WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational Preview, Picks & Analysis
JUSTIN THOMAS returns to defend the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational title he won by three shots for what was his 13th PGA Tour victory and his third of the season. It was a win that took Thomas to the top of the world rankings for the first time since June 2018. There then followed a difficult period during which he was caught on camera uttering a homophobic slur before having to deal with the death of his much-loved grandfather, before rebounding to win The Players Championship in March.
Thomas is in the middle of a frantic schedule, having played in The Open at Royal St George’s and the Olympic Games in Tokyo last week. And he is not alone.
He battled it out with defending champion Brooks Koepka down the final holes last year, sealing victory on the par-five 16th. He took the lead for good with his second straight birdie, while Koepka bogeyed the hole.
Koepka pulled within a stroke with a 39-footer for birdie at the 17th but then put his tee shot into the water at the 18th on his way to double bogey, allowing Thomas to finish up an easy par putt for what wound up a three-stroke victory.
Thomas closed with a 5-under 66 to finish at 13-under 267 and won for the 13th time in his PGA Tour career. At 27, he became the third-youngest player since 1960 to reach 13 PGA Tour wins, trailing only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
This was the fifth time Thomas rallied to win, and he matched his biggest comeback after starting the day four strokes back of third-round leader Brendon Todd.
Koepka finished with a 69 and tied for second with Phil Mickelson (67), Daniel Berger (65) and Tom Lewis (66).
Thomas started Sunday with Jim "Bones" Mackay on his bag playing in the same group with Mickelson for the first time since Mickelson split with his longtime caddie. Thomas made up the deficit with four birdies on the front nine and just missed another birdie chance at the eighth. His 20-footer at the ninth tied Todd at 12 under.
Todd, whose putting had carried him through the first three rounds, three-putted for bogey from 23 feet on the par-three eighth, leaving Thomas alone at the top of the leaderboard.
Thomas put his second on the par-four 12th into a greenside bunker near the back edge and chopped it out to the rough. He chipped out from an awkward stance to salvage bogey. That created a five-way tie at 11 under with Koepka, Berger, Lewis and Todd.
Koepka took the lead himself on the par-4 13th. He hit his approach from 133 yards to 10 feet of the pin, and Koepka sunk the putt for his third birdie of the round to go to 12 under.
After hitting his tee shot 321 yards to the rough 51 yards short of the hole on No. 15, Thomas hit to six feet for a birdie, tying Koepka at 12 under with three to play. Thomas found the rough far right of the cart path on the par-5 16th, then hit his third from the left rough 65 yards to three feet for his second straight birdie.
Koepka, in the group behind Thomas, tried to answer 42 yards from the hole. His shot landed close to the hole only to keep rolling to the back of the green. Koepka wound up two-putting from eight feet for bogey.
Paul Casey and Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama are among those flying back to America from the Olympic Games to compete in the tournament at TPC Southwind. They will be joined Tyrrell Hatton and Sergio Garcia, both of whom are looking for some serious form as the countdown to the Ryder Cup begins in earnest.
Matsuyama earned his qualification to the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational via his historic victory at the 2021 Masters Tournament in April, which marked his first career major championship and sixth PGA Tour victory. With the win, Matsuyama became the first male major championship winner from Japan and ended his winless drought of 1,344 days between wins (2017 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational). So far this season, the Japan native has enjoyed eight top-20 finishes, including a tied-second finish at the Vivint Houston Open. The 2021 WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational marks Matsuyama’s third consecutive appearance at TPC Southwind where he finished T20 in 2020.
Hatton secured his place in the field by winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. On the PGA Tour this season, the 29-year-old has had four top-10 finishes, including a tie for second at the Palmetto Championship at Congaree and a third-place finish at The CJ Cup.
Englishman Casey secured his qualification thanks to his victory at the 2021 Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour. The win was his 15th on the European Tour and first since his 2019 Porsche European Open victory. He is enjoying a splendid season in America, having finished tied fifth at the Players Championship and joint fourth at the PGA Championship.
Garcia has had six top-20 finishes this season, including fifth at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. The 41-year-old is set to make his seventh career appearance at TPC Southwind and third consecutive start at the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational. A star-studded field also features Dustin Johnson, Koepka, Adam Scott, Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy.
Shane Lowry won this tournament six years ago and showed flashes of his brilliant best in a stout defence of the Claret Jug last month. Don’t read too much into Dustin Johnson’s missed cut at the 3M - the week before, he finished joint eighth in The Open and has enjoyed six top-10 finishes from just 17 starts. Louis Oosthuizen is becoming a fixture on leaderboards but really needs to find a victory soon. In 18 starts this season the South African has finished runner-up four times and third on two occasions. His stroke average is 69.5, he is back in the top 10 in the world rankings and sixth in the FedEx Cup standings with a cool $6.14m in prize money - and all this without a win.
It was won in 2015 by Shane Lowry, in 2016 by Dustin Johnson, in 2017 by Hideki Matsuyama, in 2018 and 2020 by Justin Thomas and in 2019 by Brooks Koepka.
TPC Southwind’s par-70, 7,244-yard championship layout was designed by Ron Prichard, with PGA TOUR players Hubert Green and Fuzzy Zoeller serving as consultants. The golf course features undulating fairways, Bermuda greens and numerous lakes, streams and ponds. It was once the site of a dairy farm.
Dustin Johnson. Past champion
Paul Casey. Playing superbly and narrowly missed out on Olympic bronze
Justin Thomas. Has a fabulous record here
Five to Follow:
Dustin Johnson. Back to his best
Paul Casey. In the form of his life
Justin Thomas. Looking for third win here
Collin Morikawa. Now a two-time major champion
Louis Oosthuizen. Must win again soon, surely
Outsiders to Watch:
Shane Lowry. Starting to look the part again
Ian Poulter. Looking to catch the eye of Padraig Harrington
Justin Rose. There have been some very encouraging signs
Kevin Na. Hugely underrated
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