After last week's conclusion of the regular season, the PGA Tour stops in Memphis, TN, for the St. Jude Championship for the start of the FedEx Cup Playoffs. This week marks the first time that TPC Southwind hosts a FedEx Cup Playoff event, but the third different event that will be held here. The par-70 7,244-yard TPC course features zoysia grass fairways and tee boxes with Bermuda greens.
This course is known for its abundant bunkers and 10 bodies of water. Much like TPC Sawgrass, TPC Southwind has its own iconic “Island Hole.” The famous 11th hole is longer than Sawgrass' 17th but is very similar. Last year, Si Woo Kim became a victim of the 11th and recorded a 13 on the hole. His 13 was the highest recorded score on a par-3 in a non-major in the history of keeping this stat.
The FedEx Cup Playoffs feature the best golfers in the world. Many have every tool in the bag to content at every event. When modeling for the week, there will be plenty of golfers who should win or could win. It's important not to overexpose this week. I am keeping my outright selection list to a calculated unit placement size. Like any postseason, it's important to use extreme caution and gamble responsibly. Here are my outright bets for the St. Jude Championship, odds via PointsBet Sportsbook:
Viktor Hovland to win (+3000)
When I think of a TPC course, my mind instantly thinks these are generally ball-striker paradises. TPC Southwind is no different. Historically this course has been bested by great ball-strikers who gain a ton of strokes on approach. While Hovland hasn't had his best ball-striking year, he's still a very quality ball-striker and is a golfer I am very interested in backing this week.
He's had a few missed cuts recently, which many people will likely remember and avoid him at all costs, not I. I am fully committed to backing Hovland. It's fair to say his ball-striking hasn't been the best recently, but he's still the 14th best ball-striker over the last 36 rounds. He's gaining +1.2 strokes per round ball striking. He has the tools to get to the level he was at the beginning of the season.
Another reason I'm on Hovland this week is because I can target him and not be overly concerned about his below-average short game. History has shown that putting is not highly critical here. That doesn't mean you can get away with being a poor putter, but it helps those who might not be the “Cameron Smith's” of the world.
Hovland should be comfortable after spending the past few weeks in Memphis with his coach and getting acclimated to the area and course. That and he's coming off a brilliant Sunday round at the Open, which saw him finish 4th.
Sungjae Im to win (+3000)
Im doesn't necessarily fit the ball-striker narrative I'm using this week, but it's hard to ignore his form. Tony Finau might be the only golfer who has been hotter. Whether they have benefited from playing in weaker field events or figured out whatever is plaguing them, there's no denying the success they've had around the course.
Im is coming off back-to-back 2nd place finishes. In both events, he, at one point, had a solo lead. Had it not been for Joohyung Kim's blazing final round, he likely would've been the winner of the Wyndham Championship.
In both tournaments, he's gained a ton of strokes all over the place. However, over those two tournaments, there was a consistent Sunday theme; his putting was terrible. In both final rounds, he lost -2.2 strokes putting. Pressure and stress come with trying to close out a tournament. Maybe the third time's a charm for him. I can't not back him at this price and the ridiculously great form he's in.
Will Zalatoris to win (+2500)
There are so many golfers I could back and make an excellent case for. However, there are fewer golfers that I couldn't see myself not betting. Zalatoris is precisely that. The news broke on Friday night when Zalatoris fired his best friend and caddy. While many scratched their head at the sudden split, Zalatoris said the move made the most sense to preserve their relationship. A move that hopefully reduces the stress that Zalatoris feels and will allow him to have meaningful and impactful conversations with his caddie without worrying about stepping on his toes or hurting his feelings.
Regardless of who was on the bag this week, I was backing Zalatoris. I smiled when he finished top-20 at the Rocket Mortgage and was delighted when he fought the cutline and finished 21st at the Wyndham. Neither of those courses were courses I expected Zalatoris to finish very high. Especially the crazy undulated greens at Sedgefield. Zalatoris has improved putting, but he's not there yet.
The first golfer on my list this week was Zalatoris. If there were a course where I could care less about how good of a putter you are, it would undoubtedly be TPC Southwind. Over the last 36 rounds, he's gaining the fifth most strokes on average per round ball striking. Zalatoris also gets up for the big tournaments with the strongest fields. There's a reason his price is +2500 and not +3000 like proven winner Sam Burns. The books know his elite ball-striking makes him a legitimate contender.