By Tom LaMarre
Tiger Woods, who has won a record 18 World Golf Championships, is taking a pass on the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, but 45 of the top 50 players in the World Golf Rankings will be at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tenn., this week.
They made the flight back after playing in the 148th Open Championship that ended Sunday at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Portrush, Northern Ireland, because the regular season is winding down, with the FedEx Cup Playoffs starting in two weeks.
Shane Lowry of Ireland, who claimed his first major title at Royal Portrush, withdrew from the WGC event on Tuesday, but Tommy Fleetwood of England, who finished second, will be there along with the top four players in the world rankings—Butch Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Justin Rose (pictured) of England.
Other top players in the field include defending champion Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm of Spain, Jason Day of Australia, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson of Sweden, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Xander Schauffele, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia of Spain, Paul Casey of England, Gary Woodland, Patrick Cantlay and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan.
Players who like Woods are passing include Francesco Molinari of Italy, Rickie Fowler, Lee Westwood of England and Bernd Weisberger of Austria.
Memphis has hosted a PGA Tour event every year since 1958, but this is the first time in will be the site of a WGC event.
Thomas claimed his first World Golf Championships event in this tournament last year when it was the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, and Johnson, whose six titles in WGC tournaments are second only to Woods, won the final FedEx St. Jude Classic by six strokes last season in Memphis.
“I just think it’s just a good all-around golf course,” said Johnson, who capped his victory at TPC Southwind last year by holing his approach shot from 169 yards for an eagle on the final hole after also winning in 2012 at Memphis. “There’s a lot of good holes out there. If you don’t drive it in the fairway, you can make an easy bogey on any of the holes just because getting in the rough it’s really hard to control your golf ball.
“But I like the shape of all the holes. It sets up good to my eye and I just, there’s something about the course. Each hole is different, but I like the sight lines off the tees. I think I’ve got a good game plan to play this course.”
Johnson, who won this tournament three years ago at Firestone, added to his WGC haul by winning the WGC-Mexico Championship earlier this year, while Kevin Kisner won the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship.
Some players in the field will play again next week in the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., in order to maintain or improve their positions in the FedEx Cup point standings heading into the playoffs.
By tying for fourth in the Open Championship, Koepka took the lead in the standings from Kuchar, with McIlroy third followed by Schauffele and U.S. Open champion Woodland. Cantlay, Johnson, Casey, Fowler and Rahm round out the top 10.
The top 125 players will qualify for the first of three events in the FedEx Cup playoffs, The Northern Trust next week at Liberty National in Jersey City, with the top 30 making it to the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta next month.
The FedEx Cup bonus pool is worth $60 million, with $15 million going to the FedEx Cup champion, which explains why so many top players are in Memphis this week.
- Justin Rose, England – Won the 2012 WGC-Cadillac Championship and the 2017 WGC-Mexico Championship, two of his 11 top-10 finishes in the World Golf Championships. Rose captured the Farmers Insurance Open early this year and in his last two starts he tied for third in the U.S. Open and tied for 20th in the Open Championship.
- Dustin Johnson, United States – DJ tied for 51st in the Open Championship and hasn’t played his best since finishing second in the PGA two months ago. Johnson, who won in Memphis last year, has six WGC titles, at least one in each of the last four years. He won this event in 2016 at Firestone and claimed the WGC-Mexico earlier this year.
- Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – Trying to bounce back after missing the cut at home in the Open, McIlroy will be gunning for this third WGC title, having won this event in 2014 at Firestone and the 2015 WGC-Match Play at Harding Park in San Francisco. He tied for seventh in one of two starts in the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis in 2012.
- Brooks Koepka, United States – The new FedEx Cup points leader, after a tie for fourth in the Open Championship, is trying to add a World Golf Championship to his four major titles. Koepka’s best finish in the WGCs was a tie for second in the 2017 HSBC Champions. He tied for second in 2016 and tied for third in 2015 in the FedEx St. Jude.
- Tommy Fleetwood, England – After beating everybody except Shane Lowry in the 148th Open, Fleetwood will try to win his initial World Golf Championship in his first appearance at TPC Southwind in Memphis. His best result in the WGC events was second, one stroke behind Dustin Johnson in the 2017 WGC-Mexico Championship.
- Justin Thomas, United States – Technically the defending champion this week even though he is playing at TPC Southwind for the first time, Thomas won this event last year by four strokes over Kyle Stanley. He was slowed by a wrist injury this year, but tied for ninth in Scottish Open and tied for 11th in the Open Championship in his last two starts,
- Xander Schauffele, United States – Coming off a disappointing tie for 41st in the 148th Open Championship when he skidded to a 78 in the final round in Ireland after finishing in the top 20 of the first three majors, Schauffele will try to bounce back in Memphis. He claimed his first World Golf Championship in the 2017 HSBC Champions.
- Jason Day, Australia – After missing the cut in the Open Championship by shooting 74 in round two, Day will try to regain the form that has taken him to six top-10 finishes this season. He has won two World Golf Championships, both in the WGC-Match Play in 2014 and 2016. Tied for 23rd in only start in St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind in 2009.
- Jon Rahm, Spain – Hasn’t played all that well in the World Golf Championships since his first two in 2017, tying for third in the WGC-Mexico Championship and losing in the final to Dustin Johnson in the WGC-Match Play. Making his debut in Memphis, Rahm is coming off a tie for third in the U.S. Open and a tie for 11th in the Open Championship.
- Hideki Matsuyama, Japan – Winner of two World Golf Championships, the 2016 WGC-HSBC Champions and this tournament in 2017 at Firestone, Matsuyama missed the cut in the Open Championship. However, before that he finished in the top 10 in six consecutive tournaments, including the PGA Championship and U.S. Open. Making first start at TPC Southwind.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH – Jordan Spieth, United States; Henrik Stenson, Sweden; Matt Kuchar, United States; Cameron Smith, Australia; J.B. Holmes, United States; Patrick Cantlay, United States; Paul Casey, England.
- Chez Reavie, United States – Flies under the radar in this field, but captured the Travelers last month, and finished T-6 and T-4 the last two years at TPC Southwind.
- Justin Harding, South Africa – Captured the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters this year to qualify for his first WGC event after winning nine times as a pro on lower tours.
- C.T. Pan, Taiwan – Claimed first PGA Tour and third pro victory in the RBC Heritage in April and tied for third in Charles Schwab Challenge to qualify for his first WGC.
- Andrew Putnam, United States – Won’t defend Barracuda Championship title this week since he made the WGC field. Played well until a closing 78 to T-32 in the Open.
- Sung Kang, South Korea – First PGA Tour title in AT&T Byron Nelson was his fifth as a pro. Followed that by finishing seventh in PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
For first-round tee times visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html