Here we are, the week before a U.S Open and we encounter two, very average fields. Both on the European and PGA Tours we are only seeing 3 or 4 of the headline players of both tours in their respective tournament, whilst the rest decide to prepare in other ways for next week at Merion. With a very definite chance of the Lyoness Open being either called off completely or reduced to the dreaded 36 holes, I struggle to build any excitement for the event in Austria, even after tipping the winner in Sweden last week, Mikko Ilonen (33/1) and Jonas Blixt (50/1). This week is nowhere near as exciting so I’m going to focus most of my attention yet again to the PGA Tour, at this weeks St.Jude Classic. Again like so many weeks previous, I have failed to provide you all with any real profit in America, but this year has been as unpredictable as they come, and I keep coming close, this time with Justin Rose, who blew a top 5 on the final day, finishing T8.
Enough of all that, lets look ahead at this week, and more specifically the St.Jude Classic, in Memphis, Tennessee. This tournament has been played annually since 1958, and is played at another TPC course, this time TPC Southwind. The first 59 was shot here, in 1977 by Al Geiberger. It has only been played at TPC Southwind since 2007 and since then, three Texans have won the event, Justin Leonard, Brian Gay and Harrison Frazar. In between that time, Lee Westwood (England) also won in 2010, becoming only the 4th international player to the win the event, following in the footsteps of two-time winner Nick Price (Zimbabwe), Greg Norman (Australia) and Gary Player (South African) so it’s fair to say that this is, as expected dominated by American players. Of course most tournaments on the Tour are dominated by Americans for the obvious reason of all events being played in America, but it may be something to take into account if you’re thinking of backing a European player this week. Let’s look at how the course sets up and who is defending their crown this year.
The Course: TPC Southwind, 7,239 yards, par 70. TPC Southwind of Memphis, Tennessee is a course that ranked 9th of 51 in terms of difficulty in 2011, and is also host to one of the most difficult Par 3’s on the PGA Tour, the 239 yard 14th. The course has 94 Bunkers and 10 Water Hazards, so it’s not somewhere to take lightly. With that being said, four of the six winning scores since the tournament was held here, the winning score has been in double figures, so scoring here is definitely possible. The Par 3 11th hole is often considered similar to that of the 17th at TPC Sawgrass, with a short iron onto an island green being the shot required.
Defending Champion: Dustin Johnson. Johnson was the winner of the St.Jude Classic last year, playing just his 2nd tournament, after being out for 2 1/2 months. This was phenomenal from the still relatively young Texan, and he will have to do something similar here again this year if he wants to successfully defend his title. In winning this event however, he again found himself injured, this time out with his lower back. This was Dustin’s debut appearance at the event, so he will take some confidence into the week, but having failed to complete a tournament on Tour since the Masters he doesn’t quite look to be in the right shape for the week ahead. Saying that he is a phenomenal talent, and he will obviously be in some people’s minds. I think it’s too soon for him, with the U.S Open just a week away and his current troubles, I don’t see him as value at 20/1.
With all the above taken into I bring to you my 4 picks for the St.Jude Classic, as well as a couple of selections for the Lyoness Open. Profit has again been increased, thanks to both Mikko Ilnonen and Jonas Blixt last week and I hope that continues heading into the 2nd major of the year, the U.S Open next week.
Brandt Snedeker 14/1 (General) 5pts win only: Snedeker is getting to the point now on the world stage, where he can almost go without an explanation. Most people that watch golf week in, week out, now knows that Snedeker has made big strides in the last couple of years to the top of world golf. He does not have any stand-out form here at this course, except coming 5th in 2008, however he has improved in all aspects of his game. Although historically players don’t win the week before the U.S Open and then go and win the Open itself, Snedeker will certainly be keen to put in a good performance ahead of Merion this week, especially in front of his home town fans. Snedeker is 11th in Greens in Regulation, 10th in Proximity to the Hole and also, maybe most importantly 1st in Par 4 Performance. These are all big areas this week, and I feel almost obliged to back him this week, especially as he was a winner for us back at Pebble Beach, at the very same odds. He is a world class player and now his injury has been cleared up as “low bone turnover” it seems all parties are confident he will recover better, and injuries could be less frequent. He missed the U.S Open last year because injury and he will be looking to set the record straight next week. He will only benefit from a good week here in my opinion and he’s definitely worth backing.
Scott Stallings 35/1 (BetVictor & StanJames) 1.5pts e/w: Scott Stallings has found the form that has seen him win twice on Tour in as many years. He earned his card for the 2011, and initially struggled, with up until the Transitions Championship (where he placed 3rd) his best finish was T42 in Puerto Rico. Further on into the year and in July 2011, Stallings got his first win at the Greenbrier Classic beating Bob Estes and Bill Haas (eventual FedEx Cup Champ) in a play off. Fast forward almost exactly 12 months on and he got himself a 2nd win, winning the 2012 True South Classic. This is all well and good, but why am I tipping him this week? Well it wasn’t due to his performance in this event last year. He missed the cut last year, but I’ve taken confidence from the T25 he posted here on his debut at the course in 2011. He is coming off the back of two T4 finishes and that is certainly enough for me to go with him, his ability is not in doubt and it looks as if he has recovered from his blip mid way through the season. Prior to his two T4 finishes, he missed four straight cuts and for him to bounce back from that shows great resilience and I hope he can prove me right this week when putting my faith in him. One other side note that’s worth mentioning is that Stallings’ is a product of Tennessee Tech, so that may give him yet another confidence boost when looking for the win this week.
John Merrick 66/1 (BetFred, Coral) 1pt e/w: Merrick is one player, that although doesn’t spring to mind as a top pick, certainly stands out for me this week. He has broken 70 in 7 of his last 8 rounds at TPC Southwind, with the exception being 72 which he shot in the final round in 2011. Yes John Merrick is not a prolific winner, in fact he only got his first PGA Tour win, on his 169th start earlier this year at the Northern Trust Open. I for one am happy though to include him though, one considering his course form, and two his current form. In his last four starts Merrick has posted progressive finishes starting with T-73 in 2009 and going on to finish, T53 (2010), T11 (2011) and 2nd last year in 2012. Mix that with the fact that in his last three starts he has finished, T22 in the Wells Fargo, Cut at the Players’ Championship and T26 in the Crowne Plaza Invitational. Although he did miss the cut at Sawgrass, he bounced back with another decent finish at the Crowne Plaza, and he looks set for a another productive week. He can qualify for the U.S Open with a win here and that might just be enough motivation to better his 2nd here last year! Merrick is 30th in Greens in Regulation this year, something that will only increase his chances here this week.
Casey Wittenburg 250/1 (General) 0.5pts e/w: This could be considered a very speculative pick, but in this field I was happy to find one, and Wittenburg made the cut to be my outsider this week. Born in Memphis, and still a resident, Casey Wittenburg should be familiar with TPC Southwind. He hasn’t played the event for three years, since his invite in 2010, and although he only finished 70th I don’t mind looking past that. I’ve also got to look past the fact he’s missed his last 3 cuts and pay attention to his T8 at the Players’. This was a superb finish for Casey, alongside another great finish which came earlier in the year at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he came T15. This is purely a gut instinct pick, I believe he could go well and at 250/1 at low stakes I didn’t see many reasons to leave him out. He is a player with a bunch of talent, backed up by the fact he was the Web.com player of the year last season and also finished T10 at last years U.S Open.
Lyoness Open Tips
Emiliano Grillo 40/1 (PaddyPower 1-6) 1pt e/w:
Grillo looks to be a pretty decent talent and at 40/1 in this field I feel he is worth a bet. Grillo’s last 5 results are, 20th, T72, T21, T16, and T11, so pretty impressive. His T72 came at Wentworth which can be forgiven considering the playing conditions on the first two days, and with a T10 finish here last season he seems good value this week.
Rikard Karlberg 40/1 (PaddyPower 1-6) 1pt e/w:
Karlberg has only missed two cuts this season, and in his home country last week finished in a tie for 4th, looking incredibly impressive in the process. Not just that but Karlberg also finished 4th in this very tournament in 2012, so again at 40/1 I think he’s worth looking at.
So we had a great week on the European Tour last week, with two of the three selections being 1st and 2nd. I hope that we can carry some of that form going into this week, and almost certainly into the U.S Open. The Masters was bitterly disappointing in the end, with both Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker eventually letting us down, so it would be nice to bounce back with a result next week in Merion. Firstly let’s hope the 6 selections above can get us some profit, more specifically a winner, so let’s hope for the best. As mentioned previously, the Lyoness Open could be a wash out and therefore provide little interest, so lets hope that the PGA Tour offers some entertainment.
Total Points staked this week: 15
Profit/Loss for 2013: + 146.25