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FedEx St. Jude Championship: Best bets for first-round leader

The Action Network's Nick Hennion breaks down his best first-round leader bets at the 2022 FedEx St. Jude Championship.

Justin Thomas during the pro-am prior to the FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind on August 10, 2022 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Justin Thomas during the pro-am prior to the FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind on August 10, 2022 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)Read moreAndy Lyons / Getty Images

We’ve reached our final set of plays for the FedEx St. Jude Championship.

Having already outlined our top derivative and matchup bets, we now turn our focus to the golf betting equivalent of throwing darts: the first-round leader market. As it stands, Scottie Scheffler (+2200) is the favorite to lead at Thursday’s conclusion but he is closely followed by Rory McIlroy (+2600), Cameron Smith, Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas (all +2900).

In selecting my four first-round leader bets, I used a combination of my statistical modeling (factors pictured below) while adding a first-round qualifier to the model. Additionally, another element I used is historical first-round scoring average to refine the field.

With that in mind, let’s dive into the plays. All odds come courtesy of Fanduel Sportsbook and are reflective at time of writing.

First-Round Leader Bet #1 - Justin Thomas (+2900)

Thomas has experienced a lot of success at TPC Southwind, including a win, and profiles very well as a first-round leader.

Recent models see him outside the top-40, but Thomas sits ninth overall in the field in my 24-round projection. In that span, Thomas is fourth in the field in SG: Approach, 20th in birdies or better gained and second in both Par 4 categories. Additionally, Thomas ranks seventh overall in the field across his previous 75 opening rounds and fifth overall in my 100-round projection.

Further, although Thomas has never led after Thursday in his last three starts at TPC Southwind, he’s fired an opening round of 68 or better in all three starts and has a first-round scoring average of 67. Lastly, although he ranks 43rd on tour in first-round scoring average this season, he was 17th last year in that same measure.

Finally, in his last five events on tour, Thomas has finished the opening round under par in four and was in contention for the first-round lead at the PGA Championship. So, although it’s a short price, I’ll take a stab with Thomas at a track that appears to suit his eye.

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First-Round Leader Bet #2 - Jon Rahm (+3100)

Last year at TPC Southwind, Rahm finished a disappointing 52nd after shooting an even-par 70 on Thursday. However, Rahm opened as the first-round leader in 2020 after firing a 62.

Let’s hope we get the latter version of the 2021 U.S. Open winner, who also models out quite well as a first-round leader. He paces the field in my 12-round projection and sits second overall in my 24-round statistical model. In the former projection, the Spaniard sits 10th or better in six of 11 individual measures and 20th or better in seven.

Most impressively, he’s third in good drives gained, eighth in SG: Approach, third in GIRs gained and ninth in birdies or better gained. He also ranks fifth or better in the field in both Par 4 efficiency measures and ranks 25th or better in both proximity measures.

Although the putter is a slight worry — especially considering Bermuda is Rahm’s statistically weakest surface — he’s gained strokes with the flat stick in two consecutive appearances at TPC Southwind. Add in that he’s tied for 18th in first-round scoring average this season and I’ll back him at what I consider a great price.

First-Round Leader Bet #3 - Sam Burns (+4200)

Over the last two seasons, Burns has established himself as a bit of a first-round savant.

Last year, he ranked 16th on tour in first-round scoring average. To date this season, he’s tied for 29th. He also posted a solid finish last year at TPC Southwind, ultimately finishing in a tie for second after firing an opening-round 66, four shots off the pace set by Harris English.

One other reason I’m backing Burns at this course is that it correlates somewhat with the Copperhead course at Innisbrook, one of his top courses. He won his last two starts there and finished as the first-round leader once.

In terms of his modeling output, Burns is steady. Across his previous 24 opening rounds, Burns is 16th overall in the field. Most impressively, he’s 16th in the field in birdies or better gained and 18th in SG: Approach while also ranking 23rd in SG: Par 4′s. Over his previous 36 rounds, he improves in BoB gained (16th to 9th) and remains a top-10 putter from five to 10 feet.

Given Burns is by far his best on Bermuda putting surfaces — the type of grass filling the greens at TPC Southwind — I’ll take a shot with him at a fantastic number in a stacked field.

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First-Round Leader Bet #4 - Aaron Wise (+6000)

Much like Burns, Wise has become a bit of a first-round wizard on tour this season.

Entering this event, he’s sixth on tour in first-round scoring average and is only 0.79 strokes off the pace set by Rory McIlroy in that category. Although he’s never made an appearance at TPC Southwind, Wise’s game may fit this course well if he lives up to his modeling outputs.

Over his previous 24 opening rounds, Wise sits fifth overall in the field, a ranking he maintains over his previous 12 opening rounds. In the former projection, Wise has established his ball-striking as the key part of his game. He’s fifth in the field in good drives gained, 17th in SG: Approach and sixth in GIRs gained. Wise also ranks 14th in the field in birdies or better gained and 15th in the field in SG: Par 4′s.

Plus, Wise has posted strong results in his last four opening rounds. At the U.S. Open, he finished Thursday only two shots off the pace. Last week at the Wyndham, he posted a five-under 65 to finish in a tie for fifth after one round.

Based on all those factors, I rate 60/1 an absolute steal and will back Wise at (what should be) a friendly track.

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