The majority of the biggest names in world golf step aside this week leaving the door open for those who play in their shadows to take centre stage at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
After a congested few weeks with strong fields at the Memorial Tournament, the Dean & Deluca Invitational and the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour, only one of the world’s top 10 and two of the top 20 enter at TPC Southwind.
Rickie Fowler is the one player to enter from inside the top 10 and with four top fives, including a win, in eight starts, you won’t find a man in better form heading into this event. Other players to look out for are world-number-22 Brooks Koepka – who was tied second last year and tied third the year before – and Phil Mickelson – whose tournament-form over the past two years reads exactly the same.
Last year Daniel Berger was the man who beat Koepka and Mickelson, as well as Steve Stricker, by three shots for his first PGA Tour title despite the mental challenge of lengthy weather delays. Berger enters to defend his title alongside previous past winners Fabián Gómez (2015), Ben Crane (2014), Harris English (2013), Brian Gay (2009) and Bob Estes (2001).
World-number-one Dustin Johnson (2012) and Lee Westwood (2010) are high-profile past-winners not entering, whilst David Toms (winner in 2003 and 2004) ends a streak of 25 consecutive starts at this event.
Despite its lack of attraction for big names, the tournament still boasts a purse of $6.4million with a winner’s share of $1.152million and offers 500 FedExCup points to the winner; points that would be very worthwhile to the leading FedExCup player entering, Fowler, who would shoot up from eighth to fourth with a win.
TPC Southwind hosts again this year as it has every year since 1989. Its sounds a feeble 7,244 yards but relative to its par of 70 it’s no pushover. Furthermore, with over 100 hazards, the course in Memphis was ranked ninth of 51 in course difficulty on the PGA Tour in 2011. The course record in 61, set by Jay Delsing (1993) and winner Estes (2001). Since 2010 winning scores have averaged in the low-teens, which is unsurprising considering that the course only boasts two par fives.
Not only does this event offer the opportunity for players to find the limelight in the absence of the biggest stars, but it is also the final opportunity for players to move into the world’s top 60 for US Open qualification.