PGA Tour players find themselves in arguably the most arduous stretch of the season in moving from Columbus, Ohio to Memphis, Tennessee for the FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind.
Several competitors in the $6 million event competed in last week’s Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide and then played in one of the 10 U.S. Open sectional qualifiers on Monday, a 36-hole marathon. Some notable players who arrive in Memphis having played 108 holes since last Thursday include two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.
Some others played and successfully advanced through qualifying and will tee it up at TPC Southwind, among them former world No. 1 Luke Donald. When the last putt drops on Sunday, it’s on to Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington, near Tacoma.
CBS Sports analyst Ian Baker-Finch sizes up the field at TPC Southwind and assesses the challenges during this busy part of the FedExCup season.
With the U.S. Open next week on the West Coast, this week’s field is very good, but it’s never traditionally one of the strongest fields. What do you look for this week? Is this a week for a player who maybe has been struggling to break through?
Really, it’s actually quite a good field, considering it’s the week before a major. You have a number of PGA Tour winners (79) and major champions in the field (15). And considering that the U.S. Open [is] next week, a five-hour flight, I think this field is very good, and it will have a good winner.
It’s a friendly place with great crowds. I’ve been going there since 1990, and I’ve always enjoyed it. And I will enjoy being in the 18th tower this week. I love the fact that a guy likes Phil [Mickelson] comes and tries to get his game major-championship ready. I’m buying stock in the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
What are the major factors in getting around TPC Southwind?
Since they changed the greens and got the greens much firmer, players enjoy it more. It’s obviously nothing like what they’ll see next week at Chambers Bay, a kind of linksy golf course up there in Washington. But it’s a good, strong golf course, lots of water, so they need to be very accurate all the way around.
You have some players in the field who competed in U.S. Open qualifying, 36 holes, and I’m wondering if, having successfully gotten through, played well for two rounds, they might be able to ride some momentum, even if they might be a little tired?
I think so. If you played well, you’re feeling good about your game. Those guys have played under extreme pressure for 36 holes in one day, but this is a good opportunity for some of them to come in and play well this week. They know they have good golf in them because they just showed it.
You mentioned Phil Mickelson. Short of winning, what would be a good week for Phil as he gets ready for the U.S. Open?
I’d like to see him make a lot of birdies. I’d like to see him figure out the putter. That’s what he needs. To win the career grand slam at the U.S. Open — and I don’t want to get too much into the U.S. Open – he’s going to need a confidence-building week here. You want to build on some momentum. I look for him to be aggressive this week.
A few years ago, in 2012, Rory McIlroy added the FedEx St. Jude Classic in the 11th hour, sort of an emergency tournament before the U.S. Open, because he wasn’t playing well. It seemed to help him. (McIlroy finished tied for seventh.) Would you have liked to see Tiger Woods do the same thing after struggling on the weekend (85-74) and finishing last at the Memorial Tournament?
He does say he needs more starts, but I wouldn’t have advised him to do that. It would have been nice for the tournament for him to make a late entry, but he needs to go off by himself and work it out for himself. He has far too much talent and far too much work ethic. He’s too smart… for him to be floundering like he did at Memorial is a mental issue, and I believe you have to do that away from competition. Yes, he needs more reps, as he calls it, but this was probably not the week to do it. Simply not the right timing, even though I think he would enjoy TPC Southwind.
Putting you on the spot. Your favorites and dark horses?
I like some of the big hitters. I think Dustin Johnson is going to be tough to beat. Brooks Koepka will show up for sure. Steven Bowditch he could play well again, obviously coming off a win in Dallas (at the AT&T Byron Nelson). Dark horses… well, I don’t know if I’m going out on a limb because he’s won here just a few years ago (in 2013), but I think Harris English is about due for another win. I like lefties, so maybe Brian Harman, another Georgia Bulldog. They seem to win every couple of weeks these days, don’t they? [Ed. 6/11/15: Dustin Johnson withdrew from the tournament due to illness.]
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.