Earlier this week, I wrote about the perils of trying to predict U.S. Open contenders too far in advance. Really, it’s a theory we should practice for all tournaments, but it’s especially relevant going into this week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Chances are, between the time I write this and the time you read this, a few more players will have withdrawn from the field at TPC Southwind. Nothing against the event, but that’s the byproduct of so many original committals having to start their week by playing in a 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier.
Some of them (such as Adam Scott and Russell Knox) withdrew because they qualified, already meeting their goal for the week by Monday evening. Others (such as Jamie Lovemark and Beau Hossler) might be so spent from “Golf’s Longest Day” that they simply decided to take the next six of ’em off.
And then there are those who play 36 holes and keep going to Memphis for more golf. These players should own a slight betting disadvantage.
We can’t categorically look at all of the players in this week’s field who played a full 36 on Monday and automatically drop them from our radar screens. Simply put, there’s strength in numbers, and some of the players, at least by happenstance, will wind up on the leaderboard this weekend.
But we should still give an advantage to those who instead spent Monday resting and relaxing or practicing and prepping. The first three players on my list of eight to watch this week fit those criteria.
Before I get to them, a few other notes.
I already wrote about Joaquin Niemann, the 19-year-old phenom, in a separate column. He’s good. Really good. And he should be on your radar this week.
Daniel Berger is the two-time defending champion of this event. Obviously he’s a horse for the course, but lightning rarely strikes twice. Don’t expect it to strike a third time. Berger’s recent track record doesn’t do much to keep me interested in him this week.
And, yes, Phil Mickelson owns a solo ninth and T-2 in his past two Memphis starts. I’m still wary of him the week before a major, especially the U.S. Open, where you know all of his thoughts are being directed. Besides, we might be able to point to this tourney last year as the beginning of the end for Lefty and longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay. Could be some bad karma here in his return.
With that, let’s get to the eight guys I’m eyeing (all odds via Sportsbook.ag).
+750 to win; +155 for top-five
You’re not going to find much value in picking Koepka, but you might find a champion. He’s played like a man making up for lost time since his return from a wrist injury. After a T-42 in what was essentially a rehab start at Quail Hollow, he has finished T-11 and runner-up in his past two starts. Getting in one more rep before his title defense next week, don’t expect him to take his foot off the gas pedal now.