2015 St. Jude Classic: Preview, Strategy, Picks
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With the U.S. Open next week, the St. Jude Classic is your final chance to earn your qualifiers to the PGA 2.5M Millionaire Maker.
The St. Jude Classic is played in Memphis at TPC Southwind. The field for this event is generally on the weak side, and it’s already lost some of its better competitors to recent WDs. As you’ll see on DraftKings or that they aren’t even available on our odds per dollar tab, Paul Casey (who would have been amazing at $10,500 considering the field), Brendon Todd, Charl Schwartzel and others have decided to just get ready for the U.S. Open. Factoring in the potential storms along with 90-degree heat, it makes sense.
For those who are teeing it up in Memphis, there’s usually a common theme here of what succeeds. Let’s take a look.
TPC Southwind Breakdown
Southwind is a par 70 at 7,239 yards. There are only two par 5s, which means this course for a par 70 is fairly average in length.
This track is also fairly open, at least in comparison to other PGA courses. There is water and bunkers coming into play often, but in terms of fairway width, length of the rough, trees or anything that would promote driving accuracy, simply don’t come into play that often.
Both par 5s are both reachable in two. No. 3 is the tougher of the two, which plays at 554 yards and water comes into play near the green. It’s a hole that some players will lay up on since it’s a narrow green with the water on one side and bunkers on the other, but the majority will go for it with a decent drive. We usually see five-to-10 eagles here for the tournament.
While it is slightly uphill, No. 16 is only 530 yards and bunkers are the only real trouble surrounding the green. It depends on weather of course, but there should be between 10-and-20 eagles on this hole.
So, if both the par 5s are reachable in two for all players, length doesn’t matter, right? Wrong. Since both par 5s are very short and the par 3s are on the shorter side too, there are eight par 4s over 445 yards, several of which in the 470s and 480s. There is also often water by these greens on the long par 4s, so while the longer hitters have 9-irons into these greens, the shorter guys have 4 irons. When you’re dealing with wind that usually comes into play here, that’s a big deal over a 72-hole sample with that many par 4s of that length.
Therefore, while length may not appear to be that valuable, it really is. The leaderboards in the past at the St. Jude represent that. The guys near the top are often longer hitters and high up on the birdie or better percentage list.
To recap, here’s what we are using for our picks: odds per dollar, driving distance and birdie or better percentage. There is a high correlation between driving distance and birdie-or-better percentage, so you’ll find a lot of the same names near the top of both lists.
It’s going to be very hot, humid and occasional thunderstorms are expected later in the week. However, Thursday looks clear, and it doesn’t look like there’s any particular advantage to targeting early or late tee times. But, given that rain is likely, length gets a slight bump this year since the ball may not roll as much.
Everyone should keep in mind with these picks that I’m going for it all. While some of them might be good for cash games, these are all guys I’m using in tournaments.
Everyone except Harris English – Yup, if there is a player at $10,400 or more with the exception of English, he’s an option. English’s odds are really inflated since he was a champion here in 2013, and he’s been a bit shaky his last few tournaments. He’s currently 68th in the world, and he must play well enough this weekend to get into the top 50 to qualify for the U.S. Open. He faced the exact same challenge trying to qualify for the Masters at the Valero Texas Open this year, which is an event that fits a similar playing style to Southwind and has a weak field too. English finished T30 and wasn’t nearly close enough to qualifying. Adding all those factors together, there just isn’t anything going for him.
Between Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Ryan Palmer, Billy Horschel, Webb Simpson and Brooks Koepka, they all have a combination of things in their favor. This includes the ability of going really low in a round, are long off the tee, not the most accurate at times and having superb course history here over several years (mainly because the field is usually weak). You can nitpick this with the odds if you’d like, but truthfully, you’re splitting hairs. I’d use all these guys if you’re making multiple GPPs. If you’re only doing one or two, I’ll give a little bit of info on all of them and have you make the choice.
Dustin Johnson $13,000 – Odds are outstanding, but he did win here in 2012, so the odds are a little bit inflated. Having said that, he’s finished T24 and T10 the last two years. What’s interesting is that Dustin didn’t play here early in his career. His win in 2012 was his first appearance, which is kind of odd considering this tournament is usually filled with newer or average players. Nevertheless, Dustin always builds his schedule around courses that suit his game, and this one is no exception. He’s the longest hitter on Tour and is sixth in birdie or better percentage.
Phil Mickelson $12,000 – Despite an up-and-down year, Mickelson is 28th in driving distance and ninth in birdie or better percentage. Similar to Dustin, Mickelson finished T11 here in 2014 and T2 in 2013. I’m a little worried about a high usage percentage here since he has a fourth and second place finish recently, he’s only missed one cut since February and that he’s Phil Mickelson, but he’s definitely set up well for this tournament. He’s been absolutely horrific off the tee this year and recovering from trouble (152nd in driving accuracy and 174th in GIRs), but again, that isn’t much of a factor here, and there’s a direct correlation to Mickelson missing cuts at courses that require driving accuracy.
Ryan Palmer $11,600 – 13th in driving distance and 12th in birdie or better percentage. Recent performance isn’t the strongest, but again, this course is perfectly built for him and his two recent missed cuts are at tracks that require driving accuracy. He’s finished T32, fourth and third the last three years. Palmer shouldn’t be highly used considering the options around him. A sneaky good GPP play actually.
Billy Horschel $11,500 – Horschel has the best odds per dollar not named Dustin Johnson, and he’s only missed one cut since February. However, the odds aren’t that much better than the others, and his game is more balanced than one that promotes a course trend of longer hitters. He’s 44th in driving distance and 51st in birdie or better percetnage. Probably my least favorite pick since I think he’ll have decent usage, but he’s still worth putting in if you’re making several lineups.
Webb Simpson $11,100 – Only 74th in driving distance, but Simpson is 15th in birdie or better percentage. Simpson is someone who typically can go really low, especially on golf courses that don’t have a ton of trouble. He has four top 10s for a reason. Simpson has been a little off the radar this year despite finishing T2 at his last tournament (Wells Fargo), and his usage shouldn’t be that high.
Brooks Koepka $10,400 – Not the greatest odds in the world, but Koepka’s game is built for a golf course like Southwind. He’s 10th in both driving distance and birdie or better percentage. His two missed cuts this season are a WD at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players, which is a course that severely promotes accuracy. If you took away Koepka’s injury, one that plagued him at the Masters (still made the cut), his already impressive resume would be even more stellar.
Shawn Stefani $8,200 – Amazing odds, is 33rd in driving distance and 13th in birdie or better percentage. Like many other players on this list, his only missed cut since February is at the Players.
Jason Bohn $7,900 – Despite being 189th in driving distance, Bohn is 25th in birdie or better percentage. He has decent odds, but to put it simply, Bohn’s chances of winning the tournament aren’t very good in that the length disadvantage will catch up, but we can’t ignore the fact that he has four top 10s and seven top 20s this season, many of which coming on courses with similar playing styles.
Nick Watney $7,700 – T65 in driving distance and 47th in birdie or better percentage, but Watney’s odds are fantastic and he typically succeeds at courses that are similar to Southwind. I really like what I’ve seen from him
Matt Jones $7,000 – 53rd in driving distance and 24th in birdie or better percentage. Has been playing well as of late too.
Jhonattan Vegas $6,900 – Odds aren’t that great, however, when we get below the $7,000 level, looking at odds becomes a lot less relevant because the margins are so slim. Vegas is 19th in driving distance.
Charles Howell $6,800 – Howell is an exception to what I just said about odds below $7,000 since the odds per dollar is so good and he really should be between $7,500 and $8,000. He will probably have decent ownage, but he has a lot going for him. He’s made the cut here every season since 2009 and typically does better at the courses that are more open. He’s 17th in driving distance.
Fade of the Tournament: Russell Knox $7,800 – Knox has amazing odds, has made six-consecutive cuts with three of those coming in the top 20. However, he’s only 144th in driving distance and 75th in birdie or better percentage. Most of his success recently and this season has come on shorter courses, and ones that require more driving accuracy. Past results at TPC Southwind support this too as he’s missed the cut here twice and finished 72nd in his three years here.View all posts by Nick Juskewycz