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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Steady Stenson set to leave rivals reeling in muggy Memphis

Former Open champ is building up a head of steam

Henrik Stenson can boss proceedings at TPC Southwind
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Sky Sports Golf, 9pm Thursday

The winners of the last two US Opens – Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka – are using the St Jude Classic as a final warm-up for the second Major of the season. The big-hitting duo fill the top two places in the betting for the Memphis gathering.

Johnson, back using the putter which helped to deliver so much success last season, is 7-1 favourite, while Koepka, who has made a bright return from a spell sidelined by wrist injury, is 10-1. Both have shown they can perform well at TPC Southwind and must be respected, but the course has only two par-fives and is not a perfect fit for either of them.

Phil Mickelson, bidding to complete a career Grand Slam next week, may be lacking full focus, while defending champion Daniel Berger, looking to complete a St Jude hat-trick, has been unimpressive over the last couple of months.

Palmer's top tip
Henrik Stenson 16-1
There has been a lot to like about the way Henrik Stenson has been building towards the peak months of the golfing year and the seemingly determined Swede can kickstart a successful summer by winning the St Jude Classic.

At 42, Stenson is at the stage of his career where getting his game in order for the most prestigious events is the emphatic priority, and he appears to have worked his way into top order with the final three Majors and the Ryder Cup on the horizon.

From the end of March onwards, Stenson has been slowly but surely recovering the form which made him the 2016 Open champion, finishing fourth at Bay Hill, sixth in Houston, fifth in the Masters, 23rd at Sawgrass and 13th in the Memorial last week.

The Masters effort was particularly significant, given it was his first top-ten finish in 13 Augusta starts. The first Major of the year typically brings nothing but misery for Stenson, but he carded four under-par rounds this time.

And at Muirfield Village on Sunday, this supreme ball-striker hit 13 of 14 fairways, finding 16 greens in regulation in a closing round of 69. His trusty three-wood is purring and the tight par-fours of Southwind are an ideal place to show off that long-game control.

Stenson usually faces a trip home for the Nordea Masters at this stage of the season, but schedule changes have allowed him to tackle suitable Southwind this year. His last visit in 2012 yielded 13th spot when he had arrived in shaky form and something better can be achieved in his current mood.

Next best
Billy Horschel 28-1
Players who competed in the 36-hole US Open sectional qualifiers around various parts of America on Monday immediately have a question mark against their name – getting from that gruelling gig to Memphis is an energy-sapping start to the week. It is absolutely boiling in Tennessee and Southwind is a demanding track at the best of times.

Billy Horschel will probably not be as affected by his attempt to qualify for the US Open though, given he competed in the Memphis sectional and gave up after just 18 holes. Horschel thought he faced mission impossible after opening with a humdrum 72, so sensibly elected to rest up for the St Jude Classic, an event he knows he has an excellent chance of winning.

From 2013 onwards, Horschel's form figures at Southwind are 10-6-8-4 – this typically strong ball-striker relishes the stiff tee-to-green test – and he closed with a 64 last year. Given bright recent efforts including fifth place in the Heritage and victory alongside Scott Piercy in the Zurich Classic pairs event he looks the business.

Other selections
Austin Cook 125-1
Chez Reavie 70-1
Austin Cook, runaway winner of the RSM Classic in November, was also in the Memphis US Open qualifier for just 18 holes, bowing out after a 70, and like Horschel he knows he can be a factor at Southwind, where he was 13th on his US Tour debut in 2014 and 22nd the following year.

The precise Cook, who lives across the border in Arkansas, could get back in contention this week, while Chez Reavie, who did not need to qualify for the US Open and could prepare properly for Southwind, is another accurate operator who relishes this layout (27-12-4 in three visits). Reavie has been generally excellent for a year and finished runner-up twice in February.

Others to note
Braden Thornberry
The 21-year-old rising star qualified for the US Open on Monday and can be expected to put on another good show at Southwind, where he finished fourth last year.

Joaquin Niemann
The Chilean teen sensation has earned special temporary membership of the US Tour after a superb start to his pro career. He has the world at his feet.

Abraham Ancer
The accurate Mexican is well suited to Southwind, where he finished 18th in his only previous visit two years ago.

Corey Conners
The Canadian led the Valspar for a long way in March and finished eighth at Colonial last time out. He seems likely to be suited to Southwind, but is making his debut there.

CT Pan
The tidy Taiwanese is another accurate maiden who could threaten at a big price on a track demanding straight-hitting.

James Hahn
The Californian finished sixth on his last visit to Southwind and could be a factor if rediscovering his sparkling early-year form.

Staking plan
H Stenson
3pts each-way 16-1 Coral
B Horschel
2pts each-way 28-1 Betfair, Betfred, BoyleSports
A Cook
1pt each-way 125-1 Betway, Coral
C Reavie
1pt each-way 70-1 bet365

The lowdown

Course TPC Southwind, Memphis, Tennessee

Prize money $6.6m ($1.152m to the winner)

Length 7,244 yards Par 70 Field 156

Course records – 72 holes 258 John Cook (1996) 18 holes 61 Jay Delsing (1993), Bob Estes (2001)

Course winners taking part Bob Estes, Brian Gay, Dustin Johnson, Harris English, Ben Crane, Fabian Gomez, Daniel Berger (twice)

When to bet By 1pm Thursday

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 9pm Thursday

Time difference Tennessee is six hours behind the UK and Ireland

Last week – Memorial Tournament 1 B DeChambeau (55-1), T2 B H An (80-1), K Stanley (80-1), 4 P Cantlay (66-1), 5 P Uihlein (125-1), T6 J Niemann (125-1), J Rose (14-1)

Course overview The Ron Prichard-designed TPC Southwind has hosted this event since 1989, but the track had an extensive overhaul after the 2004 staging.

All the greens were reconstructed, with Bermuda grass replacing bentgrass, while fairways were narrowed and new tees added to increase the yardage.

The three ponds at the course were enlarged, 125 trees were planted, 15 bunkers were added and the toughened-up layout, which boasts ten water hazards and 94 bunkers, is perennially ranked as one of the most difficult on the US Tour.

The 485-yard par-four fifth is a devil of a hole, usually averaging well over par. The par-three 11th draws comparisons with Sawgrass's 17th, requiring a flick of the wrists with a short iron to a small island green.

The two par-fives (third and 16th) are relatively straightforward and provide relief during a challenging assignment. The second and 15th also represent great birdie opportunities.

The story of last year A bogey-free final-round 66 was enough for Daniel Berger to force his way to the top of the scoreboard and successfully defend his title.

Weather forecast Sunny, baking, windless skies will cook the competitors for the most part.

Type of player suited to challenge TPC Southwind has traditionally been the domain of dead-eye drivers and precision operators.

Since the course changes, Justin Leonard (twice), Jeff Maggert, Woody Austin and Brian Gay, all accurate short-hitters, have won this event, and even prior to the modifications the likes of David Toms and Bob Estes thrived at Southwind.

It is a tight, fiddly, dangerous venue where straight hitting is essential. Aggressive players can triumph, as shown by Daniel Berger's success, but generally this is a layout where conservative golf is effective.

Key attribute Accuracy

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His trusty three-wood is purring and the tight par-fours of Southwind are an ideal place to show off that long-game control
E.W. Terms
Sky bet