10 Players to Watch: FedEx St. Jude Classic

  1. Rickie Fowler, United States — Even though he held the lead on the back nine of the final round in the Memorial Tournament last week before fading with two late bogeys, it’s been a good season for Fowler, who is No. 9 in the Official World Golf Ranking and eighth in the FedExCup point standings. His tie for second behind Jason Dufner at Muirfield Village was his fifth result in the top 10 this season, including his fourth PGA Tour victory in the Honda Classic. He also tied for third in the Shell Houston Open and tied for fourth in the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Fowler was also in the hunt in the Masters before closing with a 76 to tie for 11th. He will be making only his second appearance in the FedEx St. Jude Classic this week and shot par or better in all four rounds four years ago while finishing in a tie for 13th at TPC Southwind.
  1. Adam Scott, Australia — At this stage of his career, Scott tailors his schedule to prepare for the major championships, and this season he apparently believes playing this week in the FedEx St. Jude Classic is the best way to prepare for the U.S. Open next week at Erin Hills. In his only previous appearance at TPC Southwind in 2007, he seemed to be heading for a victory when he started with 67-66-68 to take a three-stroke lead, before stumbling home with a 75 to wind up solo seventh. Scott has not been at his best since winning the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship on consecutive weeks early last year to give him 13 victories on the PGA Tour. However, he hasn’t been that far off this season with six top-15 finishes in 10 starts on the PGA Tour, including a tie for sixth in the Players Championship and a tie for ninth in the Masters, in which he claimed his only major title in 2013.
  1. Brooks Koepka, United States — Despite not winning since claiming his only PGA Tour victory in the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, Koepka continues to knock on the door. He has posted three results in the top five this season, including two runner-up finishes. Koepka wound up two strokes behind Rod Pampling of Australia after opening with a 62 in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, and finished one shot behind Kevin Chappell in the Valero Texas Open after closing with a 65. He was also close to winning last year, when he lost to Sergio Garcia of Spain in a playoff at the AT&T Byron Nelson and tied for second in the FedEx St. Jude Classic, which he is playing for the fourth time this week. Koepka obviously enjoys it at TPC Southwind because he also tied for third two years ago and tied for 19th in 2014. Last year, he closed with 65-69-66 and finished three shots behind Daniel Berger.
  1. Daniel Berger, United States — The 2015 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year has not been able to back up his first victory on the circuit in the FedEx St. Jude Classic last year, but continues to play solid golf in his third season. He has placed in the top 10 on three occasions, tying for second behind Hideki Matsuyama of Japan in the WGC-HSBC Champions, tying for seventh in the Waste Management Phoenix Open and finishing solo fifth in the Shell Houston Open. Last year in his first start at TPC Southwind, he reeled off four scores in the 60s to win by three strokes over Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker. Berger, who had finished second three times on the PGA Tour without winning, overcame a three-round rain delay and a charge by Mickelson in the final round with four birdies in a span of five holes through No. 15. He sank a 32-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole and followed with a 22-footer on the 15th.
  1. Phil Mickelson, United States — Lefty almost always plays the week before a major, but the twist this time is he probably won’t tee it up in the U.S. Open next week at Erin Hills in Wisconsin because his daughter, Amanda, is graduating from high school in California on the same day as the first round. Mickelson, a five-time major champion, needs only the U.S. Open to complete the career Grand Slam, but says family comes first. He is making his seventh start this week at TPC Southwind and has been in contention each of the last four years, finishing two strokes behind Harris English in a tie for second in 2013, and three shots behind Daniel Berger last year in another tie for second. Mickelson also closed with a 65 to tie for third in 2015 and tied for 11th in 2014. After playing TPC Southwind in an aggregate score of even par in his first six rounds, including a missed cut in 2001, he is a total of 34-under in his last 16 rounds.
  1. Francesco Molinari, Italy — Coming off a runner-up finish in the BMW PGA Championship, flagship event on the European Tour at Wentworth outside London, Molinari will warm up for the U.S. Open next week at Erin Hills with his second start in the St. Jude FedEx Classic. The Italian held the 54-hole lead and closed with a 4-under-par 68 that would have been good enough to win on many days at Wentworth, but Alex Noren of Sweden shot a blistering 62 to beat him by two strokes. Molinari, whose victory in the 2016 Italian Open was the sixth of his career, is playing both major tours this year. He has recorded four top-10 finishes and 10 in the top 25 in 13 PGA Tour events, including a tie for fourth in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, ties for sixth in both the Players Championship and the WGC-HSBC Champions, and a tie for seventh in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Molinari tied for 34th at TPC Southwind last year.
  1. Billy Horschel, United States — Horschel has had a bit of a letdown since winning the AT&T Byron Nelson last month for his fourth PGA Tour victory, and first since 2014, in a playoff over Jason Day. In his last two starts, he tied for 34th in the Dean & DeLuca Invitational and missed the cut in the Memorial Tournament last week after opening with a 6-over-par 78. However, he is coming back to TPC Southwind for the seventh time, and has played well in his last three appearances. After missing the cut in his first two trips to Memphis and tying for 72nd in 2013, he started to figure out the course by finishing with 69-68-67 to tie for 10th in 2013. Then Horschel tied for sixth in 2014 before tying for eighth two years ago, and skipped the tournament last year. In addition to his victory in the Nelson, he also has a tie for second in the RSM Classic and a tie for fourth in the Honda Classic this season.
  1. Russell Henley, United States — It’s been a struggle recently for Henley after he claimed his third PGA Tour victory in the Shell Houston Open and tied for 11th in the Masters the following week. He has missed the cut in two of his last three starts and his best result in the last four was a tie for 26th in the RBC Heritage. Henley will try to get back to his form of early this season, when he finished in the top 25 eight times in his first 12 starts, a run that has kept him at 16th in the FedExCup point standings despite his recent slump. He will be fresh when he gets to TPC Southwind after taking two weeks off and will be making his fourth start in the FedEx St. Jude Classic. After tying for 27th in his first start in Memphis four years ago, Horschel shot 70-75 — 145 to miss the cut by five strokes in 2014, but seemed to figure out the course while tying for seventh last year.
  1. Charl Schwartzel, South Africa — It appeared Schwartzel was in top form when he finished third in the Masters, which he won in 2011, but he was forced to withdraw in his next start from the AT&T Byron Nelson during the third round after solid scores of 70-69 because of a left wrist injury. He sustained the injury when he was hit by an errant shot from one of his partners during a pro-am. Schwartzel came back for the Memorial Tournament last week and said the wrist is fine, then posted scores of 70-71-71 before stumbling to a closing 4-over-par 76 to finish in a tie for 35th. He often doesn’t play the week before a major, but obviously feels he needs the work and will tee it up this week in the FedEx St. Jude Classic for only the second time. Schwartzel, who captured the Valspar Championship last year, shot 76-70 — 146 to miss the cut by five strokes in his only previous appearance at TPC Southwind.
  1. Kevin Chappell, United States — Chappell followed up his best finish in the Masters early in April, a tie for seventh, by claiming the Valero Texas Open for his first PGA Tour victory two weeks later when he sank an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole to beat Koepka by one stroke. He has had a bit of a letdown since with a tie for 35th in the Players Championship and a tie for 52nd in the Memorial Tournament, but could be ready to get back on track a week before the U.S. Open at Erin Hills when he plays for the second time in the FedEx St. Jude Classic beginning Thursday. Chappell, who finished second six times on the PGA Tour before winning in his 180th start, tied for 22nd in his only previous start at TPC Southwind in 2015, shooting 4-under-par 64 in the second round but failing to break 70 on any of the other three days.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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