Golf Tourney Welcoming Deep Field

By Don Wade

A year ago, former University Georgia standout Harris English tamed TPC Southwind for his first career victory on the PGA Tour, holding off Phil Mickelson and three others in the final round.

Phil Mickelson, pictured here in last month’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., heads a deep field in 57th FedEx St. Jude Classic that begins Thursday at TPC Southwind.

(Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

“I have a lot of good thoughts for this place,” English said Wednesday, on the eve of the 57th FedEx St. Jude Classic that tees off the morning of Thursday, June 5.

English has finished in the Top 10 in six of 18 events this year and his greens in regulation percentage of 71.24 ranks third on tour.

But he will have plenty of competition from the rest of the 156-player field that includes Mickelson, nine other past FESJC champions – among them 2012 champ Dustin Johnson, who is fourth in the FedEx Cup standings – and 16 Major winners and 86 PGA Tour winners.

Tournament director Phil Cannon has called this the deepest FESJC field in 20 years and it is significantly deeper than last year’s field. The fact that next week’s U.S. Open is at Pinehurst in North Carolina certainly didn’t hurt the draw.

“It’s gonna be a good warm-up for what we’re going to see at Pinehurst,” said English, who will be playing in his first U.S. Open.

Mickelson is looking to keep alive a 10-year streak of winning at least one PGA Tour event; he has yet to crack the top 10 at any of the 13 tournaments he has played this season. English and Mickelson are in the same group for Thursday and Friday and tee off on No. 10 at 7:40 a.m. Thursday; their Friday start time is at 12:40 p.m. from the first tee.

Dustin Johnson is in the group immediately behind them going off the 10th tee on Thursday and the next group includes two past FESJC champions in David Toms (2003 and 2004) and Lee Westwood (2010).

Recent heavy rain has left the TPC Southwind fairways “a little soft, but it’ll firm up over the next couple of days,” predicted English, who said the course’s greens are the best he has seen on the PGA Tour this year.

Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, who has made eight cuts in nine starts and recorded five Top 10 finishes this season, agreed.

“The greens are in great shape,” said McDowell, who will tee off at 12:40 p.m. Thursday from No. 1. “Rolling beautifully.”

Every player headed to Pinehurst next week – from Mickelson to English and McDowell – is trying to hone his game for the U.S. Open, but not at the expense of competing this week.

“This tournament is worth 500 FedEx Cup points and you can really set yourself up for the end of the year,” English said.

But there is also a lot be gained from playing here even you don’t finish atop the leaderboard.

“The grasses (at Pinehurst) are very similar to what we’re seeing here,” said McDowell. “And it’s hot and humid, which it’ll be in North Carolina next week.”

McDowell also likened TPC Southwind to courses across the pond.

“This golf course reminds me of a lot of European tracks,” said McDowell, who is fifth on tour in strokes gained (putting) at .883. “This is a tough track. I’d love to win here in Memphis.”

Other players of note and their Thursday tee times: Rickie Fowler, 7:50, from No. 1; David Duval, 8:30, from No. 1; Zachary Olsen, 8:50, from No. 10; John Daly, 12:20 p.m., from No. 1; Davis Love III, 12:30 p.m., from No. 1; Ian Poulter and Justin Leonard, 12:50 p.m., from No. 1.

The Golf Channel will provide coverage throughout the tournament and CBS Sports will broadcast from 2 to 5 p.m. during Saturday’s third round and Sunday’s final round.