Teeing Off: The Coral Golf Blog
St Jude Classic preview
The last event before the US Open takes place this week as some of the field make their final preparations before the year’s second major. Understandably most of the world’s best have taken the week off but Phil Mickelson headlines the Memphis tournament. Dustin Johnson defends the title at the 7,239 yard par 70 TPC Southwind.
Robert Karlsson has twice come close to landing the title here and the Swede could go one better this week. He tied for second on his first visit in 2010 and was only beaten in a play-off 12 months later. Karlsson did miss the cut last season but this was during a terrible loss of form and confidence when suffering from the yips.
There have been promising signs from the big Scandinavian recently with a tie for fourth at the Wells Fargo Championship last month. Karlsson also recently qualified for both the Open Championship and next week’s US Open so his revival is well underway. Scrambling skills are important around this tough track and he currently sits inside the top 30 on the PGA Tour for this stat. The 11-time European Tour winner will relish a return to Southwind and could go close at 33/1 each way.
Russell Henley has been the most impressive rookie on the PGA Tour this season and made an astonishing start when he landed the Sony Open in January. This victory, which came on another tight par 70 course, marked out the exceptional putter as an emerging American star.
The 24-year-old is hungry for more success and has posted two other top-six finishes including last weekend at the Memorial Tournament. He appears to have few weaknesses and this is evident in his stats this year which include fourth in par four birdies or better leaders and fifth in the all-round ranking. Henley is rounding into form nicely and the young talent can mount a strong title challenge at 33/1 each way.
Boo Weekley is one of the best ball strikers on tour and the quirky American was a popular champion after he ended a five-year winless drought in his last start at the Crowne Plaza Invitational. So often his putting has let him down, but he finally found his touch on the greens which helped him overhaul leader Matt Kuchar. The victory was coming though after posting three top-eight finishes earlier this season.
Significantly, the 39-year-old’s best showing at TPC Southwind came shortly after his last title in 2008 when he tied for fourth place. The track should suit his accurate game which sees him sit fourth in both total driving and greens in regulation percentage. Take a confident Weekley to maintain his purple patch at 33/1 each way.
John Merrick has turned himself into something of a specialist at the venue in recent years with seven of his last eight rounds under par. He was agonisingly close to the victory 12 months ago when he finished in second spot and the year before ended up in a tie for 11th place.
Merrick’s technique under pressure was on show earlier this year when he landed his maiden win at the Northern Trust Open. The 31-year-old held his nerve at Riviera to claim victory in the play-off as he built on the experience gained in three previous top tens in majors. Merrick clearly enjoys courses which place a premium on accuracy and he could be a spot of value at 66/1 each way.
Experience is valuable around this course with veterans David Toms and Justin Leonard both multiple winners at the event. Davis Love III has not competed regularly here but on his infrequent visits has performed impressively. The 2012 US Ryder Cup captain shot all four rounds in the 60s last season on his way to a tie for third. On his only other visits in the last decade, he was fourth in 2005 and 24th in 2008.
It may be pushing it to expect the 49-year-old to win here but there is plenty of scope for the 20-time PGA Tour winner to contend. Love III, who is fourth in the par three birdie or better leader rankings, warmed up with an encouraging top 30 at the Memorial Tournament. Perhaps the American can roll back the years and is worth backing as an outside pick at 100/1 each way.
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