Playoffs? You kidding me?! Playoffs?? Jim Mora would be shocked to hear that the FedEx Cup Playoffs are already upon us. The Top 70 scorers from this season are heading to TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee for the first of three rounds. Following the FedEx St. Jude Championship, the Top 50 will continue their quest for the $18 Million prize at the BMW Championship in Chicago. FedEx points are quadrupled for these next two events, so all 70 players truly have a chance to win the PGA Tour’s ultimate cash prize.
While the playoff rendition of TPC Southwind is still fairly new, the course has been on the PGA schedule for the past 34 seasons. In 2019, the WGC took charge of the event, changing the format from your prototypical large field and 36-hole cut to a smaller field featuring no cut. With only 70 golfers in the field this week, the playoffs have adopted the WGC no-cut rules. Let’s take a deeper look at TPC Southwind, its important data points, and the field it will face.
FedEx St. Jude Championship Picks and Best Bets
The par-70 TPC Southwind will be around 7,250 yards long each round. Both Par-5s will be reachable for most golfers that find the fairway. Unless there’s a deep pin placement, each of the four Par-3s will be below 200 yards. The 12 Par-4s are what really separate the winners and losers at TPC Southwind. Expect a winning score in the mid-teens.
Ball-striking will be as important as always. 11 holes have water in play, so accuracy off the tee ensuring safety from these hazards will be extremely important. Double bogeys can pile up very quickly with a few errant shots. The green size is noticeably lower than Tour average, highlighting not only approach play but also scrambling for when you miss. Important stats this week would include Total Driving, which highlights both distance and accuracy, Strokes Gained: Approach, Scrambling, and Par 4 Performance. Any putting success will come in handy, although Justin Thomas was able to win here in 2020 while losing strokes to the field.
Jason Day (+3000)
Jason Day is a statistical dream heading into the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He ranks second on Tour in Scrambling, behind the only man to beat him at Royal Liverpool, Brian Harman. As expected, the second in Scrambling lands him at third in Bogey Avoidance. He ranks third in Par 4 Scoring, 12th in Total Driving, and 14th in Putting. His approach play has been hit or miss as of late, but over the whole season, he has had a very good year.
His runner-up finish at The Open Championship proves that Jason Day is back to being a world-class golfer. He also has a fairly decent history with TPC Southwind. In 4 appearances, his putter is the only thing that has held him back. Luckily for Day, his current form putting is virtually the best he’s ever had.
Following his win at the AT&T Byron Nelson, he had 3 consecutive missed cuts, losing strokes on approach and putting in all 3. Prior to that, he had gained strokes putting in 10 straight events and gained strokes approaching the green in 8 of those 10. Not only do I think 30/1 is a good piece of value this week, I also think he is a very valuable bet to become FedEx Cup Champion. He currently sits at 11th in FedEx points, and a good finish this week will immediately put him in the running to become Tour Champion at East Lake.
Andrew Putnam (+10000, +700 Top 10)
If Andrew Putnam is ever going to win on the PGA Tour, TPC Southwind is the exact setup he’s looking for. Putnam is not the player that can put up 8 or 9 birdies each round to compete with a -25 winning score. But what he will do, and do consistently, is give you a -3 or -4 bogey-free round. And that’s exactly what you need this week.
Putnam ranks inside the Top 10 in strokes gained putting and bogey avoidance. His lack of birdies would suggest his approach play is not up to par, which could not be more wrong. He’s gained more than 4 strokes approaching the green in six of his last 11 events. He is actually one of the most consistent iron players on Tour. The real reason behind his low birdie percentage is his playing style.
My favorite data tidbit this week: Putnam ranks 30th on Tour in Greens in Regulation, but a whopping 173rd in Proximity to the Hole.
This showcases Putnam’s conservative style of play, hitting a lot of greens but not opening up for mistakes by attacking too many tucked pins. With TPC Southwind’s small greens, a conservative game will still generate plenty of birdie looks. Where most of his middle of the green plays would generate 40-foot birdie putts, this week they will be closer to 25 feet. He can certainly hole a few of those. This should not come as a surprise, as he finished T5 here last year and runner-up in 2018. Look for him to thrive this week, and slowly but surely work his way up the leaderboard while others pile up bogeys.
Eric Cole (+11000, +800 Top 10)
Eric Cole has quickly become one of my favorite golfers to back week in and week out. He is the absolute definition of trusting the process in the game of golf. At 35 years old, this is his first season at the PGA level of the game. It truly amazes me to see him come out of nowhere and perform the way he has this season. Thanks to three Top-6 finishes on the season, he finds himself ranked 40th in FedEx points. I expect him to move up the ranks even more in Memphis.
Being ranked 32nd in Approach on Tour is nothing to overlook, but this ranking does not give his ball-striking justice. After starting the season with 4 straight missed cuts, Eric Cole has been one of the most consistent approach players on Tour. He’s gained strokes on the field in 22 of his last 25 events, with his worst outing coming with less than half a stroke lost at the Farmers Insurance Open. To make matters even more appealing, he is also one of the best putters in the field. He currently ranks 12th on Tour.
The only thing Eric Cole’s game lacks is consistency off the tee. If he was even average at driving the ball, my guess is he would be safely inside the Top 30 for East Lake. Unfortunately, most weeks he is behind the field in both distance and accuracy. However, I believe TPC Southwind sets up really well for his game. The high number of dog legs will even the playing field for distance. And while the numerous water hazards may conflict with his accuracy troubles, take a look at what he did at PGA National. The Honda Classic is notorious for water balls, but Cole stayed safe for his short career’s best finish, a playoff loss to Chris Kirk.
With consistency from both his approach play and putting, Eric Cole is bound to win at some point in his career. It will most likely come in a weaker Fall event where he goes off at 25/1, but at 110/1 this week, he’s certainly worth a small wager. Getting +800 for him to finish in the Top 10 is great value as well, especially considering the smaller field. Let’s have an average week off the tee Eric!