59th FedEx St. Jude Classic:
Overnight leader Daniel Berger withstood the heat, and a Sunday weather delay of 3 hours and 3 minutes, to fashion a 3-under-par 34-33=67 and win the FedEx St. Jude Classic by three shots over runners-up Brooks Koepka, Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson.
This was the 59th playing of the St. Jude Classic and 28th since moving to TPC Southwind in 1989. The par-70 layout played over-par in all four rounds and the cumulative scoring average was 70.93. Berger’s winning aggregate of 13-under 267 featured rounds of 67-64-69-67.
The 46th-ranked player in the world claims his maiden TOUR title in his 50th career start as a pre-tourney 22/1 outright. His previous best was 2nd-place two times, most recently runner-up to Jason Day’s wire-to-wire win at the 2015 BMW Championship in last year’s penultimate Playoffs event. Berger was also P2 at the 2015 Honda Classic.
The second-year man was making his tournament debut this week in Memphis and led by THREE thru 36 holes, led by THREE after 54 holes, and in the end, he won by THREE with a five-birdie two-bogey showing in the finale. It was the first time he’s led/co-led on TOUR after 36 OR 54 holes, so he’s 1-for-1 now in both regards.
The 23-year-old barely got his final frame underway, reaching the par-4 first in three shots, before inclement weather suspended play. When play resumed, he missed his par putt from 9'6" and later squared the 10th, missing a par-saver from 4'0".
The Florida native and resident overshadowed those bogeys with birdies on Nos. 6, 9, 12, 14 and 15, the latter two dropping from 32'1" and 21'11", respectively, and also drained par putts of 10'1", 9'5" and 6'2".
This is Berger’s fourth top 10 of the season on 18 starts and after depositing 500 FedExCup (FEC) points for the “W”, moves from 50th in the FEC standings to 14th.
He’s the 13th first-time winner this season thru 31 events and second straight (William McGirt, Memorial) and second consecutive to make the SJC their maiden TOUR title. The FSU product is the third straight winner on TOUR from the 54-hole leader/co-leader perch, joining McGirt and Jordan Spieth (DEAN & DELUCA), and fourth in the last five when you add in Day (PLAYERS).
For just the second time this season, more than TWO players finished tied-second. The only other was a five-way T2 at the Shriners back in October.
With the win, Berger is fully exempt on TOUR thru the 2017-18 season and earns a spot in the 2017 Tournament of Champions. He also jumps 17 places to a career-best 29th in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR).
Winner’s Weekly Stats (ranking of 73 players):
Birdies: 20 (T1)
Bogeys: 5 (T2)
Double Bogeys: 1 (T19)
Par-3 Scoring: 2.94 (T17)
Par-4 Scoring: 3.88 (T2)
Par-5 Scoring: 4.25 (T3)
Driving Distance: 309.8 yards (6th)
Driving Accuracy: 34/56 (T11) at 60.71 percent
Greens in Regulation (GIR): 54/72 (T1) at 75.00 percent
Proximity to Hole: 28’11” (T5)
Putts per GIR: 1.685 (15th)
Total Putts: 112 (T40); by round: 26-28-29-29
Scrambling: 12/18 (T24) at 66.67 percent
Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee: 4.564 (5th)
Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green: 8.094 (1st)
Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green: 0.958 (29th)
Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 13.616 (1st)
Strokes Gained: Putting: 2.728 (T19)
Golf Channel Perfect Picks ($2,002,083):
Group 1: Daniel Berger (Won): $1,116,000
Group 2: Russell Henley (T7): $199,950
Group 3: Steve Stricker (T2): $462,933
Group 4: Brian Gay (6th): $223,200
The draw was a non-factor insofar as the 36-hole cut was concerned. In total, 73 players from a field of 154 pros and two amateurs made the cut on 1-over 141 with 36 (of 78) EARLY/late advancing, versus 37 (of 77) LATE/early (one WD).
Of the four top-finishers in Golf Channel however, three emerged from the LATE/early ranks, including the champion.
Daniel Berger (Won): LATE/early
Russell Henley (T7): LATE/early
Steve Stricker (T2): LATE/early
Brian Gay (6th): EARLY/late
Brooks Koepka (T2): LATE/early
Phil Mickelson (T2): EARLY/late
Dustin Johnson (5th): EARLY/late
Yahoo! Low Rounds:
R2: Daniel Berger (64)
R3: D.A. Points (64)
R4: Dustin Johnson (63)
R4: Michael Kim (68)
The Runners-up (x3):
Brooks Koepka: The FSU product fashioned a 4-under-par 33-33=66 in the final round to post 10-under 270, up three places into a three-way T2, three shy of champion and fellow Seminole Berger.
Save for a three-putt par on the par-5 16th (from 24'8"), the 26-year-old polished off his third appearance in grand style. He trickled-in his fifth birdie of the round from the fringe 18'3" away at the par-4 15th and then nearly holed his second to the par-4 17th, stiffing his approach from 182 yards out to FOUR inches for the kick-in. The Floridian had a chance for one better at the 72nd hole and a would-be solo second, but missed from 23'2".
For the week, he totaled 16 birdies against six bogeys and was third-ranked in SG: Tee-to-Green at 11.526.
It’s his second straight runner-up finish (P2, Byron Nelson) and fifth overall top 10 in 14 starts. Koepka was the 54-hole leader (by two) at the Nelson and led by three at the turn, but was caught by Sergio Garcia and then lost to the Spaniard on the first hole of sudden death.
Steve Stricker: The Wisconsinite authored a 3-under-par 35-32=67 in the final round to post 10-under 270, good for a three-way T2, three back of champion Berger.
The 49-year-old was making his third appearance and first since a previous-best T28 in 2006. He began the final round exactly how he ended it, in a three-way T2, three back of 54-hole leader Berger.
Playing out of the penultimate twosome, Stricker striped nine (of 14) fairways and hit 14 greens in regulation, circling four birdies against a lone bogey-5 at the seventh. His conversions were highlighted by a 25-footer at the third, a 19-footer at the 10th, and an 11-footer at the 15th.
The Univ. of Illinois product’s T2 is a season best and second top 10 in 10 starts, joining T7 at the Valspar, and leaps 53 spots in the FEC standings to 107th. It’s his 16th runner-up finish in 459 career events, first since T2 at the 2013 TOUR Championship. He was No. 1 for the week in scrambling at 81.82 percent (18/22). The field average was 58.02 percent.
Phil Mickelson: The Hall of Famer handed in a 3-under-par 35-32=67 after the final round to post 10-under 270, three back of champion Berger.
The 45-year-old, four days shy of his birthday (June 16th), began the finale and ended it in the same position, a three-way T2. He was trailing 54-hole leader Berger by three after opening his sixth appearance in 70-65-68.
The 42-time TOUR winner, who hasn't won since the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield, exchanged bogeys at two and nine with birdies at six and eight to turn even. He added circles on 10, 12 and 16, but alas, couldn't catch the young Berger, despite being No. 1 in SG: Putting (cumulative 11.502). He was also T1 in Sand Saves with a perfect 7-for-7 effort.
This is Mickelson's second runner-up in Memphis (2013) and third top-five finish (T3/2015). It's his second runner-up of the season in 14 starts (Pebble Beach) and fifth overall top 10.
Dustin Johnson: The 2012 St. Jude winner arrived off a tied-season-best third-place finish at last week’s Memorial. At Muirfield Village, he OPENED with the week’s low round of 64.
This week, he CLOSED with the week’s low round of 63, including a bogey-free inward 29 that included two highlight reel chip-ins for par breakers. Unfortunately, he began the final round T18 on 2-under (66-69-73), eight adrift of Berger, so the heroics were too little, too late.
That said, the 31-year-old’s back-door solo fifth is his EIGHTH top 10 of the season in 13 starts, SEVEN of which are top-5s. He was No. 1 for the week in Proximity to Hole at 22’6”, nearly 12 feet better than the field average of 34’0”.
Brian Gay: The past St. Jude winner enjoyed a 4-under-par 32-34=66 in the final round to post 8-under 272, up six spots to solo sixth. Entering the week as the 1,357th- ranked player in the world, he missed all of the 2014-15 season which ended a string of 16 consecutive appearances at TPC Southwind. Gay won his third (of four) TOUR titles here in 2009.
The 44-year-old, playing this season on a Major Medical Extension, began the final round on 4-under (T12) after opening with 66 and twin 70s. He camouflaged a lone bogey-5 at the 13th with birdies at Nos. 1, 3, 6, 12 and 16, each from inside of 12 feet. Gay finished with a cumulative 1.571 putts per GIR, No. 1 in the field in that stat.
The solo sixth is his first top 10 of the season in 10 events and first since T4 at the 2013 McGladrey Classic, 31 months ago. The TOUR-leader in Putts per Round totaled just 95 putts for the week for a sizzling 23.75 average per round. Next best was Harris English and Mickelson with 105 total putts (26.25 per round).
The Open Qualifying Series:
For the first time, the FedEx St. Jude Classic was part of The Open Qualifying Series. The leading FOUR players in the top 12 and ties (not otherwise exempt) earned positions in the field at the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon in July.
Gary Woodland: One week after being the Biggest Surprise with a season-best T4 at the Memorial, the 32-year-old missed the cut by two at 3-over 73-70=143. The early exit ended a run of six straight paydays that included four top-25 finishes.
Like Berger, Woodland was a pre-tourney 22/1 outright. Unlike Berger, he totaled just five birdies against four bogeys and one double, posting a -0.849 SG: Approach-the-Green and a dismal -3.156 in SG: Putting.
What We Learned:
The pre-tourney odds-favorites have won just TWICE this season thru 31 events and Jordan Spieth has both of them, winning the DEAN & DELUCA and the Hyundai TOC. Dustin Johnson was the pre-tourney fave this week at 13/2 and finished solo fifth.
In total, just FIVE of the Top 50 OWGR were in the field with FOUR of the FIVE finishing in the Top 10:
No. 6: Dustin Johnson (5th)
No. 17: Brooks Koepka (T2)
No. 20: Phil Mickelson (T2)
No. 46: Daniel Berger (Won)
Only No. 50 Harris English failed to deliver, finishing T26 after a closing 73.
There were 26 first-timers in field of 156, including 13 (of 17) TOUR rookies.
Second-year man Berger was obviously the top debutant, which leads us to the rookies.
Stegmaier was one of only TWO players this week who posted ALL four rounds in the 60s – joining champion Berger, both making their tourney debuts.
More on Stegmaier: You may recall that the 32-year-old led after 54 holes at the Shriners back in October, only to be run over by fellow rookie Smylie Kaufman’s 61, eventually finishing in a five-way T2. The Web.com Tour grad now owns two top 10s this season in 22 starts and ranks 98th in the FEC standings.
The TOUR heads to Oakmont, Pennsylvania, for this week’s U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club. Jordan Spieth is the defending champion after winning last year’s edition at Chambers Bay GC (Washington state) by one over runners-up Dustin Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen.
Stay tuned to this space for all the latest player news and opinions as the TOUR readies for its 32nd tournament of the season.