A strong field that includes 45 of the top 50 players in the world will congregate in Memphis this week for the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. This is the third world golf championship thus far this season with Rory McIlroy winning the WGC-HSBC Champions back in November and Patrick Reed winning the WGC-Mexico Championship in February. Here is a countdown of the best picks for this week starting at No. 20.
20. Dustin Johnson: Ordinarily, I’d have DJ up near No. 1 this week given the fact he has owned this course. He’s won in Memphis three times back when it was just an ordinary tournament and not a world golf championship. However, DJ is reeling a bit. He missed the cut at The Memorial and then pulled out because of a bad back last week after a first round 78. Who knows what to expect this week, if he tees it up. He should find some success on a course he has a ton of confidence on.
19. Brooks Koepka: The defending champion will be looking to find some momentum and confidence this week more than anything. It’s been a rough ride this season for Koepka who is still struggling in his return from knee surgery. Take away the 7th place finish at HIlton Head and it’s a season filled with missed cuts and distant finishes. He will be pressing to get his game going this week as he has the chance to win a third straight PGA Championship next week in San Francisco.
18. Marc Leishman: He played well on this course a year ago, finishing 3rd. Leishman started the season great, winning in San Diego and then finishing 2nd at Bay Hill. But since the return from the virus, it’s been tough sledding for the big guy. His best finish is a tie for 40th. That said, like the stock market, always buy a good stock on a dip. Leishman has nowhere to go but up. He’s too good to stay down for very long.
17. Matt Wallace: Finished 4th at The Memorial and seems to be coming around after a very slow start to the season. Always plays well in big events. He finished 3rd at last year’s PGA Championship and 12th at the U.S. Open so playing with the world’s best seems to motivate him.
16. Patrick Cantlay: Hasn’t played up to his full potential yet this season. Then again, it’s not like he’s playing awful. He has five top-11 finishes this season and no missed cuts. He’s just not putting himself in positions to win down the stretch like he was a year ago. He should have strong moments this week, but whether he can sustain four good rounds is the question. It’s been his biggest obstacle so far this year.
15. Collin Morikawa: He is one of my picks next week at the PGA where he’ll be playing close to home in California. He missed the cut at the Travelers, then won at the Workday Charity Open a few backs back but then finished T48 at The Memorial. He still seems to be searching for some consistency.
14. Tom Lewis: A bit of a long shot pick here, but the young Englishmen has quietly played well this season. Finished 3rd in Dubai and 12th in Detroit a few weeks back. You will be hearing a lot more of him over the next couple years as he is taking his game more to America. If the name sounds familiar, Lewis was the first round leader at the 2011 Open Championship. He was an amatuer that year and played with his idol growing up, Tom Watson.
13. Xander Schauffele: He’s been a bit erratic the last couple weeks, getting off to very slow starts and then playing stronger as the week went along. If he can just put together a good first round and get himself in contention, he can shake off that first round curse that’s been bothering him. He’s too good of a player not to contend here this week.
12. Danny Willett: It’s been a long time, but the 2016 Masters champion is finally getting his game back. After suffering from injury issues following his major win, he’s healthy again and playing well. He finished fourth three weeks ago and then was in contention at The Memorial until a horrible back 9 on Sunday. But overall looking at the last year, it’s clear he’s finding his confidence. He has the talent to win a lot more than he has.
11. Matthew Fitzpatrick: He had a great finish at The Memorial where he finished third. With “Bones” McKay on the bag, he is definitely a better player. He also played well here a year ago, finishing tied for 4th. He is a very consistent player who tallies up top-10s but is still looking for that breakthrough in America.
10. Tony Finau: Mr. Top-10, or even Mr. Top-5. It’s incredible that with all his talent he hasn’t won yet in a tournament with a top-50 player in it. (Note: his only win came in 2016 at The Puerto Rico Open which played opposite the World Golf Championships). I don’t think it will be this week, but he should be in contention again.
9. Tyrell Hatton: Try this on for size: In his last six tournaments, Hatton has finished 1st, 46th, T6, 1st, T3, and T4. Those are Webb Simpson and Bryon DeChambeau-like numbers right there. He also ranks best on the PGA Tour this year in putting. Definitely a threat this week.
8. Justin Thomas: After a near win at the Workday Charity Open, he had some ups and downs at The Memorial, finishing T-18. In his five events since the return, he has three top-10s and seems to be trending in the right direction. He is a guy I like a lot at the PGA Championship next week. He may be looking ahead more towards that and just looking for solid play in Memphis to give him confidence for San Francisco.
7. Gary Woodland: He’s been hovering on that leaderboard in recent weeks but hasn’t been able to put together four strong rounds in the same week. He’s close, though. He played five strong rounds in a row at Muirfield from Friday at the Workday to Friday at The Memorial, but then he plummeted on the weekend. Woodland always plays well with big fields as if his U.S. Open win wasn’t evidence enough of that. He’s not far off from winning another big tournament.
6. Jon Rahm: The new world number 1 could have a little bit of a hangover coming into the St. Jude or else I’d have him down lower. He shot 62 here in the first round last year only to fall back a little and finish 7th. If he can shake the possible hangover, he could be a major threat to win this week and especially should be a factor next week.
5. Bryson DeChambeau: Not sure what happened at The Memorial, but the missed cut and 10 during his second round doesn’t represent the player he’s been this year. Prior to Ohio, he had seven straight top-10 finishes. He also was runner-up in the first WGC event this year. His distance should help to put him in contention this Sunday. He just needs to keep his temper in check.
4. Webb Simpson: The last time Webb Simpson missed a cut, he followed it up with a win. Despite the bad week in Ohio, Simpson is still playing the best golf in the world this year. He has two wins this season and six top-10s in his last nine events. It is also to be noted he finished 2nd here a year ago to Brooks Koepka. He’s definitely one of the favorites for the PGA next week and will look to polish his game with a strong week in Memphis.
3. Rory McIlroy: It’s all a matter of Rory playing better on the weekends, particularly Sunday. His game is so close and perhaps losing the world number 1 spot will motivate him to turn it up a notch or two. He has a great chance at the PGA Championship this year in Harding Park where he won the WGC-Match Play back in 2015, so he will want to go in good form. Don’t be fooled by his lack of top-10s in his last four events; he’s playing solid golf. He’s just pressing too much on Sunday and trying to make too much happen. But he’s trending in the right direction. I have him at 3, but it could very easily be a 1st place this week. Finished 4th here a year ago.
2. Patrick Reed: I always love this guy in big tournaments. He steps up in big moments. Earlier this year at the WGC-Mexico Championship, Reed surged past some of the best players in the world, including Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, and Jon Rahm to win his first WGC. Since the win in Mexico, he’s been up and down but has posted a couple top-10 finishes. The bigger the field, the better his chances. He should be a huge factor this Sunday.
1. Daniel Berger: I’m going to chalk up his missed cut at The Memorial as more of some rust coming off a four-week layoff along with getting the worst part of the draw and conditions. There’s no one who has had more success at The St. Jude than Berger. He won here in 2016 and 2017, and while fields were a lot weaker given the fact it wasn’t a World Golf Championship at the time, it doesn’t take away his knowledge of the course. Berger is one of the hottest players in golf this season and has five top-10 finishes in his last six events, including a win at The Charles Schwab Challenge. Here’s his chance to really elevate his resume and add a World Golf Championship.