I like Rory though…
Rory McIlroy +1.5 (-140) over Dustin Johnson: I get why Dustin Johnson is the favorite over Rory in this matchup. DJ has won twice at TPC Southwind and is the defending champion of this event. He’s the horse for the course this week and the one to beat.
Ever since the PGA Championship, however, DJ just hasn’t been very sharp. The problems primarily are with his putting, which is completely lost at the moment. But he also has secretly struggled with his iron play, particularly with his wedges. His greens in regulation rates have fallen as has his strokes gained-approach stats over the last few tournaments.
Could it be because of his on again/off again relationship with his swing coach Claude Harmon III – perhaps. Reportedly they’re back together at the moment and maybe that’s the secret elixir to turn things around. But based on how each are performing at the moment, I love that Rory is getting more than a stroke on Dustin Johnson in a matchup this week.
Tommy Fleetwood +1.5 (-125) 0ver Justin Rose: Am I concerned about a bit of a letdown week for Fleetwood – you bet. But I think Tommy will take solace in that there was no way he was beating Shane Lowry on Sunday. Lowry outplayed everyone in the field, and there was very little Fleetwood could have done differently given his opponent and the weather conditions.
As long as this isn’t an issue, Fleetwood seems to have found the elite ball striking that had mysteriously disappeared from him during 2019. On the week, Fleetwood was 16th in Driving Accuracy and 13th in Greens in Regulation. That marked the second consecutive tournament where he showed high ball striking stats after a bit of a dormant period. His form seems to be on the upswing.
Meanwhile, Justin Rose has struggled with his ball striking ever since signing a deal with Honma and tossing aside his trusty TaylorMade clubs. The struggles continued again last week at the Open Championship, where an 8th place performance in putts/round masked some very below average ball striking numbers on the week. This isn’t the first time his putter has swooped in to save the day, and it has become a very concerning trend with Justin Rose during 2019.
Guys who struggle with their ball striking will conversely struggle at TPC Southwind. Considering Fleetwood is getting over a stroke handicap on Rose, I like that end of this matchup.