FedEx St. Jude Championship: Consider Adding These Six Players to Your Card
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) Pictured: Sahith Theegala
MEMPHIS — If you’re sitting on a Si Woo Kim or J.J. Spaun pre-tournament outright ticket, congratulations: You’re one-quarter of the way there.
Ah, if only it were that easy.
Scores were low in the first round here at TPC Southwind, as more than half the field posted a number in the 60s on this par-70 track.
Entering Friday, your betting favorite is Tony Finau (+700), who is looking for a victory in his third consecutive start. However, there are plenty of big names lingering around.
Here are a half-dozen players to consider as we enter the second round. I’m not suggesting you bet all of ‘em, but they’re each worth a thought with 54 holes remaining.
Sahith Theegala (7-under 63): +1800
As Thursday’s opening round got underway, I really didn’t think there would be much of a differential between scoring in the early and late waves. Sure, totals are commonly lower in the morning, but we were looking at warm weather throughout the day, very little wind and conditions soft enough from two evenings of heavy rain that officials had them playing lift, clean and place.
It didn’t play out that way, though, as perhaps the humidity led to an afternoon malaise, with only four of the top 17 scores from that side of the draw.
The low man was Theegala, who joined Michael Collins and myself on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio earlier in the week. After we interviewed him, both of us commented that he just exudes everything we often see from the game’s superstars. Talent, sure, but he’s also filled with confidence and swagger.
Theegala has already come close a few times this year and a field littered with big-timers shouldn’t scare him off. You’re not getting a bargain here, as he was triple-digit odds pre-tourney, but with a morning round awaiting on Friday, he’s got the stuff to go low again and hold off his fellow contenders on the weekend.
Aaron Wise (4-under 66): +3500
Much like Theegala, Wise is a player I often target because I don’t believe the books have valued him to an extent that’s equivalent to his talent level.
At last week’s Wyndham Championship, his strokes gained number for approach shots decreased in every round, perhaps causing some bettors to be reluctant to play him this week. Any fears should be alleviated now, though, as he gained 2.43 strokes with his irons on Thursday, good for sixth in the field.
Also like Theegala, I don’t think he’s one to wilt under the weight of competing against big names. We saw Wise finish second at the Memorial a few months ago with many of these same players in that field.
At some point, Wise is going to win a bigger event and while he still owns some value, I don’t want to miss out.
Cameron Smith (3-under 67): +2000
If you’re into anarchy and chaos, then Smith is your man.
This is the same Smith who owns three victories this year, including at the 150th Open Championship and the PGA TOUR’s flagship event in his adopted hometown — and the same one who earlier this week held a brief, awkward press conference here at TPC Southwind, during which he never denied reports that he’ll join LIV Golf as soon as the FedEx Cup playoffs are over.
What we’re left with is a juicy storyline as the Aussie chases the season-long title and, perhaps, Player of the Year honors. As one colleague asked me on the course Thursday morning, “What is the PGA TOUR going to do if he wins this thing?”
I don’t have a good answer for that question and I presume they don’t have a good answer, either. All we can guess is that it would be a recipe for more awkwardness. If that’s what you’re into — not to mention playing a proven winner who owned some solid ball-striking numbers in the opening round — this could be a nice live pickup.
Collin Morikawa (3-under 67): +3500
My favorite pre-tourney play this week had a volatile start, posting two birdies and three bogeys in his first five holes, before settling down and making five birdies in his next dozen holes.
A bogey from just 18 feet away on the last undoubtedly left a bad taste in Morikawa's mouth, but there’s still reason for optimism. On what’s known as a second-shot golf course, his iron play was atypically just a bit better than field average, but the flatstick was hot, as he gained 2.30 strokes on the greens.
For most players, those type of numbers would signify an impending fade, as ball-striking is more sustainable than putting. However, I see it as a positive sign that he’s rolling it so well on these Bermuda greens.
Shane Lowry (2-under 68): +6000
Only five players in the field gained more than 0.9 strokes with both their irons and putter in Thursday’s opener. One of them was Spaun, who simply played one of the best rounds of his career. Same with Finau, who’s obviously on fire lately. Sepp Straka did it out of nowhere. And there was Adam Hadwin, who struggled with the driver and wedges on his way to a 1-under 69.
The other one? Lowry, who wasn’t good off the tee, but made up for it with the other 13 clubs in the bag.
One player told me this week that he believes the greatest PGA TOUR comp for TPC Southwind is PGA National, the host of the annual Honda Classic, where Lowry coulda/woulda/shoulda won earlier this year, if not for the unfortunate timing of a rain storm as he finished the final round.
(More evidence of this correlation: Straka, who won the Honda, but has been brutal lately with six consecutive MCs, posted an opening-round 64 on Thursday.)
Since then, I’ve felt like Lowry was owed a little something from the golf gods. While he’s enjoyed a terrific season, the lack of a victory is still eating at him a bit. This is a chance to change that.
Rory McIlroy (even-par 70): +4500
It wasn’t a very Rory-esque day, as he found just 5-of-14 fairways and 10-of-18 greens in regulation, but a pair of late birdies at least got him to within eight shots of the lead.
That’s hardly a daunting scenario for a guy who can go low in a hurry.
He opened with a single-digit number this week and for those who liked him, but couldn’t quite bite on the short price, this is a chance to take a chance and hop on that train.
Even at +850 for one of his patented “back-door” top-fives isn’t a bad idea.