St. Jude Betting Preview

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Ben Coley previews this week’s St. Jude Classic, where Brian Gay emerges as a strong contender.

The first question that needs answering when trying to find the winner of the FedEx St. Jude Classic is as follows:

Is Lee Westwood, who is currently one of the pre-tournament favourites in the betting market, worth backing at around 7/1?

The answer I’ll give is that I will not put you off. The world number two has strokeplay form figures of 1-1-2 coming into the event and in all truth they should read 1-1-1, as he missed a seven-foot putt to win the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth less than a fortnight ago.

Add that to the fact that he’s the defending champion who tee-to-green is undoubtedly the world’s best golfer at this moment in time and you have solid grounds for a decent punt.

However, there are enough reasons to think that our search for value may lead elsewhere.

Firstly, he won this event last year because Robert Garrigus – three-up playing the last with Westwood in the clubhouse – lost it.

Secondly, although it didn’t stop him in 2010 there’s no doubt that the Englishman will, more than most in the field, be using these four days as a chance to hone his game ahead of next week’s US Open.

And thirdly, last year’s success was ultimately his first in 12 years on US soil and his price helps to shape an attractive each-way market.

So instead of rowing in on last year’s fortunate winner at skinny odds, how about 2009’s five-stroke winner at 20/1?

That man is Brian Gay and he’s a player I find easy to avoid often, but hard to oppose occasionally – this week he’s hard to oppose.

The chief reason is of course his record in the event which shows a win and two top-five finishes in 12 starts.

There are several factors that go beyond coincidence to explain why he likes it here, too.

Gay putts even more brilliantly than usual on Bermuda greens owing to the fact that he grew up sculpting his game on them.

His best form has come on par 70 or 71s, no surprise given his lack of distance off the tee, so the 7,224 yard setup of TPC Southwind fits his style and there’s a pattern that his best play has come on tougher courses; this one ranks 22nd of 52 on the current PGA Tour roster and one of the top-five hardest courses on which to find the greens.

Even in finishing a modest T15 last year, Gay once more advertised how well he knows the course by hitting a list-topping 80 per cent of fairways. Quite simply when his irons are dialled in this course is absolutely perfect for him, which is why he holds the event scoring record.

I’ve established then that this is a tournament and a course that leads me to Gay, but is he playing well enough to merit a bet?

The answer to that appears to be yes. The University of Florida graduate leads the Tour in driving accuracy and scrambling, sits fifth in scoring average and 18th in strokes gained putting.

He’s also fourth in par-three birdie or better percentage which bodes well with four of them to go at compared to two par-fives and can boast eight top-25 finishes in 14 starts this year, including a tied fifth in the Mexico.

That event, the Mayakoba Classic, is one he’s won before which is again something that indicates he may be ready to win again on his return to Memphis.

Add to that the fact that he’s won three events in the last three years by a combined 17 shots and there are no concerns about his ability to get the job done. Like last week’s winner Steve Stricker, Gay is a late-bloomer who tends to reproduce at his favourite courses so let’s back him to win the St. Jude Classic once more.

There’s no getting away from David Toms this week and he’s definitely worth backing too.

With an emphasis on hitting greens at TPC Southwind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Toms has won this event twice in the last nine years and has also finished inside the top-five on three other occasions within that period.

When winning in 2003, he said he was “very comfortable on this golf course, comfortable with my spots off the tee as far as where I’m trying to hit the ball”.

Toms is playing incredible golf this year with a win in his most recent start at Colonial following on from what could’ve been a soul destroying play-off loss in the Players’ Championship at Sawgrass.

Proof of just how well he’s playing can be found in a glance at the stats.

Toms leads the PGA Tour in the all-around ranking – not bad for a 44-year-old – sits second in greens hit, third in driving accuracy and eighth in strokes gained putting.

Any golfer who is hitting more fairways and greens and holing more putts than his opponents is of clear interest and when it’s Toms at TPC Southwind, a win only punt looks well worthwhile.

Lastly then I’m going to take a chance on Shaun Micheel building on the promise of last week’s season’s best tie for 22nd.

The 2003 PGA Champion had missed three consecutive cuts prior to a better showing in Ohio and were it not for a final round 75 he could’ve been comfortably inside the top-10.

Last year Micheel finished in a share of fourth here – just one shot outside the play-off – despite arriving on the back of a missed cut, in the process ranking inside the top-30 in putting, driving, greens hit and scrambling and making just five bogeys.

With the momentum of last week behind him and positive memories to draw from two other top-20s here too, he might just have been underestimated by the layers.

TIPS

2pts e.w. Brian Gay at 20/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5 bodog.com). Former champion who looks ready to win again soon.
2pts win David Toms at 10/1 (bodog.com). A win and a second in his last two starts and twice a Southwind winner.
0.5pts e.w. Shaun Micheel at 80/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5, totesport). One shot out of a play-off in 2010 and arrives following season’s best.

Preview posted at 1340 BST on 08/06/2011.

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