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FedEx St Jude Classic preview


This week we are in Memphis, Tennessee for the penultimate event ahead of next week’s U.S Open, the second major of the year. The event has been a part of the PGA Tour schedule since 1958, and is currently hosted by TPC Southwind, the host course since 1989.

Despite this being a typically tough, par 70 layout, three of the last four winners have won here on their first visit to the course. Those three players are, last year’s champion Harris English, Dustin Johnson, and 2010 winner Lee Westwood. All these three players are right up there in terms of quality, but wedged in-between these winners was 2011 champion Harrison Frazar, who got his first, and only PGA Tour win, here in Memphis.

Greens in Regulation will be the main thing to look for this week, and a solid ranking in the par-4 performance category would be ideal too, as players try to go low on this 7,239 yards, par 70. Although Driving Distance hasn’t always been a factor, the last four winners all hit it a fair way, so if you find someone ranking highly in Driving Distance and Greens in Regulation, they may well be a factor here.

In general, top names win this event, as proven in recent years, but with a lot of players opting to skip this event, to prepare elsewhere for next week’s U.S Open, there could be another surprise winner.

Here are my selections for the 2014 FedEx St Jude Classic.

Graeme McDowell 40/1 (StanJames) 1pt e/w: Graeme McDowell has taken a break, ever since the Players Championship four weeks ago, however he will now be keen to put in a strong performance here, ahead of the big one next week.

McDowell has played here on two occasions, finishing 7th on debut, in 2009, followed by a missed cut in 2012. We obviously hope he performs more like he did in 2009, than his most recent effort in 2012, and I am confident he will.

As a former U.S Open winner, McDowell has proven he likes to play tough courses, and this is one of them, despite what the winning score may suggest. Whilst he will not, by any means have an advantage over the field, off the tee, he has the ability to hit tonnes of greens, and convert his chances with a superb short game.

He currently ranks 5th in Stroked Gained – Putting and 20th in Greens in Regulation, two key factors every week, and the fact he is 16th in Par 4 Scoring is all the more encouraging. This looks to be a perfect test for McDowell, as he puts his main attributes to the test here.

After a few weeks off, he will be raring to go and keen to get his game in shape. For me he is a generous price at 40/1, which I can only assume is down to his recent lack of play. Up until the Masters, G-Mac was in great form, and despite his missed cut there, he still managed to finish in the top-25 at the RBC Heritage the following week. He hasn’t played since his somewhat disappointing finish at TPC Sawgrass, but I am confident he can bounce back in a big way here.

Paul Casey 40/1 (Coral) 1pt e/w: Casey has been in superb form the last few weeks, finishing inside the top-20 in four of his last five events, but he is still searching for his first win in America, since his win at the Shell Houston Open in 2009.

Back in his prime, Casey was ranked #3 in the world, so he cannot be taken lightly, so with form and plenty of momentum behind him at the moment, he looks a good pick to win soon, hopefully this week.

Casey is no slack off the tee, so couple that with his 2nd in Proximity to the Hole and 20th in Par 4 scoring and he has some good stats going his way. He doesn’t rank particularly highly in other departments, but only recently has his form been as solid as it is, so his game looks in good shape.

Hopefully Casey can follow in the footsteps of the likes of, Dustin Johnson, Harris English and fellow Englishman Lee Westwood, who all won here on their first look at TPC Southwind, en-route to a memorable win this week.

Casey continued his recent form once again, earlier this week, when he managed to grab one of the few remaining spots for the U.S Open, qualifying through his respective sectional qualifier.

With next week to look forward to and prepare for, Casey will want to ensure he has another solid week on Tour, and hopefully he can get the job done this week. In the last few weeks we have the Casey of old, as he shot 27 on the back-9 at the HP Byron Nelson, and opened up with back-to-back 66’s, which saw him lead the field by three strokes, at the half-way stage, last week at the Muirfield Village.

When on form he is amongst the best players around, and all the signs suggest he is well on his way to a serious comeback. At 40/1 this week, I am happy to chance that this streak of good form continues, for at least one more event.

Justin Leonard 125/1 (General) 0.5pt e/w: As aforementioned, the U.S open sectional qualifiers took place this week, and Leonard went one better than Casey, not only getting a spot for next week, but also coming out as co-medalist at Brookside and Scioto.

Leonard, a twelve-time winner on the PGA Tour sounds particularly excited about getting into the field next week, and went as far to say that Pinehurst was one of his favourites, so he’ll be hoping to prepare for next week in the best way possible, with a good week here.

With the confidence of Monday, and the excitement of next week both under his belt, the Texas native will no doubt fancy his chances of a good week here, at TPC Southwind, a course he has won on twice before.

Leonard won the St Jude Classic in 2005 and 2008, and the latter of the two was his last win on Tour.

Despite not being in the best form this year, he has shown glimpses and given the circumstances this week, I am willing to take a chance on him, and hopefully he caps off a great week, with strong finish here.

Despite the rest of his game being somewhat out of sorts for the majority of the season, Leonard is still driving it straight (33rd in Driving Accuracy) and also playing pretty well around the greens. He currently ranks 5th in Scrambling and 37th in Strokes Gained- Putting, so hopefully he puts his course knowledge to good use this week, and hits more greens, therefore giving himself a chance of winning.

At 125/1 I am happy to try to capitalise on what I hope to be an upbeat Justin Leonard, and there’s no reason why he can’t win again here, for the third time.

Camilo Villegas 125/1 (General) 0.5pt e/w: Despite a huge dip in his career, Villegas still shows he has plenty of game from time-to-time and if he is going to get back in the winners’ circle any time soon, TPC Southwind looks like the ideal setting for him to do so.

Villegas has played here eight times, and missed just one cut, so it’s fair to say the course suits his eye. When making the weekend, 2012 being the only year he didn’t, he has finished no worse than 46th, and has finishes of 3rd, 8th and 10th  to his name, the latter coming twelve months ago. Two other top-20s a while back proves to me that this is no fluke, he likes this course and hopefully he can finally put four rounds together.

He has the tendency to start fast, and then struggle terribly and miss the cut, or fade out of contention over the weekend, something I hope changes this week.

Even though he is really struggling with his game, highlighted by the fact his top finish this year is T20, Villegas is still hitting his fair share of greens (ranks 49th in Greens in Regulation) so a good putting week, on a course he knows well, may well see him improve dramatically on his current form.

We know he has the game, he’s proved that winning three times on Tour, twice in the FedEx Cup play-offs and he’ll be as desperate as anyone to return to that kind of form. It’s been four years since his last win, at the Honda Classic, but all of three wins have come in big events, so the occasion shouldn’t get to him, should he find himself in contention again.

This is simply based on his course form, and we have seen in the past, that players can come out of the biggest lulls in form, and produce big wins (see Martin Kaymer’s Players win).

Total points staked this week: 6

Profit/Loss for 2014: + 47.91

I am not the biggest fan of betting the week before a major championship, as I wonder just how distracted players are, so because of that, and the weakness of the field I have given the Lyoness Open a miss completely this week. I do think however, that I have gone for four players who can seriously challenge at the St Jude Classic this week, and go into the U.S Open full of confidence.

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