During an era when there are more outsiders capable of winning golf tournaments than ever before, the St Jude Classic has generally offered some respite for punters. Indeed, Brian Gay‘s victory was one of few highlights of a miserable 2009 campaign for this column, and prior to that, four of the previous six renewals had gone to course specialists David Toms and Justin Leonard. Even recent winning outsiders, such as Woody Austin or Jeff Maggert, at least fitted the profile of straight-hitting Americans with a wealth of course experience behind them. Of the 32 players to have registered a top-five finish since the course was remodelled in 2005, only four were younger than 30.
COURSE AND KEY STATS
Southwind has hosted this event since 1989, so we really should know what to look for. This narrow par 70, with small Bermuda greens, places a strong emphasis on tee-to-green accuracy. Driving distance is virtually irrelevant, as illustrated by those short and straight hitting recent winners. The three statistical disciplines to follow are therefore driving accuracy, greens in regulation, along with scrambling, given the small greens.
2.5pts ew ROBERT ALLENBY @ 20/1 (GENERAL)
Given the emphasis on long game accuracy, it comes as no surprise to read Allenby‘s impressive Southwind record. He’s made the top 20 on five of his last six visits, including second and fourth in the last two renewals. Last week’s missed cut, on his first start since finishing runner-up at Sawgrass, is easily forgiven against the balance of his stellar form over the past nine months. He remains long overdue a fifth PGA Tour title, and this looks the ideal opportunity.
2pts ew ZACH JOHNSON @ 25/1 (GENERAL)
So long as we’re prepared to forgive a disappointing show last week, coming off the back of a superb performance to win at Colonial, Zach must be expected to be there or thereabouts. His 21-under-par tally at Colonial was the result of some sublime golf, confirming that there are few better at upping a gear when he gets the scent of victory. Johnson’s sole weakness is a lack of distance off the tee, which will be irrelevant around this ideal course. His sole previous visit to Southwind back in 2006, before becoming a Major champion and prolific PGA Tour winner, saw him make the top five.
2pts ew DAVID TOMS @ 25/1 (GENERAL)
Apart from Tiger around certain tracks like Torrey Pines, you’d struggle to find a course specialist more worthy of the tag than Toms around Southwind. In eight visits from 2002 onwards, his record reads a remarkable seven top tens, including six top fours and two victories. The only time he missed the top ten was in 2008, which was his worst season for well over a decade. Granted, 2010 hasn’t been fantastic either, but he did register four sub-par rounds last time out at Colonial for a respectable 13th.
1.5pts ew HEATH SLOCUM @ 33/1 (GENERAL)
Slocum has been impressively accurate and consistent all year, and Southwind offers arguably his best opportunity yet of a win. He’s only missed one cut in 2010, and has four top 20s from his last six starts, including amongst the elite at Sawgrass and Augusta. Predictably for such a straight hitter, he has a sound Southwind record, making the top 25 in four of the last five renewals.
1pt ew BOO WEEKLEY @ 66/1 (GENERAL)
Boo is another about whom I’m prepared to overlook a disappointing show at the Memorial, on the basis of some encouraging form beforehand. The 2008 Ryder Cup hero appears to be getting his act together just in time to grab Corey Pavin‘s attention, with top 25s in five of his last eight starts. He’s already finished fourth here in 2008, and also made the top 20 way back in 2002 when a golfing nobody. Indeed, he has always seemed to thrive in Tennessee, as illustrated by his record on the Nationwide Tour.