Matt Cooper takes a look at the third World Golf Championship of 2021.
It’s now well-established that there’s a common trend of athletes experiencing a post-Olympics comedown, but quite whether it will impact on the golfers making their way to the United States for this week’s World Golf Championship St Jude Invitational is another matter.
Perhaps the key difference is the factor that has made many doubt the validity of the sport being in the Olympics in the first place. Golf not only has four major championships, but also a year-round schedule, which means the players have a new target more or less every single Monday morning.
In contrast, more traditional Olympic sports feature athletes who’ve committed four years of their life for one goal alone. Should they miss it, disappointment is natural. Yet even should they attain the goal (or exceed it), another kind of void opens up: the nagging voice that whispers: “Is that it? Is this what I’ve sacrificed so much for?”
I don’t expect an echo of such existential angst for the golfers making their way from Tokyo to Tennessee this week, but I’m happy to swerve those collecting the air miles. Beyond jet lag, the field will be attempting to overcome the exhaustion of being in-contention, the long journeys in Japan itself, the many protocols they had to deal with, the extreme heat, and just the rush of emotional, mental and physical stimuli. Some might ride a wave of excitement, but I suspect most will simply be fatigued.
Let’s take a look at three alternative options.
Webb Simpson E/W
First thought this week was that you rarely get the opportunity to back Dustin Johnson as sixth favourite, let alone on a course he’s won twice on. However, the compiler agrees with me so time to look elsewhere and I liked the look of Webb Simpson’s performance in the Open at Royal St George’s. His T19th was a first top 20 in four starts following an injury that has pestered him since he landed a top 10 at Harbour Town in late April. “I felt great tee to green,” he said after a Thursday 66 in Sandwich and added: “I didn’t feel like any part of my game was struggling. Today was kind of fruit from all the hard work of getting over the injury.”
This week he’s not only heading to a course he likes, but conditions that are right in his metaphorical cross hairs. At TPC Southwind he finished third in 2014 when it hosted a regular tour event, second when it became part of the WGC in 2019, and T12th last year. He’s finished top 10 for Strokes gained Approach those last two years and was third for SG Putting in 2019. The clincher? Southwind has Bermuda grass greens and Simpson’s last 30 starts on such putting surfaces have reaped 12 top five finishes, three of them wins.
— TPC Network (@PlayTPC) August 2, 2021
Harris English E/W
There are good vibes for Harris English this week because it was at TPC Southwind he earned a first PGA Tour win in the 2013 edition of this event. He backed up the notion that he plays his best golf on both Bermuda greens and also on tracks that demand accuracy by claiming a second win that year at El Camaleon. He then lost form, finally rejoining the world’s top 50 last year.
Initially his renaissance merely witnessed consistency, but he won the Tournament of Champions in January and started the summer nicely. He contended at Congaree, was third in the US Open, then won the Travelers Championship. A poor Thursday ruined his Open bid last month, but a second round 65 earned him weekend golf. One bad round should not dissuade him and back on a favoured course he looks well set for a good week.
Kevin Kisner first round leader E/W
I’m not sure Kevin Kisner has the firepower to last the entire 72 holes in-contention, but he can thrive in the first round. For one thing, he’s found a bit of form: two 63s earned him fifth at the Travelers Championship and he followed it with eighth in the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Secondly, he likes putting on Bermuda greens and has proved it at Southwind. Maybe not in finishing positions, but definitely in scores. A round one 66 had him tied second after 18 holes on debut in 2011, a Thursday 65 had him tied third at the same stage in 2014. He’s carded more 66s in round two and round three, and closed his last two visits with a 67 and a 65. He made a swift start in the first WGC strokeplay event of the year in Florida (just one back of the lead) and he can do so again this Thursday.