2023 FedEx St. Jude Championship First-Round Leader Picks: Bet Emiliano Grillo & Denny McCarthy

2023 FedEx St. Jude Championship First-Round Leader Picks: Bet Emiliano Grillo & Denny McCarthy article feature image

Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images. Pictured: Denny McCarthy.

The PGA Tour heads to Memphis, Tennessee, for the 2023 FedEx St. Jude Championship, with this being the first of three FedExCup Playoff events.

TPC Southwind is a par-70 at just 7,243 yards, and it features just two par-5s along with 12 par-4s. Eight of those par-4s are in the 445-510-yard range, which means approach play will be key into TPC Southwind's greens, which are the third-smallest on the PGA Tour.

I'll be targeting players with strong approach play and high birdie rates, as I anticipate the first-round lead being in the 7-under-par range. With a plethora of elite players in this limited field of 70 players, there aren't any players available past 110-1 in the first-round leader market. Despite the compressed first-round leader market, I have still found value on a pair of birdie-makers who have value to go low on Thursday at 50-1 or longer.

Here are my two picks for first-round leader at the 2023 FedEx St. Jude Championship.

FedEx St. Jude Championship First-Round Leader Picks

Emiliano Grillo +5000 (BetMGM)

Updated First-Round Tee Time: 12:15 p.m. ET

I’m backing Emiliano Grillo in the first-round leader market because he is an elite approach player from key distances and has a hot putter.

Grillo’s ball-striking gives him upside this week as he ranks seventh in Approach Proximity from 150-175 yards and 33rd in Approach Proximity from 175-200 yards. He has also proven to be a fast starter by ranking 25th in Round 1 Scoring Average. He is elite in Par-3 Birdie Rate and Par-3 Scoring Average and is also above average in those same par-4 markets as well.

His Par-5 Scoring Average and Par-5 Birdie Rate are worse than most players in the field, but with only two par-5s this week, that is less of a disadvantage than usual.

While Grillo went through a rough patch with the putter from January through early March where he lost strokes putting in seven consecutive tracked tournaments, he has since figured something out as he has gained strokes putting in 11 of his last 13 tournaments.

His putting tends to be “sticky” as he goes through ebbs and flows, and I love this market as a high-upside way to capitalize on his hot flatstick. The Charles Schwab Challenge winner played at TPC Southwind last year and gained over 3 strokes putting for the week, so he should pair that putting momentum with comfort on these greens from his only appearance at TPC Southwind.


Denny McCarthy +5500 (FanDuel)

Updated First-Round Tee Time: 12:03 p.m. ET

I love McCarthy in the first-round leader market this week because he can capitalize on the 12 par-4s with his high par-4 birdie rate and his potential to go low because of his elite putting.

With there being just two par-5s, the first-round leader will need to capitalize on birdie opportunities on par-4s. McCarthy is well positioned to do just that as he ranks 17th in Par-4 Birdie or Better Percentage and third on Tour in Par-4 Scoring Average. His low Bogey Rate (14.14% – 26th on Tour) and corresponding high Scrambling Rate (64.18% – 15th) also means that he may not need to make as many birdies as others on Thursday because he makes fewer mistakes.

While McCarthy’s proximity numbers from key distances from 125-200 yards aren’t elite, being arguably the best putter in the world (third in SG: Putting this season) affords him more margin for error. The Virginia Cavalier owns the lowest round on Tour this season (a 60 at TPC River Highlands) and has started fast consistently as he ranks 23rd in Round 1 Scoring Average.

He’s coming off of a pair of missed cuts in his last two starts where he was horrific on approach, but I’ll use this as an opportunity to buy low on him in this market at 55-1. He should be comfortable this week at TPC Southwind as he has a pair of top-20 finishes in two starts here while gaining at least 3.6 strokes for the week with his putter each time.

McCarthy also should have an advantage of playing in softer conditions on Thursday morning following the rain on Wednesday night/Thursday morning as he tees off in the fifth group at 10:03 a.m. local time.

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