The inaugural edition of the World Golf Championship-FedEx St. Jude Invitational — no longer just another Tour stop — is set to kick off on Thursday in Memphis, but the condensed PGA Tour schedule in 2018-19 has hurt the event’s strength of field in some respects.
While a WGC event will always attract some big names thanks to the guaranteed four rounds and a hefty paycheck, the event’s positioning directly after the final major championship of the year and prior to the season-ending three-event playoff series is less than ideal for the Tour’s biggest sponsor.
As a result, the likes of Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rickie Fowler and Shane Lowry have opted out of playing in the event. For the majority of the players teeing it up this week, they’ll likely — hopefully — be playing four events in five weeks as the FedEx Cup Playoffs are right around the corner. That frequency is even more for those who opted to play in the Irish or Scottish Opens — like Fowler — in the lead-up to the Open.
“I’m going to take a couple of weeks off and get ready for the playoffs,” Woods said after missing the cut at Royal Portrush. “We’ve got the playoffs coming up, and anything can happen.”
Scotsman Russell Knox, the 72nd-ranked player in the world, didn’t mention stress or overexertion as a reason for skipping Memphis. Instead, he had some chores at home to catch up on.
Next week’s WGC starting to feel like an opposite-field event. Instead of going to Memphis, guys are going home to do laundry. pic.twitter.com/6cg3a5kf6b
— Alan Bastable (@alan_bastable) July 21, 2019
“No, I’m not going to Memphis,” Knox said after a T41 finish at the Open. “I’ll go home and regroup. Clean my clothes.”
Even still, the Memphis Tour stop is getting a massive boost by being elevated to a WGC. Forty-six of the top-50 players in the world are at TPC Southwind this week, including Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Bryson DeChambeau, among a cadre of others.
The Official World Golf Rankings strength of field is 688 — a number calculated by the caliber of players competing according to their world golf ranking. For comparison’s sake, last year’s FedEx St. Jude Classic was 191, which ranked the sixth-lowest of tournaments held in 2018 that were not opposite-field events on the PGA Tour.
Regardless if Woods, Fowler and Molinari are skipping to prep for the Playoffs or Knox is checking things off his honey-do list, the elevation in stature for the event has already paid dividends for the tournament and its deserving beneficiaries.