Bird vs. Magic. Ali vs. Frazier. McGirt vs. Curran. Some of the great sporting rivalries in American history.
OK, I'm kidding about that last one, but little-known golfers William McGirt and Jon Curran topped a very strong field at the Memorial Tournament last week. The duo finished at 15 under, and McGirt beat Curran on the second playoff hole to win his first PGA Tour event in his 165th career start. McGirt had to two-putt from 65 feet on the 72nd hole to force the playoff. His 6-foot par putt on the second playoff hole was good enough for the win. Curran missed a 25-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole for victory.
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McGirt got a three-year exemption for the victory. He only has one other career win in his pro life, that coming on the former Tar Heel Tour in 2007. He has played in one major championship in his 12 years as a pro, the 2012 PGA Championship. He originally was going to play in a Monday qualifier this week for the U.S. Open but now doesn't have to worry about that. Curran has yet to win on the PGA Tour. Last season, Curran fell to Alex Cejka in a five-man playoff at the Puerto Rico Open.
My choice to win last week was 2014 champion Hideki Matsuyama. Alas, he missed the cut after rounds of 74-73. I wasn't a big fan of either world No. 1 Jason Day or No. 2 Jordan Spieth at the Memorial. And I was right as Day was T27 and Spieth T57. I also mentioned to steer clear or Rickie Fowler as he had missed two cuts in a row at the Memorial. He did again. For a Top-10 finish, I obviously missed on Matsuyama but hit on Rory McIlroy (-150) and Matt Kuchar (+160), who led for a while on Sunday. Those two both finished T4, two shots out of the playoff. Head-to-head, I hit on McIlroy (-105) over Day (-125), Dustin Johnson (-110) over Fowler (-120), Kuchar (-120) over Bubba Watson (-110), and Patrick Reed (-130) over Phil Mickelson (even). Ditto on McIlroy at -110 as the top European. It was McIlroy's eighth Top 10 in 12 starts this year.
Definitely not as strong of a field this week for the St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind in Memphis. Of course the U.S. Open is next week and many golfers don't like to play a tournament the week before a major. No winner of the PGA Tour event preceding the U.S. Open has gone on to win the Open. Only 11 times overall has someone won the week before a major in a PGA Tour event and then taken that major.
I'm sure some players already are practicing at Oakmont. Johnson and Mickelson are the two biggest names set to tee it up in Memphis. Al Geiberger became Mr. 59 in Memphis, shooting the PGA Tour's first 59 at this tournament on June 10, 1977. But that was at a different course. The TPC Southwind record is 61.
The defending champion is Argentina's Fabian Gomez. That was his first Tour win and he was the fifth man from his country to win on Tour all-time, joining Jose Coceres, Angel Cabrera, Andres Romero and Roberto De Vicenzo. Gomez and Greg Owen were tied for the lead after 54 holes, but Gomez shot 66 and Owen 70 on Sunday to finish second. Mickelson had a final-round 65 to finish in a tied for third, five shots back. Three of the past five winners here have been first-timers. Gomez is a +10000 long shot this week. He has won since, taking the Sony Open in Hawaii in January. Gomez also has missed six cuts this season. Spots in the U.S. Open are up for grabs for anyone who moves into the Top 60 of the world rankings after this event if not already qualified.
Golf Odds: St. Jude Classic Favorites
Johnson is the +650 heavy favorite at Bovada. He was T3 last week. Johnson won this tournament in 2009 by a stroke at 9 under. He missed the cut last year.
Brooks Koepka and Mickelson are +1400. Lefty closed strong Sunday as noted in Ohio and has come close here a few times, finishing that third last year and a runner-up in 2013. Koepka didn't play last week after a second at the Byron Nelson a couple of weeks ago. He was third here a year ago.
Ryan Palmer (+1800), Daniel Berger, Gary Woodland and Harris English (all +2500) round out the favorites. Palmer also took last week off and was most recently third at Colonial. He was third here in 2012 and fourth a year later. Palmer was 22nd a year ago. English won here in 2013.
PGA Tour Picks: St. Jude Classic Expert Betting Predictions
I am torn on Mickelson this week. Obviously he has a strong history here and is playing well, but I tend to think his mind has to be on the U.S. Open, the only major he hasn't won. I'd probably stay away. Bovada actually offers an interesting Johnson/Mickelson/Koepka vs. the field bet, with the trio at +275 and the field at -400. You can get just DJ and Lefty (+400) vs. the field (-650) as well. I don't think I like those. I will take Johnson at -150 for a Top 10 along with Palmer (+185) and a longer shot in Chad Campbell (+550), who usually plays well in this tournament.
Head-to-head, go with Johnson (-150) over Mickelson (+115), Palmer (even) over Koepka (-130), Woodland (-120) over English (-110), Colt Knost (+115) over Berger (-150), Charles Howell III (-120) over Brendan Steele (-110), and Luke Donald (-115) over Kyle Reifers (-115).
My pick to win his fourth career PGA Tour event and first since the 2010 Sony Open is Palmer.
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