10 Players to Watch: FedEx St. Jude Classic

1. Webb Simpson, United States — After switching to a conventional putter a year before anchored putters will be banned, Simpson saw the move pay off and is starting to play like the guy who captured the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He tied for second in his last outing, the Wells Fargo Championship, recording his fourth top-10 finish of the 2014-15 season. Webb is making his fifth start in the FedEx St. Jude Classic and posted his best result, a tie for third, last year by closing with 66-69-66 to wind up two strokes behind winner Ben Crane. That is his only top-25 finish at TPC Southwind.

2. Billy Horschel, United States — The reigning FedEx Cup champion finally seems to have his game back in gear, as he has finished in the top 20 in each of his past three tournaments, including a tie for 13th in the Players Championship and a tie for 11th in the Memorial Tournament last week. Horschel finished in the top 10 both of the past two years in the FedEx St. Jude Classic, shooting the par of 70 or better all three days to tie for sixth a year ago, three strokes behind winner Ben Crane, and tying for 10th in 2013 by closing with scores of 69-68-67.

3. Dustin Johnson, United States — The 2012 FedEx St. Jude Classic champion, Johnson ranks seventh in the FedEx Cup point standings this season. He has been flirting with his second victory this year lately by tying for eighth in the AT&T Byron Nelson, where he shot 62 in round three, and tying for 13th in the Memorial Tournament, where he had another strong third round with a 65. Johnson played the last three rounds in 68-67-66 three years ago to win by one stroke over John Merrick. He tied for 10th in his title defense and tied for 24th last year, when a 75 in round three knocked him out of contention.

4. Jamie Donaldson, Wales — The Welshman is playing this week for the first time in the FedEx St. Jude Classic to warm up for his third appearance in the U.S. Open next week at Chambers Bay. He apparently wants to play his way into the second major of the year after missing the cut last year at Pinehurst No. 2 and tying for 32nd in 2013 after being idle the week before each time. Donaldson finished in the top 20 in each of his past three tournament, including a tie for eighth in the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass and a tie for 18th in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth outside London.

5. Phil Mickelson, United States — Lefty almost always plays the week before a major, and this week is no exception. He will tee it up in the FedEx St. Jude Classic for the fifth time. Mickelson tied for second two years ago, closing with scores of 67-65-66 to wind up two shots behind Harris English. Last year, he opened with 67-68-67, but a closing 72 left him in a tie for 11th. Anything similar would give him some momentum heading into his bid to complete the career Grand Slam next week in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Mickelson has only two top-10 finishes this year, but he has a history of reviving his game out of the blue.

6. Harris English, United States — After getting off to a strong start this year with a tie for third in the Sony Open in Hawaii and losing in a playoff to Jason Day in the Farmers Insurance Open, English struggled somewhat until two recent top-20 results, including a tie for 18th last week at the Memorial Tournament. English claimed the first of his two PGA Tour victories in the FedEx St. Jude Classic two years ago, when he posted four scores in the 60s to beat Phil Mickelson and Scott Stalling by two strokes. Last year in his title defense, he shot 73-68–141 at TPC Southwind and missed the cut by one shot.

7. Troy Merritt, United States — Last year, Merritt posted the best finish of his career on the PGA Tour when he opened with 66-67-66 in the FedEx St. Jude Classic and kept the pressure on winner Ben Crane while finishing one stroke back in solo second. He closed with a 71 in the rain-plagued tournament and might have been in a playoff if he hadn’t hit his drive into the rough on the 15th hole and missed a 15-foot putt for par. Merritt’s best golf this season came when he finished solo sixth in the Valspar Championship in March and solo third in the RBC Heritage in April. He hopes to find the same magic he had last year at TPC Southwind.

8. Ryan Palmer, United States — Having won three times on the PGA Tour, but not since the 2010 Sony Open in Hawaii, Palmer is showing this season that No. 4 might not be far off. He has four finishes in the top 10 and eight in the top 25, including a tie for second in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a tie for sixth in the Valero Texas Open and a tie for 10th last week in the Memorial Tournament. Palmer has been close in the FedEx St. Jude Classic, too, finishing fourth two years ago by posting scores of 67-65-67 on the last three days and tying for third in 2012 by closing with 66-67-66.

9. Steven Bowditch, Australia — Following his second PGA Tour victory a week earlier in the AT&T Byron Nelson, Bowditch continued to play well and was on the verge of another top-10 finish last week in the Memorial Tournament. However, he seemed to run out of gas while closing with an 8-over-par 80, and he plummeted to a tie for 48th. If that one round was only a minor bump in the road, the Aussie might finally perform well this week in the FedEx St. June Classic, in which he has missed the cut in three of his five previous appearances and withdrew after opening with a 79 in 2009 at TPC Southwind.

10. Ben Crane, United States — Defending his title in the FedEx St. Jude Classic might be exactly what Crane needs, because his 2014-15 season has been one to forget thus far. His best result in 15 tournaments was a tie for 29th in the limited-field Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January. He has missed the cut six times, including twice in his past three outings. Last year at TPC Southwind, Crane claimed the fifth title of his PGA Tour career by going almost wire to wire, recording scores of 63-65-69 before closing with a 73 that did not include a birdie to eke out a one-stroke victory over Troy Merritt with a bogey at No. 18.

Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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