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Lots on line at Memphis

It’s one of the elite PGA Tour tournaments that welcomes the best golfers from around the world: Welcome to the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

If you’re in the top 50 in the world golf rankings, you’ve qualified for this week’s event. If players won one of the seven tournaments preceding this tournament, they also have qualified. Then you’ve also got a few top players from other tours worldwide, including winners on the Mackenzie Tour, PGA Tour Latinoamerica and PGA Tour China with a strength of field of 115 or more. Please don’t ask us to explain strength of field. In all, a total of 19 countries are represented this week.

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And finally, to ensure a 78-player field, a few others outside the top 50 got a call to come and play when at least five of those in the top-50 opted out, including Tiger Woods. That explains why there are some big names down the rankings list in the field, including Jordan Spieth who is 60th and Phil Mickelson who is 70th.

And believe us, with a purse of $10.5 million and 550 FedEx Cup points on the line, not many players are likely to say no to an invitation of this magnitude.

The course this week, TPC Southwind in Memphis, TN., is a par-70 layout that stretches out to 7,238 yards. The last number, 7,238, isn’t a factor in this week’s outlook. But the first number, 70, is definitely one we have to ponder. That means there are just two par 5s, taking away some of the edge the big hitters may have and bringing more of the field into play.

Brooks Koepka is the defending champion but we’re taking him off our list because of his recent play and health questions. We’re also throwing out Dustin Johnson who WD’d last week with a health issue (back injury) after another horrid first-round effort that included a 9 on the par-5 18th after putting three shots in the water. He posted a 78.

So Koepka and Johnson aside, who has been hot over the last three years with multiple top-10 finishes in this WGC event? That list is short with only four players on it and none have cracked the top-10 in all three tournaments. Koepka (won last year and fifth in 2018), Rory McIlroy (T-4 last year and T-6 in 2018), Thorbjorn Olesen (T-3 in 2018 and T-10 in 2017) and Ian Poulter (eighth last year and T-10 in 2018).

To take the tournament-finishing factor one step further, over the last three years, a total of 29 different golfers have finished in the top-10 (including ties). That’s more than a third of the field’s size this week, so to say all of these guys are good is an understatement. It just depends on the week they are having.

So let’s go with a player to win who has made an impact in more recent events and provides value. Someone like Gary Woodland. He’s great price at 40-1 this week. He sits 28th in the FedEx Cup rankings and looking to move up. He may not have a win this season but he’s got six top-10s in 13 events so he’s lurking. He had a T-5 at the Workday at Muirfield Village a couple of weeks ago but then slid to T-22 with a bad weekend at the Memorial, also at Muirfield. After a week off, we’re looking for him to get right back in the mix.

We’re also going to get back on the Justin Thomas bandwagon. At 12-1, the odds aren’t that great. But we still like the fact he’s coming off a so-so outing (well, in his mind anyway) at the Memorial with a T-18. That followed up a stumble at the Workday (three strokes ahead with three to play only to lose to Collin Morikawa in a playoff).

One other note. It appears there is a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to fans as a limited number will be on site. Tournament title sponsors will be allowed to have around 50 guests on tournament days while the spouse/girlfriend of players will also be allowed on the grounds.

There will be limitations to where fans can congregate on the course. But at least there will be some human interaction, which is nice for a change.