It’s rare for a player to win a tournament in the week before a major and then win one of the four most prestigious events. The field for this week’s St Jude Classic features just eight players from the top 30 in the world rankings. Most of the elite players are preparing for next week’s US Open away from the course. Sadly that does not include Tiger Woods who is in a mess and a million miles away from playing competitively at the highest level again.
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Woods is one of just five players to have completed the career Grand Slam, winning all four majors at least once. Rory McIlroy just needs the US Masters to complete the set while Phil Mickelson requires a US Open to join that quintet. He has finished second six times in his national championship and surely his chances have gone. Jack Nicklaus was 46 when he won the Masters in 1986 and Mickelson is that age. He has won five majors in total but never the US Open. However, he will not be playing this year due to a clash with his daughter’s graduation.
TPC Southwind has staged the St Jude Classic since 1989. At 7,244 yards and with a par of 70 it has a similar layout to courses that stage the US Open. The second major of the season is all about bogey avoidance and not converting birdies. There is usually a massive need for accuracy over distance and par on any hole is a good score. The rough can be penal but this week hitting greens will be key and driving accuracy not so because the fairways are wide and forgiving.
The US Open is physically and mentally the most demanding major of the season and its mid-June date means the weather is hot and steamy. Colin Montgomerie famously only bought clothing for four days and sweated up badly during the playoff on the fifth day in 1994. TPC Southwind is in Memphis where the climate at this time of the year makes for hot days and light winds. Temperatures could rise to over 30 degrees over the weekend so maintaining concentration will be tough and thunderstorms often interrupt play. The event is a good preparation for the US Open a week later.
The TPC at Southwind is unusual in that the fairways are zoysia grass, rather than the more common Bermuda. This means that the ball can be swept and players take less of a divot as a result. There is plenty of landing areas on the fairways and low scoring is common despite the smallish greens. Water comes into play on several holes and the closing two holes are usually the most difficult. Course form is more important than current form and that brings Mickelson into the mix.
He has been in contention in each of the last four years without winning. Mickelson would swap 100 St Jude Classics for that elusive first US Open so probably doesn’t have the hunger over the closing holes. He hasn’t missed a cut since the playoffs last autumn but conversely has not made the top ten in six starts. Mickelson has the course form and experience to contend but won’t be playing next week. In 2013 he won the Scottish and British Opens in consecutive weeks but this year parental duties have come first.
Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler are the other players in the field who have a shot at winning the US Open. The former is a major champion while the latter is a major champion in waiting. This week is more about honing their games for the US Open than trying to win but they won’t turn down the prize money if there is an opportunity. Daniel Berger is the defending champion and one player to consider.
The field in a week before a major often has a second division feel. Overall, the winner of the US Open probably isn’t playing this week. Mickelson may win the St Jude Classic but that would be a consolation prize and he must wait another year to continue the quest to win the title he craves most.
Back next Thursday.
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