Sobel’s Golf Betting Preview for the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational: It’s Justin Thomas’ Turn to Win
Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR via Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Thomas plays a bunker shot
- Read Jason Sobel's betting preview for the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational below.
- You'll find his favorite bets, sleeper picks, props and DFS plays for this week's PGA TOUR event.
None of us complained when the first half-dozen events of the PGA TOUR’s return to golf were won by elite-level players of varying degrees. Nobody minded being spoiled for a month-and-a-half as we were being treated to watching so many of the game’s best playing at such a high level.
And yet, maybe – just for a little while – we lost sight of the feel-good stories on the 18th green on Sunday afternoons.
Michael Thompson helped us remember in a special way at the 3M Open.
This is a guy who’d once been earmarked for big things in the game. He was cruising toward low-amateur honors at the 2008 Masters before calling a penalty on himself when his ball moved and nobody else saw it.
Four years later, he finished runner-up to Webb Simpson at the U.S. Open. The next year, he won his first PGA TOUR title at the Honda Classic. And then? Calling it seven years of mediocrity might be too harsh, but it was at least seven years of never reaching that peak again, surviving all of the usual ebbs and flows that come with being a professional golfer.
Until Sunday, that is, when Thompson walked off that final green, tears in his eyes, visibly choked up, and said what we already knew he was thinking: “It’s been a long time.”
Those who somehow had the foresight to back Thompson pre-tournament likely looked the same way after that one — and regular longshot bettors might’ve been saying the same thing, too.
Hope you enjoyed it, because we’re back to big-boy golf tournaments for the next two weeks, starting with the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and following with the PGA Championship.
(Of course, the alternate-field Barracuda Championship is also being played this week. I’ve listed two plays for that tournament below.)
Other than a few names who elected to eschew the second WGC of this bizarre year — cough Tiger Woods cough, cough — most of the world’s upper-tier talent will be present at TPC Southwind for the second edition of this event in its current form.
Expect plenty of familiar faces on the weekend leaderboard — and expect this one to offer some crucial insight into which players might be ready to contend at TPC Harding Park for the first major in over a year.
Let’s get to this week’s picks, starting with a guy who opens the week as the second-ranked player on oddsmakers’ boards.
One player to win the tournament.
Justin Thomas (+1000, $10 wins $100)
JT won this event two years ago, but of course, that was the final time it was played as the WGC-Bridgestone and was held in Ohio, so that shouldn’t have much bearing on this one. Except, it sorta does.
In his last seven WGC starts, Thomas has finished 12th or better in six of ‘em. He clearly enjoys showing up and showing off against his fellow world’s best players. Since the restart, Thomas has fallen victim to short periods of poor play, from opening nine-hole stretches to the closing three-hole stretch at the Workday Charity Open.
It feels like he’s close, though, to putting it all together for four straight rounds. He was T-12 at this event last year, which underscores a bigger point. In today’s world, the most recent winner — whomever it is — often receives the deserved instant adulation on Monday morning; we’ve seen this for the likes of Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa and Jon Rahm since the restart.
Let’s remember, though, that JT has played 18 tournaments in the past year. He’s missed three cuts. In the 15 where he’s reached the weekend, he’s never finished lower than 18th place. I don’t think anyone has been questioning his talent, it’s just a matter of talking up others after those wins. It’s only a matter of time, though, before Thomas wins again and all signs could be pointing toward him this week.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Rory McIlroy (+1150)
Maybe you’re in an OAD pool and were saving the erstwhile No. 1 player for a major, only to recently realize there’s just one of ‘em remaining in this season. Or maybe you’ve vaulted into the lead and need a safe play to maintain your advantage. Either way, it’s important to remember that Rory was the 54-hole leader last year after a third-round 62, but withered in the shadow of Brooks Koepka on Sunday afternoon.
As if the opportunity to overcome that defeat wasn’t motivation enough, the fact that Jon Rahm has surpassed him in the world ranking should have him grinding a little harder for this one. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see McIlroy reassert his position as one of the game’s top players with a statement victory this week.
Marc Leishman (+7500)
You don’t compete at a place called TPC Southwind and expect the weather to remain perfectly calm all week. You’ll read a handful of references to the expected double-digit mph winds this week, which will undoubtedly fit a certain subset of players.
Whenever it blows this much, Leishman will likely be in play for me — and that’s certainly the case at this one. He hasn’t been playing his best golf recently, but last year’s solo third-place finish here shows that he enjoys this course and can obviously contend. If you’re looking for an OAD play just below the upper tier, this Aussie isn’t a bad choice.
One player to finish top-five.
Billy Horschel (+800)
When Horschel won his first PGA TOUR title at the 2013 Zurich Classic, he’d entered that event with results of 9th-3rd-2nd the previous three weeks. One year later, he parlayed a T-2 finish into a pair of wins in his next two starts.
Admittedly, this trend didn’t hold three years ago, when he MC’d in three events before winning again, but I still maintain that Horschel is a momentum player, one who tends to feed off strong recent results. This is relevant once again, as he finished T-7 at the Workday Charity Open and T-13 at the Memorial Tournament in his two previous results.
Throw in the fact that he was T-9 at this tournament last year and I think it’s very reasonable that Horschel at least contends for another title this week. He’s listed here for top-five, but I similarly like him for top-10 wagers and as a DFS play.
One player to finish top-10.
Matt Wallace (+900)
Expect Wallace to be a popular play on the heels of his T-4 finish at the Memorial two weeks ago. He clearly plays well when conditions are tougher and the wind is blowing, which could be the case this week. He’s now played a half-dozen U.S.-based events since the restart and his results are largely improving, which suggests an increasing comfort level.
A share of 27th place at this event last year doesn’t scream at us to back him, but a third-round 65 proves that he owns the ability to post a low one here.
One player to finish top-20.
Robert MacIntyre (+500)
The Scottish lefty hasn’t competed in more than four months, which could render him a forgotten man this week, but over the past year, he’s earned a reputation as one of the game’s most promising up-and-comers.
In his first full season on the European Tour last year, he compiled three runner-up finishes. Almost every WGC shows an undervalued international player near the top of the leaderboard and this 23-year-old could easily be that player this week.
Matthew Fitzpatrick (+125)
In lieu of the usual top-30/40 bets listed in this preview each week, I’ll offer an extra top-20 play in this limited field. Like his countryman Wallace, Fitz is a player who similarly plays his best golf under tough conditions. Following a T-4 last year, top-20 might be an overly conservative play, but it’s tough to see him outside of the top 25% of this field, which is where a top-20 will land a player this week.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
For DFS purposes, the best thing about this week is that every player is guaranteed four rounds, so you won’t have to worry about anybody in your lineup missing the cut. Of course, the worst thing about this week is that nobody in anyone else’s lineup is going to MC, either, which means you’ll need to find an edge.
In these situations, two-thirds of the field will be out of contention by the weekend. Many of them will mentally check out, ready to move on to next week’s PGA. I want players who tend to grind, even when they can’t win. This idea fits Reed perfectly.
In three of his four made cuts since the restart — at the Charles Schwab, the Travelers and the Memorial — Reed improved his leaderboard standing greatly on the weekend. At Colonial, he was T-35 entering the weekend and finished T-7; at TPC River Highlands, he was T-53 entering the weekend and finished T-24; at the second Muirfield Village event, he was T-64 entering the weekend and finished T-10.
You’re going to need a guy this week who doesn’t mail it in when he’s out of contention and Reed has proven he can be that guy.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
When the wind blows, you can do a lot worse than having a Texan in your lineup — and this one tends to play some of his best golf in a stiff breeze, as evidenced by victories in San Antonio and Palm Springs. I’ll admit that his recent results leave plenty to be desired, with exactly zero top-30 finishes since his AmEx victory six months ago, but on the bright side, that should help keep his ownership low, which is exactly what we’re looking for with this type of DFS option.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Byeong Hun An (+8000)
If you’re venturing outside the favorites for an FRL bet — and you should be, almost always — then one strategy is to bank on solid ball-strikers who could get hot for 18 holes with the flatstick. That is inherently what we’re hoping for anytime we bank on Ben, who ranks 27th in strokes gained tee-to-green this season and 204th in strokes gained putting.
There is some history here, too. He’s already been FRL at the CJ Cup, with an opening 64, and he’s posted Thursday scores of 65, 66, 67 (three times) and 68 (twice) amongst his 18 total starts.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Daniel Berger (+3000)
Ranked 28th in the world with five top-10 finishes in his last six starts, Berger is finally getting the respect that he deserves in books. It makes sense this week, as he returns to Memphis for the first time since 2018, when he claimed the second of two consecutive back-to-back titles at TPC Southwind, before it was a WGC event.
This is a perfect embodiment of the intersection between course history and recent form for which we’re continually searching, but it’s nearly impossible to bet him at the same price as Webb Simpson, Collin Morikawa and even Dustin Johnson, despite his WD last week. Instead, I’ll resign Berger bets to head-to-head plays, where he’ll only need to beat one other player on the weekend.
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
Brooks Koepka (+3650)
For the second straight week, I’m listing Koepka as my favorite fade — and I might keep doing it until he gives us reason to believe otherwise. Clearly, something is wrong with the four-time major champion right now. Most of the guesses will revolve around his lingering knee injury or lack of motivation during non-major events, but I’ll submit a theory which should hold similar weight: Maybe he’s just struggling getting his ball into the hole.
In his last eight rounds, he’s broken 70 just once, which simply isn’t good enough. That spans three tournaments which have seen him post negative putting numbers each time. Hitting it decently and putting poorly is an easier fix than vice versa, but until we see better numbers all round, this week’s defending champion should be a fade.
My favorite non-PGA Tour plays of the week.
- Brendan Steele (+2500) to win the Barracuda Championship
- Seamus Power to finish top-10 at the Barracuda Championship
OK, so this isn’t exactly “off-tour,” but the upcoming alternate-field event should offer some value on plenty of players with whom you’re already familiar.
My favorite play here is Steele, for a few different reasons:
- With the Modified Stableford format, we’re looking for guys who make a lot of birdies and he qualifies, ranking 50th this season with just under four per round.
- He loves this event, with four finishes of eighth or better in six career starts at this one.
- He’s fresh off a couple of seriously strong ball-striking performances before resting last week.
- He’s playing with house money, having only recently qualified for next week’s PGA Championship.
- He’s already contended a few times this year in more competitive fields, so he should have plenty of confidence against this one.
As for Power, he’s mired in a streak of four MCs (including three on the Korn Ferry Tour) wrapped around a single T-12 finish since the restart, but this is a pick based less on form than format. Power is currently ranked 14th on the PGA TOUR in birdie average, tops in the Barracuda field, just two-hundredths of a point behind Xander Schauffele and one-hundredth of a point behind McIlroy.
This format rewards birdies more than it punishes bogeys, so aggressive play is beneficial. Power was T-25 here a year ago, so here’s hoping/guessing he can improve on that result.