(CBS Miami) — The PGA Tour returns with the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational after a one-week break for the Olympics. In Japan, Xander Schauffele took gold representing the United States, followed on the medal stand by Rory Sabbatini for Slovakia and CT Pan for Chinese Tapei. Of the medal winners, only Schauffele will be in action at TPC Southwind. But he’ll have plenty of company. Nine of the world’s top 10 players will tee off, four of whom also competed at the Olympics.
One of those competitors possibly battling fatigue will be Justin Thomas. The world’s fifth-ranked player is the defending WGC-FedEx St. Jude champion. He won last year’s event by three strokes and finished 12th the prior year, in his only other appearance. Thomas hasn’t reached the top 10 since his Players Championship win in March.
“That’s tough, to be really honest, to go out and then come back,” says CBS Sports lead golf analyst Nick Faldo. It’s going to get you one way or the other. That’s a big time change, 14-hour time change. Some guys can do that. Going and then coming straight back, it will be a tough week for somebody like that. Who knows? Defending you’ll get extra motivation to do your best.”
Brooks Koepka has found more success of late. The WGC-FedEx St. Jude winner from 2019, who is ranked just behind Thomas, has made the top five in five of his last 10 events. That includes a tie for second at the PGA Championship and a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open.
Dustin Johnson (#2), Collin Morikawa (#3), and Bryson DeChambeau (#7) also join the top-heavy field. Only top-ranked Jon Rahm is missing. He withdrew from the event before the Olympics and then tested positive for COVID, missing that competition as well. The talent extends well beyond the top 10. Aside from Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton is the only other top-25 player not playing. That means 23 of the world’s 25 best will step up to the tee come Thursday in a no-cut event that will have them playing through the weekend.
“Many players deem this as their end-of-season push,” according to Faldo. “Obviously, [they] enjoy being in Memphis as well, enjoy the golf course. It’s a great field.”
TPC Southwind’s been a regular stop on the PGA Tour since 1989. Located in Memphis, Tennessee, the private golf club hosted the FedEx St. Jude Classic through 2018. The title sponsor, whose corporate offices are nearby, then took over what was then the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, moved the event to to TPC Southwind and rechristened it the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational a year later.
TPC Southwind has long been one of the Tour’s harder courses and bigger draws. It was designed by Ron Prichard on a former dairy farm nestled in the rolling Tennessee countryside. In 2004, the TPC Southwind underwent an extensive renovation. The work included 11 new tees and 15 new bunkers. The fairways were slimmed down and adjusted, with the grass changed from Bentgrass to Bermuda grass. The course was extended by over 200 yards, with trees and native areas added. More upgrades occurred a couple years ago, with bunkers added, resized and re-edged. Layouts on certain holes were shifted with yardage added.
The scenic TPC Southwind, a par-70, measures 7,233 yards. This ball-strikers course requires precision and shot-shaping. Seven of the holes dogleg left, five more dogleg right. The fairways can be challenging; the greens are firm. Almost 100 bunkers dot the course, and water hazards can be found on more than half of the holes. When the wind picks up, which it often does, the difficulty is compounded that much more.
The par-3 11th hole may be the course’s most notable. At 155 yards, it’s similar to TPC Sawgrass’s iconic island green on 17. A pond surrounds the green, and a small bunker guards the front edge. Players tend to go with a short iron to make the green; laying up is obviously not an option. The wind can hold up a lofty shot and drop it in the water. Longer shots might find one of the two backside bunkers.
The 14th hole, a longer par-3 at 181 yards, is among the Tour’s more difficult par-3s. It plays from a raised tee and carries over a pond that guards the front and right of the green. The green slopes back toward the water.
The 18th hole, a par-4 that stretches to 450 yards, doglegs to the left around another pond. Bunkers guard the fairway to the right to make things even more interesting. A strong finishing hole, the 18th promises its share of drama, especially with fans returning.
“I think there’s a couple of tough runs. Because when you look at it, short fours, just awkward holes,” Faldo said.
“If they get plenty of wind, the greens are pretty small,” Faldo continues. “It’s got a fair selection of difficult holes on that golf course. Probably why the guys enjoy playing it as well, because it’s pretty demanding. If you play well, you’ll finish well.”
Here are the favorites:
Brooks Koepka (12-1)
Koepka has played well at TPC Southwind over the course of his career. He placed second at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational last year, after winning it the year prior, and finished third and second in the FedEx St. Jude Classic in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Koepka has finished no worse than sixth in each of his last three tournaments.
Collin Morikawa (14-1)
Morikawa, ranked third in the world, tied for fourth in the Olympics playing for the United States. That follows his win at the Open Championship a couple weeks before and a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open a month before that. Morikawa placed 20th in his only prior event at TPC Southwind.
Xander Schauffele (14-1)
Schauffele, ranked fourth in the world, is coming off a gold-medal performance in the Olympics. His best showing at TPC Southwind was a sixth place last year. But he cracked the top 10 at the U.S. Open and the Masters in 2021.
Watch the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational Saturday, August 7 and Sunday, August 8, 2:00 – 6:00 p.m. ET on CBS.
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