2019 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational picks, sleepers and expert predictions: It's time for Hideki Matsuyama to get a win
It's a sad time of year on the golf calendar, a time where it feels like there is almost nothing left on the 2018-'19 schedule that matters. In previous years, after the high of the Open Championship wore off, we still had the PGA Championship to round out the summer. Now, with the new schedule, the Open is the final major of the year, as it should be. But having no real major golf event in August will be a strange feeling.
That said, this week is still a World Golf Championship, the final of the four WGCs on the PGA Tour schedule. While the WGCs are not majors, nor does anyone claim them to be, they're still big events in terms of money, world ranking points and strength of field. This season alone, the first three WGCs were hotly contested tournaments eventually won by Xander Schauffele (WGC-HSBC), Dustin Johnson (WGC-Mexico) and Kevin Kisner (WGC-Match Play). This week's WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, formerly the WGC-Bridgestone held at Firestone in Akron, Ohio, will almost certainly produce another top-ranked winner. The host course, TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tenn., has been a stern test in previous years at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, though it was no match a year ago for DJ, who holed out for eagle at the 72nd hole to win by six at 19 under. Technically, Justin Thomas is the defending champion (he won the WGC-Bridgestone), and he'll play alongside Johnson over the first two days.
Coming off a wild week in Northern Ireland, our experts are back with more picks this week, which just like every week, includes a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from the range and putting green at TPC Southwind, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network; handicapping advice from The Action Network, which is becoming the leader in sports betting and handicapping analysis, and it's growing its presence in golf; two of the most respected experts in the daily-fantasy community, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.
Again this week, we also have insights on DFS ownership and sentiment from FanShare Sports' premium content, a website that curates all DFS content on the web to offer trends and data as to where to find your edge in building your lineups. We're excited about teaming up with them—and you should be, too.
Read on for this week's picks.
2019 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational Picks To Win (Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Patrick Cantlay (20-1) — This golf course rewards people who drive the ball well, so I’ll go with Patrick Cantlay. TPC Southwind is totally a first-shot golf course. Being a bomber helps. Cantlay is up there. If you’re basing picking a favorite on stats this week, he’d have to be in the top three. He’s first on tour in scoring average; second in strokes gained: total; fourth in strokes gained: tee to green; second on tour in scrambling. The list goes on. For all those reasons, I like Cantlay. It’s a perfect set up for him. And if he doesn’t win, I’ll guarantee a cut made for him and everyone else I pick this week! (The field in Memphis is 63, so there is no cut.)
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Hideki Matsuyama (25-1) — Matsuyama does his best work at no-cut set ups. He’s already won two WGCs in his career, and seriously, he’s been the best player on tour this year without a win. And we’re running out of events. Per FantasyNational.com, Deki enters Memphis with 20 consecutive measured events gaining strokes with his irons, and while he’s historically an awful putter, he’s gained on the greens in six starts in a row. It’s time.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Xander Schauffele (25-1) — Schauffele has the no-cut angle in his favor this week, and via FantasyNational, three of his six best PGA Tour performances by strokes gained came at such events, including two wins. He has also tanked at the 2018 Bridgestone and the 2017 CJ Cup, but the all-or-nothing volatility certainly has value for a win-or-bust bet.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Jordan Spieth (35-1) — As awful as the three-time major has been off the tee and with his irons, my model still gives him the best chance to win this week. He's one of the very few who can mask both those glaring holes in his game both on and around the greens, and now is as good a time as ever to try to capitalize on a Spieth win when he's still at a price like 35-1.
Jason Sobel, Action Network senior golf writer: Justin Thomas (16-1) — Back in late 2013, Rose suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss three-and-a-half months. When he returned, he probably still wasn’t 100 percent, posting a few uncharacteristic results directly afterward. I remember him telling me that he felt like the whole year was slipping away, that he was playing catch-up while everyone else was in midseason form. But a funny thing happened a few months later: While others were languishing from the work and the travel and the redundancy of it all, Rose won the Quicken Loans and the Scottish Open, and posted four other top-four finishes from July on. It’s easy to envision a similar outcome for the other Justin this year. After missing nearly two months with a wrist injury, Thomas has returned with mild results so far. But last week’s T-11 at The Open was his best finish in five starts since coming back and without a win yet this year, I can see JT more fired up to play great golf than his fellow competitors. Just like Rose five years ago, he sees this as one final opportunity to salvage a lost year – and he’s certainly talented enough to salvage it in a hurry.
Golf Digest editors: Dustin Johnson (11-1) — At the rate Dustin wins WGCs, there's a good chance he thinks those are the majors and not the other way around. Ok, we kid, we kid. Tired "DJ is dumb" jokes aside (he's most certainly not), this is the only guy I feel comfortable backing this week after most of the field was just in Northern Ireland, DJ included. If there's anywhere he can just show up and win, it's at TPC Southwind, where he's won twice already in his career. Slap a WGC in front of FedEx St. Jude and you might as well hand him the trophy.
Lee Aldrick, FanShare Sports golf expert: Justin Thomas (16-1) — Thomas' last two results are enough to prove he’s back to his best for me. He ranks eighth in the field this week for strokes gained: tee-to-green over the last two months and fourth for strokes gained on par 70s over the last six months. The World No. 9 has not played at TPC Southwind but it is a track that should ideally suit his excellent ball striking.
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted seven of the season’s 32 events—Brandon Gdula hit Rory McIlroy (9-1) at the Canadian Open, and our Golf Digest Editors predicted Patrick Cantlay (16-1) the previous week at the Memorial. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix and had a runner-up (Dustin Johnson) at the PGA. And our Golf Digest editors also correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1, Safeway Open) earlier in the season.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2019 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational (Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Nate Lashley (210-1) — I mean, I don’t see how you could even have a dark horse in this tournament. It’s a 63-player field. But, since I have to pick one, I guess let’s go with Nate Lashley. He had the win recently at Rocket Mortgage and finally broke through, which was a great story. I think he was pissed off a little about how he finished at the British, missing the cut by a shot.
Mayo: Bubba Watson (140-1) — Generally, it’s only wise to back Bubba on Bubba tracks; TPC Southwind hasn’t historically been a Bubba track. But that’s only because he never plays in Memphis. When comparing courses however, TPC Southwind shares a lot of similarities with both TPC River Highlands and Copperhead. Well, Bubba’s won the Travelers three times, and actually churned out a top five finish, tied for his best of the year, at Valspar earlier this season. It’s a pure gamble, but at 140-1, you’ll rarely find a player with legit win equity in this range.
Gdula: Sergio Garcia (50-1) — In a WGC, no-cut format, I’m just looking for guys who can get hot enough for four days to win. Sergio has eight top 12s at WGC events since 2013, including a sixth at this year’s WGC-Mexico because his irons came to life.
Riccio: Eddie Pepperell (100-1) — The Englishman may be a sleeper pick because of his odds, but my model actually gives him the third-best chance to win this week behind only Spieth and Dustin Johnson. He tends to show up in big events, yet no one really notices until he makes a headline-inducing comment after a round. He just finished T-4 at the Irish Open, T-3 at the Players in March and he nearly stole the Open Championship a year ago at Carnoustie.
Sobel, Action Network: Patrick Reed (37-1) — Yet another guy on this list with reason to put the pedal to the metal for the remainder of the season. While undergoing swing changes earlier this year, his results didn’t really dip, but they didn’t immediately improve, either. In fact, it hasn’t been until recently that Reed’s hit his stride, with a T-5 and T-10 in two of his last three starts – his two best finishes of the year. He played Memphis four times when it was the FedEx St. Jude and while the last of those came in 2014 and three resulted in missed cuts, he does have a solo fifth to his credit that could’ve been even better if not for an even-par 70 in the final round.
GD Editors: Keegan Bradley (100-1) — Keegan has been knocking on the door all season, though he didn't really come close to finally barging in until the Travelers, where he finished T-2. After that disappointment he finished T-46 at 3M and then missed the cut at the Open, so he got back to the States early and is likely refocused on trying to win for the second season in a row after a lengthy drought. The only problem with this pick is that Bradley has played this event just once in his career, his rookie season in 2011. He did finish T-25 though.
Aldrick, FanShare Sports: Shugo Imahira (420-1) — Ranked 76th in the world, Imahira has played in all four majors this season and although he missed the cut in each one, he will have gained some invaluable experience playing in these big events. In between all the majors, his form in Japan has been solid. He has recorded six top 10 finishes in his last 10 events, including three top 5 finishes. His last 11 rounds on the Japanese Tour have all been in the 60s, meaning he is consistently going low.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: J.B. Holmes (150-1) — After almost shooting his temperature on Sunday at Portrush, I think he continues that. I think he’s completely lost now. He thought he was on to something and it sure looked like he was through three rounds last week. He talked about that going in, how he thought he figured something out. But after that final round, I know it’s an outlier – an 87 – but big rounds like that can carry over into the next week. I’m not wishing that on him, I’m just going with how that sort of thing usually trends.
Mayo: Jordan Spieth (35-1) — You can’t just spray it 50 yards left of the fairway off every tee box and somehow make par on every hole. I mean, Spieth HAS done it, a lot, it just seems impossible. At his best, it doesn’t make a difference; Spieth hasn’t been at his best this season, so when it goes bad, it gets bad quickly.
Gdula: Justin Rose (22-1) — Rose is too reliant on his putter for me to want to back at +2200. His recent off-the-tee numbers are just barely positive, and the approach play is erratic.
Riccio: Gary Woodland (55-1) — Woodland has not made a cut since his victory at Pebble, which fill fortunately change this week as it is a no-cut event. I just don't see much motivation to win a sleepy, end-of-season WGC just a few weeks after the biggest win of his life.
Sobel, Action Network: Brooks Koepka (12-1) — Not gonna lie, this section originally highlighted Shane Lowry and had a few great jokes about hangovers. It was some of my best work, really wish you could’ve seen it. Anyway, between then and now, Lowry decided to WD for some unknown reason. Maybe he couldn’t get a decent price for a flight or something. Instead, my fade is the guy who I’ve gotten accustomed to fading when the tournament isn’t a major. Koepka owns the third-lowest odds this week – behind Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose! – even though he should be in total DGAF mode. Hard pass for me.
GD Editors: Tommy Fleetwood (25-1) — After coming so close again to breaking through in a major, we can't see Fleetwood getting up for this one, not to mention he still doesn't have a PGA Tour victory.
Aldrick, FanShare Sports: Brooks Koepka (12-1) — Here are Koepka's recent finishes the following tournament after a major – 57th, 50th, 4th, 8th, MC, 19th, 49th. Not exactly what you want from one of the favorites in a field packed with the majority of the world’s top 50 players.
2019 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational picks: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Tony Finau (+125) over Hideki Matsuyama (Sportsbook) — Tony is riding high on confidence after finishing third last week in the Open – his best finish in a major to date. His game is in a good place. Matsuyama, meanwhile, comes in having missed the cut at the Open… but he was on a nice roll prior to that. I’m just leaning toward Finau.
Mayo: Jason Day (-110) over Jordan Spieth (Bet365) — As long as Day doesn’t withdraw and luck sack Spieth doesn’t make every 30-foot putt, this shouldn’t be close.
Gdula: Jon Rahm (+100) over Brookes Koepka (FanDuel) — This is a value option if we’re assuming the worst from Koepka’s motivations after yet another close call at a major. Rahm’s current form is about as great as anyone’s, finishing 3rd at the U.S. Open, 1st at the Irish Open, and 11th at the Open.
Sobel, Action Network: Matthew Wolff (-120) over Cameron Smith (Bovada) — Perfect smash spot for Wolff this week. He’s one of only eight players in the field who didn’t also compete in last week’s Open at Royal Portrush. But he’s not only fresh, he’s also going to be fired up to play against almost all of the world’s best players for the first time in his pro career. This is a great position for Wolff, who could have all the stars – so to speak – align to help him get into the mix on Sunday afternoon, especially against Smith, who should be cooked after playing well last week.
GD Editors: Xander Schauffele (-134) over Jordan Spieth (DraftKings) — If not for a final-round 78, Xander would have likely picked up his sixth top 10 and 13th top 25 finish a week ago at Royal Portrush. His consistency has been off the charts this season. Cannot say the same for Spieth, who appeared to be trending in the right direction starting at the PGA, where he finished T-3 and followed with finishes of T-8 at Charles Schwab and T-7 at Memorial. Since? T-65 at Pebble, cut at Travelers and T-20 with a final-round 77 at Portrush, where, to be fair, the weather was horrid on Sunday. Still, it's tough to figure this guy out.
Aldrick, FanShare Sports: Patrick Cantlay over Tommy Fleetwood (Bovada) — We can put last week down to a bit of an outlier. The Portrush Links course and the severe weather are far removed from the courses and conditions these PGA Tour regulars are used to playing on. Plus last week’s grueling four days will have taken its toll on the Englishman. Cantlay on the other hand had a fairly stress free week. The Open aside, Cantlay rates out better than Fleetwood in every key measure this week.
(Matchup results last week: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Nino Bertasio (-130) over Chris Wood; Aldrick 1 for 1 (Jon Rahm (-150) over Tiger Woods); Gdula: 0 for 1; Action Network: 0 for 1; PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 1; Riccio 0 for 1; GD Editors 0 for 1
(Matchup results for the year: Action Network guest picker: 9 for 11; GD Editors: 16 wins, 10 losses, two pushes; Riccio: 13-12; PGA Tour Caddie: 15-13; FanShare Sports guest picker: 2 for 2; Mayo: 11-13-2; Gdula: 10-15-2.)
Top 10 picks (Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Justin Thomas (+188) — Let’s go with JT. I think his form is coming back. I think he played really well at the Open, finishing T-11 – his best finish since the Masters (T-12). He was off just shy of two months for the wrist issue after the Masters and had been pretty quiet since coming back at the Memorial. But the Open was a good sign that things are looking up. He’s another bomber, so TPC Southwind sets up well for him.
Mayo: Bryson DeChambeau (+300) — Sure, he got back early from Portrush, but he did post consecutive top-six finishes in his two stateside starts previous to that. The ball striking is back, he’s an excellent Bermuda putter, and he’s had a few extra days to prep over the field.
Gdula: Billy Horschel (+500) — Horschel’s tee-to-green play had been trending up for two full months before a missed cut at The Open. Horschel’s early return gives him time to relearn a course where he has four top-10 finishes to his name already.
Riccio: Chez Reavie (+500) — After Spieth, DJ, Pepperell, Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka, I have Reavie with the sixth-best chance to win in my model this week. He's playing some of the best golf of his career, ranking inside the top 40 in every major strokes gained category over his last 50 rounds on tour, per Fantasy National. Reavie has five top 10s to his name already this season, and TPC Southwind, where he's finished T-6 and T-4 the last two seasons, is a good place to get a sixth.
Sobel, Action Network: Patrick Cantlay (+188) — This is simple math, guys: If you’d bet on Cantlay to finish top-10 in his last seven individual events, you would’ve cashed more tickets than you lost. In a small field where he only needs to finish inside the top 15 percent to claim another top-10, I like betting on his consistency to once again get it done here. (Sobel also likes Matthew Wolff Top 5 at +1800 and Kevin Na Top 20 at +350)
GD Editors: Hideki Matsuyama (+225) — We're fans of Pat Mayo's reasoning for Hideki winning, but with the way he's putted this season (118th sg:putting on tour), it's no wonder he hasn't registered a W yet. For that reason, we can't back him fully, but he's been a top 10 machine and we like him to continue that trend in Memphis. It should be said that, per Fantasy National, his putting over the last 50 rounds has improved dramatically (45th on tour) and he's displayed before that all it takes is one hot week on the greens for him to lap the field. But for now, we'll go the safe route and take him top 10.
Aldrick, FanShare Sports: Chez Reavie (+500) — The World No. 27 has missed his last two cuts but we can forgive him that as they are off the back of his first PGA Tour win in 11 years. The Pocket Rocket ranks seventh in the field this week for DraftKings Points Gained on par 70’s on Bermuda greens. That’s a sample size of 13 events so it’s a very valid sign that he loves these set ups. He has recorded a sixth and a fourth here at TPC Southwind over the last two years plus he ranks fifth in the field this week for total strokes gained over the last two months.
(Top-10 results last week: Everyone went 0 for 1)
(Top-10 results for the year: Action Network: 3 out of 9 (+196, +800, +1000 hits); Mayo: 8 for 26; GD Editors: 7 for 25; Gdula: 5 for 25; Riccio: 5 for 25; PGA Tour Caddie: 6 for 26; FanShare: 0 for 2.)
Mayo: Five of Thomas’ nine career wins have come at no-cut events, and the set up (Bermudagrass, Par 70), match up for the player who’s bene the best Par 4 scorer on the planet one rtes past two years. Eventually these putts are going to drop. And I’m on the ship until it happens… Homa’s cheap, he routinely gains strokes on the field with his driver, and before ejecting at the 3M Open, he had gained on approaches in six consecutive events. Plus, while he sucks on the greens, Bermuda is the only surface where he gains strokes. Plus, he’s a $6,400 birdie maker in a no cut event. He’s your last guy on the roster.
Justin Thomas ($10,700); Hideki Matsuyama ($8,900); Bryson DeChambeau ($8,800); Bubba Watson ($7,100); Max Homa ($6,400)
Riccio: As with the major championships, the WGC events draw the best players, and my model likes the best players. The only question is: will the best players play their best? The model still likes Spieth and Thomas, neither of whom has played anywhere near their historical potential (which is what the Model uses with an adjustment for recent play.) On the other hand it has recently not favored Brooks, although it places him near the top this week. Does Brooks think this is a major, or a regular event? In any case, the Model thinks he is over valued in both Fan Duel and Draft Kings. Dustin seems like a better bet although he seems over valued as well, just not as much as Brooks.
Dustin Johnson ($11,400); Jordan Spieth ($8,600); Chez Reavie ($7,900); Phil Mickelson ($7,300); Keith Mitchell ($6,500); Eddie Pepperell ($4,200)
GD Editors: Obviously, we've got to back our picks above, all of which help round out a strong DK lineup. DJ leads the way, Hideki checks in at a great price and you can't go wrong having the X-Man, who is almost guaranteed to contend based on this year's results.
Dustin Johnson ($11,400); Xander Schauffele ($9,300); Hideki Matsuayama ($8,900); Keegan Bradley ($6,900); Kevin Tway ($6,700); Keith Mitchell ($6,500)
Aldrick, FanShare Sports: I like the ‘stars and scrubs’ approach in a non-cut event such as this. JT and Cantlay should be my big positional scorers, whilst Reavie, RCB and Horschel should be able to produce top 20 finishes. Imahira should then be able to make enough birdies this week to more than justify his place in my lineup.
Justin Thomas ($10,700); Patrick Cantlay ($9,800); Chez Reavie ($7,900); Rafa Cabrera Bello ($7,900); Billy Horschel ($7,500); Shugo Imahira ($6,200)
FanShare Sports Under the Radar Pick of the Week: Rafa Cabrera Bello ($7,900) — The Spaniard burned a lot of people last week. A lot. He was almost 30% owned in some GPPS. This historically means his ownership should be lower than what it is this week. However, there is a lot to like about his chances in Memphis. Of the entire field, the FanShare Pro Research Tool shows us that he ranks 1st in this field for Average DraftKings Points on Par 70 courses with Bermuda greens. The FanShare Pro Dashboard also highlights that he comes into this event with a flaming green dot for course history, meaning he ranks in the top 5% of the field this week for Average DraftKings Points Gained at TPC Southwind. The World Number 35 recorded a 4th place finish at TPC Southwind in 2017 and has 3 top 10 finishes in his last 4 events.
Based on all WGC-FedEx St. Jude preview content as of Wednesday morning, here's how FanShare calculates the most popular plays for this week. To learn more about FanShare's ownership data, click here.
Gdula: Dustin Johnson ($12,000) and Patrick Cantlay ($10,900) are probably the two best DFS process plays among the high-end options, but there are a lot of mid-to-low-end values in this field to help us get three to even four expensive golfers. Some of my favorite salary savers include Paul Casey ($9,600), Billy Horschel ($9,000), and Jim Furyk ($8,000).
Dustin Johnson ($12,000); Jon Rahm ($11,200); Jordan Spieth ($10,100); Phil Mickelson ($9,100); Chez Reavie ($8,700); Eddie Pepperell ($8,300)
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the John Deere Classic.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Jason Sobel is a senior writer for The Action Network. To read The Action Network's full betting breakdown for the 3M Open, click here.