Among the rarest words in golf is “three-peat.” Daniel Berger gets his chance to join the exclusive club of golfers who have managed the feat this week, when he seeks to capture his third-straight FedEx St. Jude Classic title in Memphis.
Winning the same PGA Tour event three consecutive times has only been accomplished by four players in the last 40 years — Tom Watson, Stuart Appleby, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods, with Woods having reached the achievement in four different events.
It’s often said that it is hard to win on the tour, so winning an event three straight years ranks as really, really, really difficult.
Adding to Berger’s degree of difficulty is the fact he has struggled much of the year, ranking 86th in the FedEx Cup standings and unable to crack the top 10 in any event so far this season. His scoring average at 70.754 isn’t horrific, ranking 55th on tour, but he’s 91st in birdie average and 93rd in strokes gained around the green, which could be a challenge with a smallish set of greens at TPC Southwind.
At times in the past, the strength of field has suffered in Memphis, as it falls on the schedule the week before the U.S. Open. But not so much this year (and not a factor in the future, with this tournament set to move to World Golf Championship status in 2019, and a new date later in the summer).
World No. 2 Dustin Johnson, the 2012 Memphis champ, is playing, as is reigning U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka. Phil Mickelson has made a stop in Memphis part of his preparation for the Open for the last five years, and has been tantalizingly close to winning with a pair of second-place ties in that stretch, while Henrik Stenson is in the field for the first time since 2012.
Here’s more on what to watch for as the tour heads to Tennessee.
Tournament: FedEx St. Jude Classic
Dates: June 7-10, 2018
Where: Memphis, Tenn.
Course: TPC Southwind
Distance: Par 70, 7,244 yards
Architect: Ron Prichard
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $1,188,000
Defending Champion: Daniel Berger
Marquee Players: Berger, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Billy Horschel, Byeong-Hun An, Charl Schwartzel, Tony Finau, Joaquin Niemann
TV AND ONLINE
Round 1: Thu 4-7:00 pm (GOLF)
Round 2: Fri 4-7:00 pm (GOLF)
Round 3: Sat 1-2:45 pm (GOLF), 3-6:00 pm (CBS)
Round 4: Sun 1-2:45 pm (GOLF), 3-6:00 pm (CBS)
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Originally known as the Memphis Classic, the FedEx St. Jude Classic has been running continuously in Memphis, Tennessee since 1958.
The tournament was co-founded by Memphis restaurant bigwig Vernon Bell, one of the more unheralded names in golf history, whose innovative ideas and contributions were precursors to many advancements in professional golf.
The tournament has had three host courses, all in the Memphis area: Colonial Country Club from 1958-1971; Colonial’s relocated course in Cordova from 1972-1988; and TPC Southwind from 1989-present.
The tournament really took off in 1969, when famous entertainer Amos Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz, better known by his stage name, Danny Thomas, agreed to lend his name to the tournament. In return, the tournament made Thomas’ St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital the event’s official charity.
The inaugural 1958 tournament was won by seven-time PGA Tour winner Billy Maxwell, besting Hall of Famer Cary Middlecoff by one stroke. Winners over the years included Middlecoff, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Gene Litler, Raymond Floyd, Tom Kite, Curtis Strange and Dustin Johnson.
The tournament record-holder for most victories is Dave Hill, who won four times in a seven-year span (1967-1973). The only other players with multiple titles are Trevino with three, and then two apiece for Nick Price, David Toms, Justin Leonard and Daniel Berger.
The FedEx St. Jude Classic was the tournament where the first 59 in PGA Tour history was shot. The monumental feat was achieved by Al Geiberger in 1977.
1986-18: FedEx St. Jude Classic
1985: St. Jude Memphis Classic
1970-84: Danny Thomas Memphis Classic
1960-69: Memphis Open Invitational
1958-59: Memphis Open
2017: Daniel Berger (-10)
2016: Daniel Berger (-13)
2015: Fabian Gomez (-13)
2014: Ben Crane (-10)
2013: Harris English (-12)
2012: Dustin Johnson (-9)
2011: Harrison Frazar (-13)
TOURNAMENT SCORING RECORDS
258 (-26) John Cook (1996)
4 – Dave Hill (1967, 1969-70, 1973)
3 – Lee Trevino (1971-72, 1980)
2 – Nick Price (1993, 1998), David Toms (2003-04), Justin Leonard (2005, 2008), Daniel Berger (2016-17)
Make that two-for-two for Daniel Berger. One year after the then 23-year-old captured his maiden PGA Tour victory on his first attempt at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tennessee, Berger rode a bogey-free final round 66 to a second straight title at TPC Southwind in 2017.
Despite an extremely crowded Sunday leaderboard that at one point featured nine co-leaders, Berger’s nearly flawless play down the stretch made the finish surprisingly dull, as every other challenger in the late groups seemingly fell flat on their face.
At -10, Berger finished one stroke ahead of Charl Schwartzel and Whee Kim, and two clear of a group of five players which included amateur Braden Thornberry, who was making his PGA debut. The 2015 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year now has two career wins, both coming at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
FINAL TOP 10
1 Daniel Berger -10
2 Charl Schwartzel -9
2 Whee Kim -9
4 Billy Horschel -8
4 Braden Thornberry (a) -8
4 Chez Reavie -8
4 Kevin Chappell -8
4 Rafa Cabrera-Bello -8
9 Phil Mickelson -7
10 Harris English -6
10 Steve Wheatcroft -6
10 Adam Scott -6
10 Dominic Bozzelli -6
10 David Hearn -6
10 Chad Campbell -6
10 Ben Crane -6
10 Stewart Cink -6
While not overly deep, the field for the 2018 FedEx St. Jude Classic does have enough interesting angles to keep golf fans entertained this week.
As detailed above, the biggest story revolves around Daniel Berger and his opportunity to win in Memphis for the third straight year. If he can get himself into contention for the weekend, it could be just the spark his season has needed to this point.
The pick as favorite for many people this week will be Dustin Johnson. The world’s No. 2 player hasn’t won since the start of January, but he is coming in off his best finish in two months with his tie for 8th place showing at last week’s Memorial Tournament. Having won on this course in 2012 has to help with confidence, and he placed fifth the last time he played in Memphis in 2016, one week before he won that year’s U.S. Open title.
Johnson’s successor as U.S. Open champ, Brooks Koepka, will attempt to put even more mental distance between himself and the wrist injury that sidelined him early in the year with a strong showing this week. Koepka, the world’s No. 9 player, skipped the Memorial, but showed all the right signs in his last start two weeks ago, placing second at the Fort Worth Invitational.
Phil Mickelson will once again likely be a threat and among the gallery’s favorites in Memphis. In the last five years, he’s placed in the top three at this event on three occasions. He, too, was solid at the Memorial like DJ, posting a tie for 13th. World No. 15 Henrik Stenson is another high-powered name to watch this week.
Tony Finau is quietly having a very good year, ranking 12th in the FedEx Cup race. He’s posted top 15 finishes in three of his last five starts, including a tie for 13th at the Memorial.
Billy Horschel was red-hot in April, with a tie for fifth at the RBC Heritage and a tie for 11th at the Valero Texas Open, followed by a win (with partner Scott Piercy) at the Zurich Classic. While he’s cooled of late, he’s been a near-constant threat in Memphis, with four top 10 finishes since 2013.
Byeong-Hun An will play this week after a near-miss last week at the Memorial, where he lost in a three-man playoff to champion Bryson DeChambeau.
John Daly, now 52 years old, will also play in what could be his last appearance in Memphis (given the upgrade to WGC status coming next year.) Daly lived in a home on the TPC Southwind course for 19 years and has played in this event 23 previous times.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, 19-year-old Chilean Joaquin Niemann gave a peak how high his ceiling in golf could be by going into the final round of the Memorial just one shot off the lead, before a final round 73 knocked him back to a finish of tied for sixth. He’s in Memphis, as is amateur Braden Thornberry, who placed tied for fourth last year, the first time an amateur had posted a top 10 finish in this event since 1965.
Credits: PGA Tour Media, Getty Images