(CBS Miami) — The WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational slides back a month on the revised PGA Tour schedule. The new temporary spot — July 30 through August 2 — puts it a week before this season’s first major. Despite scheduling, this year’s event is sure to be a far cry from the typical warm-up event.
For one thing, it’s a World Golf Championship tournament, which puts it a step above the standard Tour stop. The purse ($10.5 million) is bigger, and more FedExCup points (550) are on the line. And while not quite on par with a major, it will certainly feel like one this year.
The upcoming FedEx St. Jude boasts the top eight players in the world and 45 of the top 50. That includes recent number one Jon Rahm. “The guy is just supremely talented,” says CBS Sports golf analyst Trevor Immelman.” And the consistency that he’s showed… He’s played at 85 PGA Tour events since he’s been a pro; 37 of those he’s been in the top 10, with a number of wins. So, the consistency that he continues to compete with, in the biggest tournaments against the strongest fields, really is impressive.”
The player he replaced, Rory McIlroy, is also back in action after missing the 3M Open. “Since the return to golf, his play hasn’t quite been up to the standards that we’re used to from him,” Immelman points out. “The interesting thing with McIlroy is it generally just takes something small with him, and then he catches fire and he gets on a run. And he’ll go on a run for two or three months and rattle off three, four, five wins quite quickly. And so he normally just needs a little bit of a spark to get going.”
This would be the time to do it, with the PGA Championship in a week and the FedExCup Tournaments shortly after.
Defending champion Brooks Koepka, who has dropped from the top spot to number six over the course of a strange 2020, will also be looking to turn things around. “He’s been struggling with a left knee injury,” notes Immelman. “He had thought that he would be able to get that sorted during the break. But, as he’s come back and started playing week after week again, it has been bugging him. And whether that’s the reason or not, we’re not 100% sure. But he just hasn’t been able to get any of that momentum that we were used to from him, and has been missing a few cuts, just not quite getting things going.”
Recent Tour winners in the field also include Collin Morikawa, who edged out Justin Thomas at the Workday Charity Open, and Bryson DeChambeau, winner of the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Dustin Johnson, who won the Travelers Championship but withdrew from the 3M Open with a bad back, also returns.
Tiger Woods will take another week off. In his post-layoff return two weeks ago, he tied for 40th at the Memorial, a pedestrian performance on a course where he dominated earlier in his career. Woods will likely show up for the PGA Championship next week.
The on-course excitement of a Tiger siting at TPC Southwind would have been muted regardless. Spectators will be barred from attending once again this week, as the PGA Tour aims to continue its COVID season. The Tour has been largely successful so far. Testing and social distancing are taken seriously. Compromised players are removed from competition; seven players had to skip the Travelers in late June. While the occasional COVID case was always likely, an outbreak like the one affecting the Miami Marlins has so far been avoided.
This week’s top-notch field will take on TPC Southwind, among the harder courses on the Tour. The track has been part of the circuit since 1989. Up through 2018, it hosted the FedEx St. Jude Classic, and the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational since. The scenic par-70 course measures 7,238 yards and favors ball-strikers who can shape shots with precision. “Two par-5s and both are reachable,” notes Immelman. “But there is a number of long par-4s on this golf course, and generally a pretty high premium on hitting the fairway off the tee. So it is quite a challenging golf course for these players.”
In addition to challenging fairways, the greens are firm, unless the weather brings rain. (Thunderstorms are likely Thursday and Friday, and rain is possible Saturday.) Water hazards affect play on more than half of the holes. And when the wind picks up, which is often, the difficulty is compounded that much more. “All in all, this has always been one of my favorite golf courses on the PGA Tour,” says Immelman.
The 11th hole may be the course’s most recognizable. The 155-yard par-3 is similar to TPC Sawgrass’s iconic island green on 17. The green is surrounded by a pond, with a small bunker guarding the front edge. The wind can hold up a lofty shot and drop it in the water. Longer shots might find one of the two backside bunkers.
>>STREAM: WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational
Here are the favorites for the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational:
Jon Rahm (11-1)
Rahm took over the world’s top ranking after his win at the Memorial. His best post-layoff finish prior to that was a tie for 27th at the Workday Charity Open. He fired a first-round 62 last year at TPC Southwind, one stroke off the course record, en route to a seventh-place finish.
Rory McIlroy (11-1)
McIlroy, the world’s previous number-one player, was just deposed by Rahm. He’s struggled a bit since golf’s return, though has also occasionally seemed on the cusp of pulling things together. A tie for 11th at the Travelers is his best finish since the break. He placed fourth in the event last year.
Bryson DeChambeau (12-1)
Before missing the cut at the Memorial, DeChambeau had a streak of four top-10 finishes since golf’s return. That included a win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. He’s ranked seventh in the world and playing some of the best golf on Tour. While his limited history at TPC Southwind is underwhelming, that was a different player. According to Immelman, “when you watch this guy hit a tee shot in person, it is amazing how far he hits the ball, and how accurate he is for how far he hits the ball. This golf course is also going to suit that.”
Justin Thomas (12-1)
Thomas has also impressed over the last month and a half. Ranked third in the world, he’s missed one cut in five events since the return and came up just short at the Workday Charity Open. Thomas finished 12th at this event last year. “He’s got to be one of the guys to watch this week,” says Immelman.
Watch the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational Saturday, August 1, 2:00 – 6:00 p.m. EST and Sunday, August 2, 3:00 – 7:00 p.m. EST on CBS.