WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational
July 30th – August 2nd, 2020
Par: 70 / Yardage: 7,238
Purse: $10.5 million
with $1,787,560 to the winner
WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational, prelude to the year’s first major
So how many of you thought that Michael Thompson was going to win last week at the 3M Open? For you that raised your hand, you get a trip to the fibber Hall of Fame. Thompson looked like a seasoned old pro with birdies on two of the last three holes to beat Adam Long (another player that nobody foresaw) by two shots. Coming into the 3M Open, Thompson was in a bit of trouble, he ranked 151st in the FedExCup standings and after the 3M only had the Barracuda and Wyndham left to prevent having to repeat what he did last year in going to the Korn Ferry finals to save his PGA Tour card. Instead of that faith, he gets to go to Memphis for the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and then the PGA Championship. His game was in total disarray as all of his strokes gained stats were negative country except putting. He ranked 180th in driving distance and 131st in greens in regulation. Since his T-14th at the Memorial last year 14 months ago, Thompson had recorded just two top-25 finishes, a T-23rd 10 months ago at the Safeway Open and last month a T-8th a the RBC Heritage.
But just like he snapped his fingers, Thompson found a way to piece everything together, nobody can explain stories like this. The wonders of golf and the reason the PGA Tour many years ago came up with that magical slogan “These guys are good,” is the reason gambling in golf is so hard. In sports like baseball and football, we can look at all the analytical data and conclude that if Pete Alonso hit 53 home runs last year in 597 at-bats, that every 11 at-bats he will hit a homerun or one in every three games. The same with the Atlanta Braves slugger Ronald Arcana. In 626 at-bats last year he had 127 hits which means that for every five times he comes to the plate he gets a hit. But this really doesn’t work in golf, in the case of Michael Thompson he has won twice in 228 starts. To show you the difference in how hard golf is, Justin Thomas has won the most money in golf this year at $5,386,402. His scoring average is 68.70 which is 4th. Go down to 31st in scoring, Bronson Burgon has an average of 69.86 which is a shot a round higher than Thomas. But Burgon is 118th on the money list with $593,539, so that shot a round cost Burgon almost $5 million behind Thomas. Another person struggling like Thompson was is Aaron Wise who in 2018 won the AT&T Byron Nelson. Since then he has hit some hard times and after this year his exemption for the win is over. He has played in 16 events and only made 5 cuts and the 3M Open wasn’t one of them. He is 161st in the FedExCup race and goes to the Barracuda with that and the Wyndham left to redeem himself or face the Korn Ferry Finals. For the year Wise has made $246,597, but his scoring average is 70.30 which is 80th on the PGA Tour. For every round Wise plays he shoots a shot and a half more than Justin Thomas so you can see the small difference between success and failure. And for those like Thompson, if you can cobble together perfection for 72 holes it’s pure gold. So that is one of the reasons gambling in golf is so hard, it’s not really predictable and the Michael Thompsons of the world are going to win one out of every four times. So since we had such predictable winners the first six weeks since the break, it only made sense what happened at the 3M Open.
In looking at those in the top-25 of the 3M Open, the only ones playing at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational are Thompson (win), Tony Finau (T-3rd), Max Homa (T-3rd) and Matthew Wolff (T-12th). Have to say there are a lot of question marks on several marquee players, based on the last seven weeks of play. First is defending champion Brooks Koepka, who is also defending champion next week at the PGA Champion. Every part of his game is poor but is it his game or a flair up to his left-knee? His main problem is not hitting greens and a balky putter, but he is 155th in the FedExCup standings which means he has three events left or will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014. To some maybe it’s the courses, after playing well at the Heritage he falter at the Workday and Memorial, both at Muirfield Village a course he hasn’t done well on in past years. His record has been good at TPC Southwind so we have to think that maybe that is the problem, but of course, we all know that if his poor putting continues, he is 140th in Strokes Gained putting, it may not happen. Koepka is also terrible around the greens, in scrambling he ranks 210th and Sand Save Percentage 164th. It also doesn’t help that he is 173rd in Greens in Regulation and 166th in Proximity to Hole, all these numbers are stats that Koepka usually excels in and must do well if he is going to achieve the level of play we are used to. The big criticism of Koepka is that he never has been able to muster up the same level of enthusiasm for regular tournaments as majors, well he better muster up a lot of enthusiasm now.
Another person that has been totally lost is Dustin Johnson. Since the break, he has been on a roller coaster ride between winning at the Travelers and now not being able to score. He shot 80-80 at the Memorial and after an opening round of 78 at the 3M withdrew under a mask of him maybe being injured. Johnson’s manager sent out an email that said Johnson experienced tightness in his back that affected his speed and distance control but with rest and treatment he would be Ok for Memphis and the PGA. Basically it was buying him some time. Just like Koepka, Johnson plays well at TPC Southwind winning in 2018 and ’12 so you have to think he can put it together. His tee to green game is solid, putting is questionable as he ranks 141st in Strokes Gained Putting. The next question is Rory McIlroy, who has probably had the worst stretch of golf he has had in years. Since the break, in four starts, he had one top-25 finish a T-11th at the Travelers. Now to be far to Rory, Colonial and Harbour Town are not on his regular schedule for a good reason, he doesn’t like the courses. Muirfield Village probably isn’t high up on his list either. His stats have not shown anything out of wack so I am not worried about him and since he finished T-6th last year at TPC Southwind I think he will be OK on the course. For those looking for some quick longshots look at Daniel Berger who has won twice at TPC Southwind, Billy Horschel who has five top-tens in his last six starts, Phil Mickelson who has six top-12s including two runner-ups (2016 & ’13) in the last 7 years and Webb Simpson (yes I understand that both Berger and Simpson aren’t considered longshots any more but in this field of marquee names they won’t be mention much this week) who was runner-up last year and T-3rd in 2014.