PGA Tour's Memphis stop precursor to U.S. Open (Jun 7, 2017)
The FedEx St. Jude Classic will enjoy its 60th edition on Thursday with one of its best fields and a prime spot as the event before the U.S. Open for the 11th consecutive year.
The only way the tournament could be better is if it could produce a champion that moves on to win the U.S. Open as well.
No golfer has ever won America's national championship after capturing the tournament held the previous week. With that said, the field of 156 of the PGA Tour's top golfers has not been scared away from trying to win the first leg of that double here at the TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tenn.
Eight of the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking -- Rickie Fowler (No. 9), Adam Scott of Australia (12), Italy's Francesco Molinari (16), Charl Schwartzel of South Africa (21), Brooks Koepka (22), Phil Mickelson (23), Kevin Chappell (26) and Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain (30) -- will compete on the par-70, 7,244-yard course designed by Ron Prichard.
The total purse for the event is $6.4 million, with $1.152 million and 500 FedExCup points going to the winner.
The top 60 players in the world ranking after this week will get into the U.S. Open. For those at FedEx St. Jude Classic, Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark would need a two-way tie for second to have a chance, while eight others, including Ian Poulter of England, would need to win to play at Erin Hills is Wisconsin next week.
Mickelson, twice a runnerup in the FedEx St. Jude Classic, will be playing for the third straight week. He announced earlier this week that he is planning skip the U.S. Open next week so he can attend his daughter's high school graduation.
"As you get older, you realize that the greatest moments of life are those spontaneous ones with your family and this is one I will cherish forever," Mickelson said of his decision.
"It feels different not playing next week, but I still have come to enjoy this event. The golf course is so fun to play and has such great character and nuances and I've played well on in the past -- I like it very much. I've been playing well this year -- just not quite as low as I have wanted to go -- so this would be a good week to put it all together."
The defending champion this week is Daniel Berger, the 2015 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, who established a three-stroke lead after 36 and 54 holes and rolled to the win by the same margin over Koepka, Mickelson and Steve Stricker. Current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson rounded out the top five.
The win was the first for Berger after 50 Tour events and allowed him to become the second-youngest champion of this event. Berger became the third straight 54-hole leader to hang on for victory here and 13th since the event moved to TPC Southwind in 1989.
"I got my own parking spot -- all others will be towed, so don't park in my spot," Berger deadpanned when asked about the advantages of being this event's defending champion. "I've had a pretty good year so far without playing exactly how I've wanted to play. As I've gotten better, my expectations have gotten higher and I feel like I should be in a position to contend every week. I feel great."
Thirty-two golfers who will play in next week's U.S. Open are in the field this week, including eight of the nine players who qualified at Memphis' sectional tournament. They are: Harris English, Troy Merritt, Trey Mullinax, Garrett Osborn, Jonathan Randolph, Chez Reavie, Andres Romero of Argentina and Xander Schauffele.
The event will also mark the PGA Tour debut of 2017 NCAA Champion and Ole Miss golfer Braden Thornberry (who will play as an amateur) and the professional debut of Sam Horsfield of England, who was formerly the No. 3-ranked amateur and 2016 SEC Freshman of the Year at University of Florida.
Since the event's inception in 1958, only three players have been able to successfully defend their title, Dave Hill (1969-70), Lee Trevino (1971-72) and David Toms (2003-04). Toms is the only player to successfully defend since the event moved to TPC Southwind in 1989.