A week after Hideki Matsuyama defeated Kevin Na in a playoff to win the 2014 Memorial Tournament, the PGA Tour is back in action this week for the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Held annually since 1958, the event benefits St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, one of the largest and most respected medical institutions in the United States. The tournament has been held for the last quarter century at TPC Southwind, which shares St. Jude's Memphis location.
While not quite as prestigious of an event as the Memorial—seven of the world's top 10 golfers participated last week—it's an undoubtedly important benchmark on the calendar. Many in the field are using the trip to Memphis as their last preparation for the 2014 U.S. Open, which opens at Pinehurst on June 12.
The decision to participate in the Memorial or St. Jude Classic often gives insight into each golfer's superstitions. Most top players choose to take a week off prior to major championships. Phil Mickelson famously enjoys getting on the course and fine-tuning his game beforehand.
With Tiger Woods withdrawing from the U.S. Open and his return to the course uncertain, Pinehurst officials likely don't care which side of the spectrum a golfer falls on. They just care that the elite ones are in contention heading into the weekend.
Here is a look at the final tuneup tournament as the PGA prepares for the year's second major.
2014 FedEx St. Jude Classic Information
When: Thursday, June 4 - Sunday, June 7
Where: TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee
Prize Money: $5.8 million ($1.044 million winning share)
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to winner
|Tournament Television Coverage|
|Thursday, June 4||3 p.m. - 6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Friday, June 5||3 p.m. - 6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Saturday, June 6||1 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|3 p.m. - 6 p.m.||CBS|
|Sunday, June 7||1 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|3 p.m. - 6 p.m.||CBS|
|Round 1 Notable Group Tee Times|
|7:40 a.m.||10||Phil Mickelson, Scott Stallings, Harris English|
|7:50 a.m.||1||Rickie Fowler, Kevin Stadler, John Senden|
|7:50 a.m.||10||Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed|
|8 a.m.||10||David Toms, Jonathan Byrd, Lee Westwood|
|12:40 p.m.||1||J.B. Holmes, Russell Henley, Graeme McDowell|
|12:50 p.m.||1||Zach Johnson, Ian Poulter, Justin Leonard|
|Round 2 Notable Group Tee Times|
|7:40 a.m.||10||J.B. Holmes, Russell Henley, Graeme McDowell|
|7:50 a.m.||10||Zach Johnson, Ian Poulter, Justin Leonard|
|12:40 p.m.||1||Scott Stallings, Harris English, Phil Mickelson|
|12:50 p.m.||10||John Senden, Kevin Stadler, Rickie Fowler|
|12:50 p.m.||1||Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson|
|1 p.m.||1||David Toms, Jonathan Byrd, Lee Westwood|
Full tee times are available on the PGA Tour's official website.
Contenders to Watch
Mickelson will be a notable face in every tournament in which he appears for the remainder of his career. That's the funny thing about individual sports; the star power only fades when the player actually steps away from the limelight. It's almost fundamentally insane that I still get excited to see the likes of John Daly in a tournament. Yet there we all are, hoping for one last glimmer of hope from our favorite Hooters-pants enthusiast.
Of course, Mickelson is nowhere near Daly's level of irrelevance. He is the highest-ranked player in the field and is coming off a second-place finish in this very tournament a year ago. While he's never won in Memphis, Mickelson is considered among the two or three favorites in this field.
Skepticism nonetheless runs rampant as he heads into the opening round. Mickelson has been a borderline mess on the course since his 2013 British Open win. He's only finished in the top 10 once, and that finish did not come in this calendar year. When Phil Mickelson misses the cut at the Masters, you know something ain't right. (Note: Mickelson did tie for second in a European event this season.)
A semi-promising start to Thursday at the Memorial—he was five under through his first 15 holes—went down the drain when a bogey and two double bogeys set the tone for the rest of his week. He finished in a tie for 49th.
After the tournament, Mickelson told reporters:
From a golf standpoint, it wasn't a bad week, as far as I started to hit the ball well. I had, I thought, a successful week as far as a good stepping stone. Next week is when I have to put it together and play well. If I can play well, get in contention, it will give me some momentum for the Open. That's what I need to do.
Mickelson tied for second at the U.S. Open last year after his strong appearance at Southwind. How he performs this week will ultimately be the best indicator of whether to take him seriously two weeks from now.
One of a threesome with Mickelson and Scott Stallings, English earned his first PGA Tour win at this course last year. English parlayed a brilliant Thursday-Friday run to hold steady for consecutive 69s to stave off the hard-charging field. The 24-year-old added a second win this season at November's OHL Classic but will probably be more than happy with a return to successful ground.
Since the beginning of April, English has been cut three times and finished 30th or worse in his two other tournaments. The streak started at the Masters, where some openly debated whether he or Jordan Spieth was the best potential spoiler among first-time players. English went on to miss the weekend, while Spieth tied for second.
The past couple of months have been particularly difficult for English off the tee and the greens. He ranks 123rd in fairway percentage, exactly one spot better than his strokes gained per round. It's a testament to English's brilliance with his irons that he's among the best on tour at finding greens in regulation.
English told Frank Murtaugh of the Memphis Flyer, "I’m always working on my short game, from 100 yards in. I feel like I’ve been struggling with this the last couple of months. You can never be good enough [with your short game]. It’s an area where I can really set myself apart."
Putting more than anything will be critical to keeping English in contention. It goes without saying that a good drive is only that if it sets up a solid second shot. English could hit a brilliant mid-iron if his drive landed in the middle of a sack of potatoes. If he can get the putter going and get the occasional bunker save—another area of slight weakness—English will be near the leaderboard again.
If he can't? Welp. Good luck.
Johnson has slowed down a bit after a red-hot start to the 2014 season. He opened the year with top 10s in his first five stroke play tournaments of the campaign, four of which were top fives. By the end of March, most were pegging him as a sleeper favorite at the Masters.
Things haven't gone so great since. Johnson was cut at Augusta National and the Houston Open, finished in a tie for 59th at The Players Championship and has largely faded into anonymity. His only top-10 result since early March was a tie for seventh at the Byron Nelson last month.
Given that Johnson has one top 10 in his U.S. Open career (2010), it'll be critical that he finds his game this week. Johnson won this event two years ago with a final-round 66 and is able to atone for his up-and-down accuracy by driving deep into the par-70 course.
He is currently second on tour with a 311.9-yard driving average. He is currently 128th on tour in driving percentage. Putting and scrambles are very often the difference between Johnson carding an under-par round or moving backward on the leaderboard.
As evidenced by his dichotomous 2014, Johnson's issue has always been consistency. He took the Colonial lead two weeks ago after an opening-round 65 but coughed contention away with a four-over 74 two days later. Coming off a nondescript performance at the Memorial last week, it'll be interesting to see how Johnson fares Thursday.
Statistics courtesy of PGATour.com.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: @tylerconway22.