Will Zalatoris is backed to win his first PGA Tour title
Will Zalatoris is backed to win his first PGA Tour title

Ben Coley's golf betting tips: FedEx St. Jude Championship preview and best bets

Will Zalatoris can get off the mark in this week's FedEx St. Jude Championship according to golf expert Ben Coley, who has five selections in total.

Golf betting tips: FedEx St. Jude Championship

3pts e.w. Scottie Scheffler at 16/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

2pts e.w. Will Zalatoris at 28/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Keith Mitchell at 100/1 (BoyleSports 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)

1pt e.w. Tom Hoge at 150/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

0.5pt e.w. Ryan Palmer to lead after R1 at 125/1 (Sky Bet, Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

A discombobulating PGA Tour season enters its final stretch with the FedEx St. Jude Championship, the latest attempt to ensure Southwind remains on the schedule and a worthy one given the money raised for the local children's hospital which gives this tournament its name. A mainstay since 1989, this event has been shapeshifting over the last few years, leaving its traditional pre-US Open slot to become part of the WGC series only briefly, and now tasked with kickstarting the Playoffs.

Southwind, as Tiger Woods might say, is what it is โ€“ an uninspiring par 70 made difficult by small, fast greens, tricky rough, but above all else the various water hazards which colour the course. Avoiding those is obviously important and it can be argued that there's added volatility, the like of which we get at the Honda Classic. Two-time course winner Daniel Berger is a runner-up in that event and in some ways he's a nice blueprint, as a player who hits fairways before relying on his iron play and getting his putter hot on familiar, bermuda greens.

Last year's event went to a similar player in Abraham Ancer, but only after a chaotic finish to the tournament. Harris English came home in 40 when seemingly in command, largely because of two approach shots to the par-threes which found water. Alongside him, Bryson DeChambeau came home in 41, and up ahead Cameron Smith doubled the 18th to lose by two, having played his final four holes in three-over.


That meant Sam Burns, whose chance appeared to have gone when he drove it out-of-bounds off the 13th tee, was able to sneak into a play-off after outscoring Smith by six shots from the 15th onwards. So too was Hideki Matsuyama, who was labouring in 30th place at halfway and 14th with a round to go, before closing with a round of 63. It was somehow fitting that the play-off ended abruptly as Ancer made birdie and Burns couldn't match him from close range, the Mexican earning an overdue breakthrough win.

All of which is to say that humdrum courses still throw up engrossing tournaments and we ought to get one here, with most of the world's best players in attendance and Rory McIlroy at the head of the betting. McIlroy, like so many, returns for the first time since a gut-wrenching finish to the Open Championship won by second-favourite Cameron Smith, and it's going to be fascinating to see how they all get on having not only been absent for almost a month, but last been seen playing golf of a completely different style.

McIlroy goes well fresh and is the right favourite, but the best bet among the elite is world number one SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER, who makes plenty of appeal at 16/1 generally.

The star of spring, Scheffler won four times in six starts from February's Phoenix Open to the Masters in April, but he looks to be in similar nick right now, too. Let's not forget, he really should've added a fifth title in the Charles Schwab and would've with a behaving putter, twice looked like he was sure to win the US Open after that, and was in the mix for far longer than 21st place at St Andrews might suggest.

Ultimately, the putter which looked infallible has just gone cold on him but sometimes a change in surface is all it takes, as we've seen from Sungjae Im over the last fortnight, and this will be Scheffler's first go on bermuda greens for a few months. If it does kick him into gear then everything else is where it needs to be: he's driven the ball exceptionally from Colonial onwards, his approach play has arguably never been better, and there really are no excuses on that front.

His form at Southwind is also encouraging, as he's ranked fifth and sixth in strokes-gained tee-to-green on his last two starts here, both when not yet a PGA Tour winner. Eight of the last 11 champions have led that category for the week โ€“ it would be nine had Matsuyama won the play-off โ€“ and it's no exaggeration to say that Scheffler, who ranks eighth for the season, has actually been stronger in this department lately than he was when picking off titles seemingly at ease.

There's no guarantee that he putts better having struggled a little on these greens over the last couple of years, but the Texas resident deserves the benefit of the doubt at the odds. He opened 65-65 here last year and was in the mix through 54 holes, he has correlating form at Colonial and Copperhead, and arriving fresh is no bad thing as all four wins came following a week away.

Ultimately I rate him the biggest danger to McIlroy, comfortably so, and anything bigger than 12/1 makes him a bet.

Zalatoris primed to get off the mark

Another positive for Scheffler is that his prodigious driving is not just a product of power, but above-average accuracy. That would be the only real worry I have for the second selection, WILL ZALATORIS, who nevertheless makes plenty of appeal.

Unlike most of those ahead of him in the betting, Zalatoris has reacquainted himself with PGA Tour golf since the Open, finishing 20th in the Rocket Mortgage Classic and 21st in the Wyndham. Both offered encouragement, particularly his putting through the middle rounds of the latter event, but neither course really plays to his strengths.

It strikes me that he just really wanted to get sharp for the Playoffs, which don't forget he missed last year due to a quirk in the qualifying criteria. That was probably decisive in keeping Zalatoris out of the Ryder Cup side and he'll definitely have a point to prove as well as seeking to shed the unwanted tag of the best player in the sport who is yet to win on the PGA Tour.

Although it's his Playoffs debut, he played Southwind last year when this was a WGC event, and I wrote prior to it that he'd be a big player if fit. That was in doubt after he'd withdrawn from the Open, so to come here and finish eighth, on his first look at the course and not yet back to full health, was a mighty effort.

The fact that he putted well (ranked ninth) is encouraging, especially as he later did the same on similar greens in the Sanderson Farms Championship, but the biggest positive is how well he's done when returning to events where he'd been successful previously. Surprisingly, Zalatoris actually only managed four top-10 finishes in 2021, and his results at the same events this year read second, sixth, and second.

Two of those came at the same courses and a second crack at Southwind, having got himself match fit over the last couple of weeks, looks absolutely perfect given the strength of his iron play and the fact he ranks second in strokes-gained tee-to-green. Anything like the way he putted here last year would surely have him in the mix and he's certainly going to benefit from an increase in difficulty.

The other factor to note is that Zalatoris decided to fire his caddie after two rounds of the Wyndham Championship, later expressing how difficult a decision it was. How he adjusts to having Joel Stock on the bag is an unknown, and there are easy jokes to be made given Stock used to caddie for longtime nearly-man Cameron Tringale, but it might just be that change proves the difference just as it did for Robert MacIntyre when he shed his maiden tag in Europe two years ago.

As long as it doesn't hinder him, Zalatoris has a huge chance at a course he says he loves.

High Stakes: The story of the Sunday Series

Who are the best bets at bigger prices?

After last week's 'who will keep their card?' storylines, the backdrop of the next three events, alongside the FedEx Cup of course, will be the Presidents Cup. There's no doubt that the above two names will make the US side but there's clearly a big opportunity for some other Americans given that at least three and possibly as many as five of last year's Ryder Cup team will be absent at Quail Hollow.

It's surely now or never for Billy Horschel and Southwind is a great course at which to state his case, as he's been a permanent fixture here down the years with five top-10 finishes, more recently finishing ninth, 25th and 17th in the three World Golf Championship renewals.

He shook off some rust at the Wyndham, where he admitted he felt he could've done with a couple of extra days on the range, and with three wins since last March has to be respected at 50/1. I'm just a little troubled by the state of his long-game, with his approach play below the standards he needs in order to be competitive, and for that reason he's overlooked.

By contrast, Russell Henley and Corey Conners are absolutely dialled-in and anything like a good putting week would throw both of them into the mix. Henley has done it here before and his now trademark iron play has returned with a bang, but he keeps getting in his own way and has become especially shaky over close-range putts, to the extent that it's hard to imagine him sticking it out in this kind of company.

Conners is more interesting given that his best putting displays, rare though they are, have often come on bermuda greens. After a quiet spell on links land he came alive over the final two rounds of the Wyndham, gaining almost eight strokes with his ball-striking, and had the 80/1 remained I'd have been backing him to leave behind a modest course record. He's driven it really well here in the past and Southwind looks a good fit on paper.

However, not only has the 80/1 gone but there's not much 66/1 around so I'll move down the betting to Tennessee native KEITH MITCHELL, who can make up for a disappointing Open Championship.

Mitchell is the son of an R&A member and his sister studies in St Andrews, so the Open was a big deal for him and he'll have been devastated to start it with a nightmare 76. That said, he can take heart from a second-round 69 to restore pride and reflect on the fact he achieved his goal in qualifying for the event.

Next on the agenda is surely to crack the top 50 in the world, something he's yet to do, and this is a good opportunity. He knows Southwind well and produced some quality approach work to be 37th on debut in 2018, returning to lead the field in strokes-gained off-the-tee but struggle badly on the greens when 39th in 2019, and his warm-up in the Wyndham last week also saw him dominate with driver.

Mitchell's putter let him down there just as it had in the Open, but he'd previously led the field in strokes-gained putting at the Scottish Open and we know what he can do at his best, especially on bermuda greens. He also demonstrated when winning the Honda Classic that he doesn't necessarily need to putt the lights out to win, having ranked just 38th that week, and for my money the best time to back him is in this part of the world on a difficult course when his long-game is firing.

His last round at Southwind was a six-under 64 in which he gained over four strokes from his ball-striking alone and I'm certain this is a good course for him, particularly if he can build on small signs of encouragement with his approaches. At 100/1 and upwards, he's backed to emulate fellow big-hitters Koepka and Dustin Johnson and boss things off the tee.

Wyndham Clark is another big-hitting talent who can make everything when the putter clicks and his form at the Honda suggests he might take to this place. Like Mitchell, there are some parallels with Burns, who hit the crossbar for us at 80/1 last year, but Clark is yet to get off the mark on the PGA Tour and doesn't quite look as ready to win as Ancer was, for all he's never been better off the tee.

Instead, I'm inclined to believe that TOM HOGE has been underestimated, as a 2022 PGA Tour winner who is prominent in the FedEx Cup standings but finds himself alongside the likes of John Huh, Mark Hubbard and Brendon Todd in the betting.

That seems harsh on Hoge, the world number 44 who was ninth in the PGA Championship in May, and it's almost as if he didn't return to form with fourth place at the 3M Open last time, an event which actually might correlate quite well with this through the likes of Richy Werenski, Michael Thompson and Troy Merritt.

Like those three, Hoge is far from flashy but his approach play has been nothing short of world-class over the last year. He ranks 11th for the season and, after a barren run which included two majors and some links golf he's not altogether comfortable with, his irons were firing again when he led the field in strokes-gained approach in Minnesota.

Now he returns to Southwind, where he was 12th on debut, his first performance of any significance on the PGA Tour. Hoge sat fourth at halfway and did everything well when ranked outside the top 500 in the world, before returning a year later to lead after round one and lie second at halfway, again at a time when he had barely threatened the top of leaderboards.

Tom Hoge celebrates with the trophy after winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
Tom Hoge celebrates with the trophy after winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

He's subsequently proven himself to be particularly comfortable on classical courses like Sedgefield, Waialae, Old White TPC and Torrey Pines, his breakthrough came when succeeding Southwind specialist Berger at Pebble Beach, and in the equivalent Playoffs opener last year he finished fourth behind Tony Finau, Smith and Jon Rahm, despite having arrived badly out of form.

All of this suggests to me that he would be half the price he is but for being Tom Hoge, the epitome of an un-flashy, steady golfer. As Ancer showed last year that's a good formula for this test of execution, where an absence of power can be overcome, and there's no reason he can't threaten the places at the very least.

Seamus Power finished 27th and 12th here when nowhere near the player he is today and is respected at 100/1, as is fellow Barbasol champion Trey Mullinax at 250s, but my final selection comes in the first-round leader market where RYAN PALMER is worth a small bet.

Palmer led here in 2015 after an opening 64 and has been a Southwind staple down the years. More recently he's fired six-under 64s in each of the last two editions, while three starts back he made a bright start and contended in the Scottish Open.

Clearly he has issues seeing things through but the Texan has a dozen first-round leads down the years and if a return to these greens sparks improvement with the putter, he has a low one in him for all that advancing to the next event is likely going to be a stretch too far.

Posted at 1025 BST on 09/08/22

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