ST. JUDE: The PGA Tour’s regular season has wrapped up and now it’s on to the Playoffs for the top-70 in the points standings, and though professional golf generally follows the pleasant weather, this week is a notable exception, as the players will be battling the sweltering summer heat in Memphis, Tennessee.
Why host a playoff event in Memphis in August, you ask? The answered is simple: FedEx, the PGA Tour’s most significant financial partner, is headquartered in Memphis and has for years sponsored the St. Jude Classic in partnership with a prominent children’s hospital. When the Tour was losing some sponsors a few years ago FedEx effectively doubled down, and part of their reward was turning the St. Jude Classic, a tournament that was chronically ignored by the game’s biggest stars (Tiger famously never played in Memphis), into a Playoff event. So it will be a banner week for the sunscreen and bottled water vendors, and if recent history is any indication the competition should be pretty good, too, as it’s taken a playoff to determine a champion here in each of the last two years.
The course is a familiar one: TPC Southwind has played host to this event for the past 34 years and has changed very little in that time. A par-70 that measures a shade over 7,200 yards, it doesn’t kill the players with length, but with tight fairways, sticky Bermuda rough, small greens and water hazards in play on more than half of the holes, it’s no pushover. Rain and soft conditions can make the course a bit friendlier, and there are some showers in the forecast for this week, but it remains to be seen whether it will be enough to soften things up considerably. Southwind has a few clear birdie opportunities– the par-5 16th comes to mind, as well as the par-5 3rd– but for the most part it’s a grind out there, with numerous doglegs that force the players to put the ball in approximately the same spot off the tee and approach the small, firm greens with mid-irons. It’s a good test that produces a worthy champion every year– there’s no “faking it” around TPC Southwind.
Defending champion Will Zalatoris is still recovering from back surgery, 2021 champ Abraham Ancer and 2019 winner Brooks Koepka both play on the LIV tour, and 2020 champion Justin Thomas failed to qualify for this event after a tremendously disappointing season, so regardless of what happens we’re going to have some new blood in the winner’s circle this week. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 8.2, and he’s followed closely by Jon Rahm (11.0) and Rory McIlroy (12.0) to complete the top tier of contenders. The next tier starts at around 20/1 and includes players like Patrick Cantlay (21.0), Viktor Hovland (25.0), and Xander Schauffele (24.0), and of course with a field of this caliber there is some great value down around the middle of the market. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Collin Morikawa (29.0)- It’s been a disappointing year for Morikawa, a player who seemed poised for superstardom but has logged just two top-10 finishes since March and has not yet found the winner’s circle this season. Lately, however, there have been signs that suggest he’s not far from top form– he tied for 14th at the U.S. Open and then finished runner-up at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, losing in a playoff to Rickie Fowler after posting 24-under for the week. He’s only teed it up once since then and I’m sure he’d like nothing more than to flush the memory of this season by making some serious noise in the Playoffs, and maybe even winning the whole thing. I’ve got a feeling he’s going to get off to a fast start this week at TPC Southwind, a place that fits his game perfectly with its demanding tee-to-green nature. Morikawa has never finished worse than 26th in three career appearances here and he made a run at the trophy last year, finishing 5th after breaking 70 in all four rounds. He’s worth snapping up at nearly 30/1.
Sam Burns (47.0)- Burns is a Louisiana native who grew up on Bermuda-covered, water hazard-lined courses just like TPC Southwind, and so it should come as no surprise that he’s looked right at home in his first two appearances at this event, finishing runner-up in 2021 and following that up with a T20 last year. A tremendous all-around player who ranks 32nd on Tour in total driving and 6th in strokes gained putting, Burns has the makings of a star and already has 5 career victories under his belt, the most recent coming at the WGC Match Play back in March. His T14 at the Wyndham last week was his fourth top-20 finish in his last 7 starts, so his game is in good shape, and he’s proven that he can succeed against the biggest and best fields. Burns is a serious threat to win this week and is probably my favorite bet on the board at a price like 47.0.
JT Poston (94.0)- Golf is a funny game, and Poston has experienced some serious highs and lows over the last eight months. He began the year playing well, with three top-10 finishes across the first three months of 2023, but he hit a miserable stretch over the late spring and early summer where he had 5 missed cuts in 7 starts, bottoming out in a 4-tournament span between the PGA Championship and U.S. Open where he finished a combined 20-over par. He’s come fully out of it, however, and over the past month has been playing arguably the best golf of his career, finishing 6th at the John Deere, 6th in the Scottish Open, runner-up at the 3M Open, and 7th at last week’s Wyndham Championship. It appears as though he’s caught the proverbial lightning in a bottle, and now he brings that lightning to TPC Southwind, a place he’s fared well in the past, finding the top-20 in two of his last three starts here. Don’t sleep on Poston this week– he could ride the lightning right up the top of the leaderboard, making him a terrific value at better than 90/1.