WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational Preview, Picks & Analysis
AM I the only one who feels a sense of anti-climax, even though we are gearing up for another WGC event this week? It’s not quite the end of July and we have had The Masters, the US PGA Championship, the US Open and The Open Championship. In their own ways they were all remarkable tournaments, with Tiger Woods’ victory at Augusta in April being one for the ages as the veteran American finally landed the 15th major title for which he had been for almost 11 years, capped off by Shane Lowry's incredible success at Royal Portrush.
But although the PGA Tour and European Tour will attempt to convince us otherwise, the season is effectively over. And this year we don’t even have a Ryder Cup to look forward to.
Try as I might, I am struggling to build up any enthusiasm for the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind.
Don’t get me wrong. Even though it comes just one week after The Open, it will boast a world-class field and the quality of golf will, no doubt, be outstanding. It does, however, seem rather odd to be staging a WGC event in Memphis, starting just days after The Open in Northern Ireland. Among those who are competing are Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Gary Woodland and Matt Kuchar. In fact, the only notable absentee is Tiger Woods.
It is quite clear that Woods is now facing a daily struggle with his battered body. He missed the cut at Royal Portrush and admitted afterwards that Father Time has finally caught up with him. He will now take a break in an effort to get himself fit for the FedEx Cup playoffs. After he won The Masters he didn’t play again until the US PGA Championship, where he comfortably missed the cut. In the run-up to the US Open his solitary competitive outing came at The Memorial, where he managed a top-10 finish. And then he didn’t play again until turning up at Royal Portrush. His victory at Augusta reignited the world of golf in a way that no other golfer is capable of doing but we may now have to accept that it was a one-off.
Koepka has produced some incredible results over the past couple of years but he simply doesn’t fire the imagination or inspire people in the way that Woods does. And I am sorry, but the same applies to Gary Woodland, the US Open champion. The only player on the planet who comes close to Woods in terms of charisma and God-given talent is McIlroy. And, thankfully, he is in the field. More of that later.
The organisers have made a big play of the fact that Phil Mickelson and Matthew Wolff are in their field. While Mickelson continues to be a big draw card, even as he prepares for life on the Champions Tour, it has to be said that his recent form has been pretty abysmal.
“I think that Memphis deserves to see the best players in the world and I'm excited that we're going to be coming here for a WGC,” Mickelson said. “I'm very appreciative to FedEx and what it's meant to the PGA Tour and what it's meant to this community that they're bringing everybody together, too, and this World Golf Championship event is just exceptional. So we on tour are very appreciative of the support FedExCup has given, and I think the community here in Memphis…I don't think anybody benefits more from what FedEx does, so we're very appreciative of them bringing both of us together.”
The 44-time PGA Tour winner has won three World Golf Championships titles, with victories at the 2009 and 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship and 2009 WGC-HSBC Champions. The 49-year-old won his latest title earlier this season at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am but has struggled ever since. “This is one of my favourite tournaments,” Mickelson said. “It's one of my favourite golf courses on tour. I love the way the community has really adopted St. Jude and the way they take such pride in that charity. Obviously supported by the tournament, but it's great the way the community has got so much pride out of supporting such a great cause. As a player, it's fun to come and play in front of that type of community, that type of support.”
In eight career starts in Memphis, his best finish is tied second in 2013 and 2016. Despite the winless record here, Mickelson’s love for Memphis has never waned, and he has frequently said how much he loves TPC Southwind as a test for the world’s best. “I really, really enjoy this golf course. I think it's the most underrated on tour,” Mickelson said.
Wolff qualified by winning the 3M Classic in sensational fashion with an eagle at the final hole to deny DeChambeau and, at the age of 20, become the ninth youngest winner in PGA Tour history and the first player under 21 to win since Jordan Spieth at the 2013 John Deere Classic. Wolff, and his eye-opening swing, will be making his first career start in Memphis.
A late bonus for the organisers is confirmation of Rory McIlroy’s participation. Devastated at missing the cut at Royal Portrush after that horrific opening round of 79, he followed it with a magnificent 65 and missed the cut by a single shot. If only he hadn’t missed that 10-inch putt. If only he hadn’t started that opening round with an eight. If only he hadn’t finished it with a seven. He admitted that he found failing to make the weekend pretty hard to take but deserves enormous credit for the way he battled back during the second round. If he had played all four rounds at Royal Portrush there is no way that he would have turned up in Memphis. So the fact that is doing so means only one thing - he is here to win the thing.
After his incredible experience at The Open, it will be fascinating to see how Shane Lowry performs. Don’t expect too much of him. There will have been some serious celebrations after his unforgettable win in The Open Championship.
Dustin Johnson. Collects these titles for fun
Rory McIlroy. Will be there or thereabouts
Jon Rahm. This course should be made for the big Spaniard
Dustin Johnson. Light the blue touch paper and retire to a safe distance
Rory McIlroy. Playing for pride
Jon Rahm. In great form
Brooks Koepka. Simply the best right now
Matt Kuchar. Another week, another top 10
Bryson DeChambeau. Hard to ignore
Justin Thomas. Getting back to his best
Patrick Cantlay. Underrated
Xander Schauffele. Class act
Gary Woodland. Full of confidence now he is a major champion
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