Event and Course Preview: FedEx St. Jude Championship

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Event and Course Preview: FedEx St. Jude Championship

The FedEx Playoffs begin this week, with most of the top players on the PGA Tour teeing it up in Memphis, Tennessee. The FedEx St. Jude Invitational was played as a no-cut WGC Invitational for the last three years with a field just over 60. This year, the Tour replaced the Northern Trust with this event as the first step in the annual FedEx Playoffs. Abraham Ancer was victorious in Memphis last year, edging out Hideki Matsuyama and Sam Burns in a 3-man playoff.

Course Preview

The St. Jude Invitational takes place at TPC Southwind, a par 70 course that measures a shade over 7200 yards. There are eleven different water hazards throughout the course, including an island green on the eleventh hole that is similar to the one at TPC Sawgrass. Since 2003, more golf balls have been hit into the water on this course than any other course on Tour. The fairways at TPC Southwind are made of zoysia grass, similar to TPC Craig Ranch and East Lake GC. There are 75 sand bunkers and the bermuda rough grass will measure 2.5 inches long. The greens are made of bermuda grass and measure an average of 4,300 sq. feet. This puts TPC Southwind inside the top 5 of smallest greens on Tour. There are eleven doglegs on this course, so hitting the fairway and setting up the proper angle on these holes is crucial. Expect the winning score to be in the -15 to -20 range, with the cut likely to be a few strokes over par.

Quick Points
  • Course Architect: Ron Prichard, Hubert Green, and Fuzzy Zoeller (1988)

  • Par: 70 (Four Par 3s, Twelve Par 4s, Two Par 5s)

  • Distance: 7,233 Yards

  • Greens Surface: Bermuda

  • Average Green Size: 4,300 - Well Below PGA Tour Average

  • Number of Holes With Water Hazards: 11

  • Sand Bunkers: 75

  • Rough Length: 2.5 Inch Bermuda

  • Historic Cutline: +1 to +3 from 2009 to 2018. No-cut event since 2019.

Pivotal Holes

The fifth hole is the most difficult at TPC Southwind as it produces bogies at a 27% rate. The hole is a slight dogleg right that comes early in the tee shot and is protected by a large tree to the right side of the fairway. Six bunkers defend this difficult hole that plays .24 strokes above par.

Who doesn’t love an island green? The eleventh hole is a par 3 that mimics the sixteenth hole at TPC Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship. The 162-yard hole features a green that is surrounded by water on all sides and three pot bunkers on the frontside of the putting surface. Because of the water hazard, the eleventh hole sees double bogies over 6% of the time. Si Woo Kim scored a 13 on this hole last year, which became the highest recorded score on a par 3 in a non-major event. The eleventh will be a fun hole to watch all week long.

The fourteenth hole is the longest par 3 on the course and one of the more difficult par 3s on Tour. The long tee shot must carry over water into an undulating green. The 239 yard hole see bogeys at a 18% rate and double bogies at 5.5%.

The eighteenth hole is one of the more difficult holes on the course and can provide some drama on the final day. The dogleg left hole requires a daunting tee shot. Golfers must avoid sand bunkers and trees on the right side of the fairway and a large water hazard to the left. Longer hitters will have an advantage if they can cut the corner of the dogleg and outdrive the water.

Watch the Early-Tee-Time Livestream Monday at 6 PM ET for a hole-by-hole breakdown and a more in-depth look at this week’s course.

Key Stats

Normal

  • Fairways Gained / Good Drives Gained

  • SG: Approach

  • SG: Ball Striking on Par 70 Courses

  • Bogey Avoidance

  • SG: Putting on Bermuda

The rough grass at TPC Southwind is made up of bermuda grass, which is very difficult to chip out of. Golfers chances of hitting the green are nearly cut in half when they miss the fairway at TPC Southwind due to the nasty bermuda rough. I will also look at Fairways Gained this week, but here are the top five golfers in Good Drives Gained over the last 24 rounds.

Top 5 Players in Good Drives Gained
Tony Finau
Mito Pereira
Chez Reavie
Brendan Steele
Doug Ghim
DFS Values: Brendon Todd (7th), Hayden Buckley (9th), Taylor Pendrith (10th).

Last year, 13 of the top 15 finishers at the St Jude Invitational ranked inside the top 15 of SG: Approach. The last five winners of this event have gained an average of six strokes with their irons. As far as proximity ranges go, I would look at Proximity from 125-200 yards, as TPC Southwind sees approach shots in that range more than the average PGA Tour course.

Top 5 Players in SG: Approach
Russell Henley
Tony Finau
Xander Schauffele
Rory McIlroy
Sam Burns and Brendan Steele
DFS Values: Harold Varner III (9th), Mito Pereira (10th), Scott Stallings (10th).

I’ll emphasize it a bit more when looking at the last five winners, but TPC Southwind gives a large advantage to great ball-strikers. Here are the top five players in SG: Ball-Striking over the last 24 rounds on Par 70 Courses.

Top 5 Players in SG: Ball Striking on Par 70 Courses
Rory Mcilroy
Luke List
Davis RIley
Brendan Steele
Webb Simpson
DFS Values: Keegan Bradley (6th), Russell Henley (8th), Corey Conners (10th).

While the winning score will likely reach the -15 to -20 range, there will be bogeys galore at TPC Southwind due to all of the water hazards. Golfers who make the least amount of mistakes will climb their way up the leaderboard.

Top 5 Players in Bogey Avoidance
Rory McIlroy
Tony Finau
Patrick Cantlay
Xander Schauffele
Adam Svensson
DFS Values: Mito Pereira (7th), Cam Davis (10th), JT Poston (13th).

While great ball-striking has been the clear path to victory at TPC Southwind, there were a collection of golfers who finished inside the top 10 last year due to hot putting on these bermuda greens. Here are a few golfers who raise their baseline when putting on bermuda greens.

Top 5 Players in SG: Putting on Bermuda
Lucas Herbert
Sam Burns
Tyrell Hatton
Cameron Smith
Tyrrell Hatton
DFS Values: Matt Kuchar (6th), Alex Noren (7th), Brendon Todd (8th).

Check out Pat James’ Stat Model article for a more in-depth breakdown of the main stats to look at this week.

Tournament History

Last year, Abraham Ancer won his first PGA Tour event in an incredible three-man playoff. Ancer sunk a birdie putt on the second playoff hole to edge out runner-ups Hideki Matsuyama and Sam Burns. Harris English was on top of the leaderboard after all three rounds, however a horrific ball-striking performance on Sunday led to a round of 73 (+3) and a fourth place finish. Bryson DeChambeau and Cameron Smith were tied for second heading into Sunday, however mistakes on the back nine caused both golfers to fall down the leaderboard as well. Tree trouble on the eighteenth pushed Smith out of the playoff after scoring a double bogey.

Last Year’s Chalk

The 2021 St Jude Invitational only had 66 players in the field, so ownership was a bit inflated compared to usual. The top 5 highest owned golfers from last year include:

  1. Daniel Berger - 27% (T5, -14)
  2. Harris English - 24% (4th, -15)
  3. Brooks Koepka - 23% (T54, +2)
  4. Louis Oostuizen - 22% (T17, -7)
  5. Jordan Spieth - 20% (T12, -10)
The last five winners of this tournament include:
  • 2021 - Abraham Ancer (-16) - WGC Event

  • 2020 - Justin Thomas (-13) WGC Event

  • 2019 - Brooks Koepka (-16) WGC Event

  • 2018 - Dustin Johnson (-19) St. Jude Classic

  • 2017 - Daniel Berger (-10) St. Jude Classic

Here is how each player fared from a Strokes Gained perspective:

SG: OTTSG: APPSG: ARGSG: PuttingSG: T2G
Ancer (‘21)1.44.42.93.68.8
Thomas (‘20)2.37.73.1-1.912.9
Koepka (‘19)3.73.2-2.39.34.8
Johnson (‘18)5.09.82.13.917.1
Berger (‘17)4.64.92.70.412.3
Average3.46.01.73.111.2

When looking at the stats over the last five years, it’s clear that TPC Southwind gives an advantage to great ball-strikers. On average, the last five winners have gained nearly ten strokes ball-striking. The last five winners have gained six shots on average in SG: Approach, highlighted by Dustin Johson’s astonishing 9.8 strokes gained in 2018. Justin Thomas lost strokes putting in 2020, and Brooks Koepka was negative around the greens in 2019. However both players were phenomenal with their driver and irons all week long. Great putters on bermudagrass such as Harris English and Cameron Smith were near the top of the leaderboard last year, but Ancer was victorious due to ranking 4th in SG: T2G in addition to having a solid week on the greens.

The Field

The field for the first round of the FedEx playoffs is set at 122, with three golfers in the Top 125 of the FedEx standings not teeing it up this week. Daniel Berger and Lanto Griffin are both deal with back injuries, and Tommy Fleetwood is taking some time off due to the recent death of his mother. Many of the top golfers in the OWGR will be in the next three events, so soak up these star-studded tournaments before many of the golfers take some time off during the Fall Swing. Recent winners Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Cameron Smith, and Tom Kim will look to extend their momentum into the opening round of the playoffs. Other notables in the field include Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas, and Jon Rahm. Keep an eye out for Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, and Matt Jones, who currently have a hearing set for Tuesday afternoon to appeal their suspension from the Tour playoffs.

Southwind Course History

While TPC Southwind ranks right in the middle in terms of courses where course history has been the most predictive, there are still a few golfers that have had strong results on this course. Since the event was played as a no-cut event over the last three years, I did not include “Made-cut” stats this week.

Justin Thomas

Thomas won this event in 2020 at thirteen under par. He gained 7.7 strokes on Approach to rank second in the stat and has gained over 5 strokes on Approach in all three starts here. Thomas finished T12 and T26 in his other two starts at TPC Southwind. We haven’t seen JT since his T53 finish at the Open Championship and he had a WD before the Travelers Championship after tweaking his back. I will be cautious with Thomas this week. Best Finishes: Winner in 2020, T12, T26.

Matthew Fitzpatrick

Before his T56 finish last year, Matthew Fitzpatrick had back to back top 6 finishes in his first two starts at TPC Southwind. His success on this course can be attributed to hot putting, which he lacked last year at St. Jude. Fitzpatrick has five top-10 finishes in his last seven starts, highlighted by his win at the U.S. Open in June.

Best Finishes: T4, T6.

Chez Reavie

Reavie’s success at TPC Southwind can be credited to his ability to hit fairways consistently. He has gained strokes OTT in all seven starts here and has been one of the best fairway finders. In 2020, Reavie ranked 3rd in SG: Approach on his way to finishing in a tie for 6th. Just a few weeks off his win at the Barracuda, Reavie is primed to have success once again at TPC Southwind. Best Finishes: T4, T6, T6.

Other Course History Options to Consider
  • Billy Horschel - Best Finishes: T4, T6, T8, T9, T10

  • Aaron Rai - Best Finishes: T12, T26

  • Trey Mullinax - Best Finishes: T8, T18.

Essential Questions

Can you fade Tony Finau this week?

This will be a question I’ll be debating all week long. Winner of back-to-back events, Tony Finau enters this event at $9.7K on DraftKings after taking a week off. He ranks near the top of a lot of the main stats I mentioned above and will likely be at the top of many models this week. He’s incredibly hot right now and his game is a great fit for TPC Southwind. This field is stacked, so his ownership shouldn’t be insanely high due to the other high-quality options around him. Finau is one of the safest cash plays this week at a great salary for the current form he’s in.

Early Betting and DFS Picks

Will Zalatoris

Zalatoris is likely to be a popular pick this week, but it is more than justifiable. Over the last 24 rounds, Zalatoris ranks 4th in SG: Ball Striking, 8th in SG: T2G, and 2nd in GIR’s gained. TPC is more than a great course fit for Zalatoris from a statistical perspective, which was evident in his T8 finish here last year. He gained strokes in all four major stat categories, including an impressive performance putting the ball. I haven't played Zalatoris since the Open Championship, however I’m ready to jump back on him in a stacked field, where he just seems to play his best golf.

Sam Burns

Burns looks great from a statistical perspective this week and finished T2 last year, losing out to Ancer in the playoff. He’s a great putter on bermuda greens, ranking 2nd in SG: Putting on Bermuda. He ranks 5th in SG: Approach, 16th in SG: T2G, and 23rd in SG: Ball Striking over the last 24 rounds. He won the Sanderson Farms last year in the fall, which features another course with bermuda greens. Burns seems like a great play in DFS as long as the ownership is reasonable.

Taylor Moore

There are a lot of great options at the top of the board this week. Patrick Cantlay, Cameron Smith, Rory McIlroy, and Cameron Young are some of my favorites early in the week. You’re going to have to find some options near the bottom of the DraftKings salary list this week to round out your stars and scrubs builds. Taylor Moore will be definitely be in my player pool this week as he is coming off of back to back top-6 finishes at the Rocket Mortgage and the Wyndham Championship. He gained strokes in all four major stat categories in both events and is priced below $7K this week. Moore will be in quite a few of my lineups this week.

Early Tee Time Livestream - Monday @ 6 ET

Well, that does it for this week’s Event and Course Preview. For a more in-depth breakdown of the course, the field, DFS strategy, and my favorite picks this week be sure to check out the Early Tee Time livestream this Monday at 6 PM Eastern. Good luck everyone!

*All stats used are from FantasyNational and DataGolf

Hunter Vanness started his golf content by posting a player pool each week on Twitter, which eventually turned into a DFS cheatsheet, in addition to a weekly event preview. He is fascinated by the game theory part of PGA DFS and is continuing to dive into the data side of the game.

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