With no European Tour event this week, all the serious golf betting attention is on the St Jude Classic. As the tournament is named after the patron saint of lost causes, there must be a temptation to look for yet another apparently unbackable winner to follow up on the shocks landed by Shane Lowry, Christian Cevear and Jeppe Huldhal in the past month.
In reality, however, there are numerous useful pointers towards picking this week’s winner. For a start, there’s the fact that Southwind has been hosting this event for 20 years, so we have a huge bank of course form to disect. Then there’s the fact that every winner this century has been American, a useful clue given that the field includes some of Europe’s finest who could have one eye on next week’s US Open.
Preparation for Bethpage Black would also seem to be the prime reason that Phil Mickelson makes a rare appearance at Southwind, his first tournament since the terrible news emerged that his wife, Amy, is battling cancer. Naturally, we can only guess how much his mind has been focussed on golf or practice. Nor does it bode well for his Southwind chances that he missed the cut on his only previous visit, or the fact that he also missed the cut in the week preceding the Masters, when in the best of form.
In any case, this isn’t the type of course that Mickelson would normally stand out. Driving distance is virtually irrelevant here, with tee to green accuracy very much the order of the day. The last five renewals were all won by a specific type of short and straight hitting, experienced American; defending champion Justin Leonard twice, Woody Austin, Jeff Maggert and DAVID TOMS. Equally, there are numerous players with consistent course records that fit a similar profile.
If it wasn’t for the presence of Mickelson, plus top-class Europeans Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington and Henrik Stenson, then we wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near the 14/1 and 16/1 available about course specialists Leonard and Toms. Their records at Southwind are quite extraordinary. Including those two wins, Leonard has five top-10s to his name here. Between 2002 and 2007, Toms’ finishes at Southwind read 4th, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 10th and 3rd. His only disappointing effort came last year when in the doledrums, so that is easily discounted given this year’s much improved form.
As I’ve repeatedly said this year; without success so far; that Toms is ready to win again, he must be given another chance at Southwind. Toms will have no better opportunity to win all year. The same could equally be said of Leonard, who was only discarded from the staking plan because of my aversion to backing defending champions.
None of those three Europeans make any sort of appeal. Harrington desperately needs to find some form ahead of the US Open, as there’s been nothing to cheer about in 2009. He hasn’t made a single top-10 since his first start of the year, and has missed three out of four cuts since disappointing at the Masters. There were a few vague hints of some form in Sergio Garcia‘s game last time out, but he still looks in need of rehabilitation both in terms of his putting and temperament.
Stenson is much more plausible, on the basis of that superb win at Sawgrass, but this really doesn’t look his type of course. Furthermore, two missed cuts since Sawgrass demonstrate alarming inconsistency. Another pair of plausible Bethpage candidates in this week’s line-up are Retief Goosen and Camilo Villegas, though again, neither of these long-hitting non-Americans really seem the obvious type to prosper around this layout.