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FedEx St. Jude Championship: 3 best matchup bets

Nick Hennion of The Action Network shares his three best matchup bets for the FedEx St. Jude Championship.

Will Zalatoris of the United States plays his shot from the seventh tee during the final round of the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club on August 07, 2022 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
Will Zalatoris of the United States plays his shot from the seventh tee during the final round of the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club on August 07, 2022 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)Read moreEakin Howard / Getty Images

Having broken down our derivative targets for the FedEx St. Jude Championship, the first of three PGA Tour playoff events, we can now turn our attention to the head-to-head markets.

In utilizing both my statistical model (see below) and relevant course history, I’ve identified three matchup markets that provide bettors decent value based on the current pricing. In fact, I’ve even discovered one market with an underdog that I personally have rated as a favorite based on my modeling outputs.

With that said, let’s get to the bets. All odds are reflective at time of writing and subject to movement.

Best Bet #1 - Will Zalatoris (-118) over Sungjae Im, Fanduel Sportsbook

The modeling outputs on these two players is essentially a wash — Im wins in smaller samples, Zalatoris has the advantage in larger sample sizes — but there are a few reasons I trust Willy Z.

Over each player’s last 12 qualifying rounds, Zalatoris, the U.S. Open runner-up, has a 12-spot advantage in strokes-gained: approach — the biggest indicator of success at TPC Southwind — and a 34-spot advantage in birdies or better gained. Plus, Zalatoris’s length gives him an advantage on long par 4′s. In their last 12 rounds, the American has a 42-spot advantage over Im in SG: Par 4′s - 450 to 500 yards.

Additionally, the one area of concern with Zalatoris — 61st in GIRs gained over his last 12 rounds — is mitigated when you consider a broader sample. Over his last 36 qualifying rounds, he’s 15th in the field in that measure while simultaneously leading the field in proximity between 150 & 175 yards.

Although Im models out well, there’s cause for concern based on his record at TPC Southwind. In two appearances at the track, he’s finished no better than 35th and has combined to lose 4.2 strokes on approach in those two events. On the flip-side, Zalatoris finished in a tie for eighth in Memphis last year while gaining three strokes with his irons.

For those reasons, back Zalatoris up to -125 in this head-to-head market.

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Best Bet #2 - Justin Thomas (-110) over Cameron Smith, Caesars

Smith, the 2022 Open champion, has two finishes of T-12th or better in his last three starts at TPC Southwind. However, his underlying metrics leave a lot to be desired.

In the most recent three appearances at the course, the Aussie has lost strokes on approach every year and has combined to gain only 1.4 strokes tee-to-green in those starts. At a certain point, negative regression should kick in if Smith continues to falter with his irons in Memphis.

On the flip-side, Thomas owns a brilliant record at TPC Southwind. He’s a two-time winner at the course and has finished no worse than 26th in four starts there. He’s also gained at least 5.2 strokes on approach every year there and has gained with his irons in all but one of 13 events on U.S. soil this calendar year.

Plus, Thomas models out ahead of Smith in a number of projections. He owns a 13-spot advantage over Smith in my 24-round model while carrying a four-spot advantage across the last 36 rounds. Thomas’s biggest advantages come in GIRs gained (25th vs. 58th), SG: Par 4′s (12th vs. 25th) and Par 4′s between 450 and 500 yards (25th vs. 81st).

Based on those outputs, I would have the prices on these players flipped -- Smith is currently -120 -- and am happy to back Thomas at an underdog price.

Best Bet #3 - Aaron Wise (-110) over Chris Kirk, BetMGM

Although there are concerns to be had with Wise — he’s 101st in good drives over his last 24 rounds — he carries sizable advantages over Kirk in multiple categories.

For example, Wise ranks 24th on approach over his last 24 rounds while Kirk sits a distant 73rd. Wise also brings huge advantages in birdies or better gained (31st vs. 77th) and strokes-gained: Par 4′s - 450 to 500 yards (third vs. 49th in the field).

Further, Wise carries smaller advantages in other individual measures. He averages a 19.75 ranking in the proximity categories while Kirk averages a ranking of 57 in both categories. Wise also brings a 14-spot advantage in GIRs gained and a 12-spot advantage in overall Par 4 efficiency.

Although Kirk has a bit of a course-history edge — the Georgia product tied for sixth there in 2018 — Wise has generally bested him in head-to-head matchups this year. In 12 tournaments where both players have featured, Wise has won the head-to-head matchup eight times.

For those reasons, I’ll back Wise up to -120 in this head-to-head.

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