St Jude Invitational
The big guns are rocking and rolling for the first $10.5m World Golf Championship showpiece since the restart, the St Jude Invitational in Elvis Presley country at Southwind, Memphis. Only Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Adam Scott are missing from the elite field of 78 the week before the first Major of this bizarre year.
Rory McIlroy, deposed as world top dog by Jon Rahm’s emphatic triumph at Muirfield Village, has every incentive to pull his socks up as victory in Tennessee would reclaim the No. 1 spot for the Northern Irishman.
Like Woods, he is used to drawing huge crowds and like Woods, he admits he has struggled to get the adrenaline flowing in the eerie behind-closed-doors silence which greets his best shots.
Since the resumption at the end of June, Rory has not produced the run of high finishes he racked up pre-COVID but now he has Ryder Cup colleague Rahm to aim at, expect a far more committed display on the 7244-yard par 70 where he shared fourth spot behind Brooks Koepka last year, just one stroke ahead of Rahm.
That was Southwind’s debut as a WGC mega payday but the course was long on the Tour roster as host of the rank-and-file St Jude Classic. The field was obviously less strong pre-2019 but it is still relevant that Dustin Johnson and Daniel Berger are dual champions there – and both Americans are post-lockdown winners. Positive mental associations with a course are usually worth a couple of shots.
I’m hoping Daniel Berger will rock ‘n’ roll again on the track where he notched his first two PGA victories in 2016-17. The Charles Schwab winner does not capture the public’s imagination but pre-and-post hiatus his figures – 9th, 5th and 4th in February and March, and first and third on his first two starts back, at Colonial and Hilton Head, stand close inspection.
It is unfortunate Berger missed the cut last time out at Memorial but then so did DJ. That course beat up a lot of big names and Johnson’s hideous last three rounds, culminating in his withdrawal after round one at the 3M last week citing a sore back do not bode well for his Memphis prospects.
With worried Koepka’s golf almost unrecognisable from the stuff that got him to numero uno, the Europeans should flourish on a course where they had five of the top eight last year, Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood sharing fourth with McIlroy, Rahm in seventh and Ian Poulter eighth.
I can see Fitzpatrick, whose US breakthrough cannot be long delayed after his third to Rahm at Memorial, Matt Wallace, right behind him in fourth, and Tyrrell Hatton, who opened his US account at Bay Hill In March, all getting in the mix along with McIlroy and Rahm.
I have a hunch Jordan Spieth will challenge. He is playing better now than when 12th on course debut last year. And the Memorial fourth of Jason Day, another former world No. 1 who lost his way, Is noted. Form is only temporary, class is forever.
One we won’t be backing is Tony Finau who blew a big winning change for the second week running. He may have changed caddies but cannot change what goes on in his head. Whoever you back, you get four days for your money as there is no cut!
Sadly, the British Masters produced no British master with 50-1 Italian Renato Paratore beating a 19-year-old Dane we’ll be hearing a lot of, Rasmus Hojgaard, and South African Justin Harding.
But Andy Sullivan, Robert Rock and Eddie Pepperell could strike back for the home side in the Hero Open at Forest of Arden close to Coventry. This is virtually a home game for Midlanders Sullivan and Rock, who shared fourth spot at Close House on Saturday.
The sponsors have managed to get the word “English” scrubbed from the title which is a shame as the English Open, in its previous incarnation, had a rich heritage around the turn of the century, with Darren Clarke’s victory bringing the curtain down in 2002. Arden hosted three British Masters and four English Opens.
The most interesting name in the field is five-time winner Thorbjorn Olesen, who was banned from the European Tour after allegedly urinating in the aisle and being charged with assaulting a stewardess on the flight back from Nashville to London.
The case was due to be heard in May but has been put back until the end of 2021 because of the “unprecedented delay in court proceedings”.
In the unique circumstances the Dane has been allowed back to play and got some rust out of his game in a local tournament. He’s one of the best in a modest field so might be worth a tiny wager as the 50-1 won’t be offered again if he is competitive.
Even more speculative is Scottish journeyman David Drysdale, still a maiden on his 500th start hence his 200-1 quote. The 45-year-old from Dunbar made top-ten at Forest of Arden in 2002, the last time the course was used on the main tour, and went agonisingly close to breaking his duck in March when losing out to some freak Jorge Campillo putting in a marathon Qatar play-off.