GOLF

As underdogs thrive at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, can a star emerge?

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MEMPHIS— Denny McCarthy pulled out a Sharpie, signed his two golf balls and handed them to Lisa Redley and Mike Esposito. They were FedEx St. Jude Championship volunteers who walked with McCarthy through the second round on Friday.

Redley was the scorer, having switched with someone to be part of this group because she knew the mother of Tennessee resident Scott Stallings. Esposito was the standard bearer, updating McCarthy’s score for the galleries as he skyrocketed into the consciousness of TPC Southwind.

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Neither had any idea who McCarthy was until about four hours earlier.

“Who knew I’d be with the leader,” laughed Redley after McCarthy entered the weekend at 9 under, a lead held briefly on another afternoon largely dominated by names. that only the most dedicated golf fans had heard of before. .

Denny McCarthy waves to the crowd during the FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee on Friday August 12, 2022.

The first FedEx Cup playoff event here is set to produce an open and gripping weekend of action, as long as you have Google ready to search for the names of the golfers involved.

For three years of golf’s world championships being played in Memphis, the biggest names in the sport have littered the standings in Memphis. Brooks Koepka beat Rory McIlroy in 2019. Justin Thomas won in 2020. Bryson DeChambeau was in contention for the last nine last year, when Abraham Ancer won his first PGA Tour event.

But that largely becomes the tournament of McCarthy and Sepp Straka and Brian Harman and 36-hole leader JJ Spaun, with a few notable exceptions.

FedEx St. Jude Championship: PGA Tour live on ESPN+ | Ranking

This could be due to the PGA Tour’s odd decision to allow buoyant, clean and playing conditions despite no rain in the forecast on Friday, making scoring conditions ideal. It could be the absence of LIV Golf series defections like Dustin Johnson, Koepka and DeChambeau. This could be the biggest field and lack of golfers on the European Tour due to the tournament being re-designated as a playoff event.

Either way, given the threat to the PGA Tour these days, it’s for the best if the trend changes. If anyone the Tour is pushing as one of its new stars to fight this Saudi-funded competition makes an effort in the third round and enters contention for Sunday.

In the three years since the PGA Tour changed its FedEx Cup playoff format, the eventual FedEx Cup winner has finished no worse than a tie for 11th place in the league. he former Northern Trust Open which the FedEx St. Jude Championship replaced on the calendar this year.

But of all the years, this is the one the PGA Tour needs a recognizable name to lift its FedEx Cup trophy. To give tangible proof that his product is fine without the numbers that fled for more money in LIV.

Tony Finau fits the bill. The same goes for Will Zalatoris or Sam Burns or Max Homa.

There is, of course, a certain charm to watching a golfer achieve their first PGA Tour victory, or perhaps their first moment in the spotlight. Stories can be endearing. This happened several times at the former FedEx St. Jude Classic, although the lack of star power at those tournaments was exactly why FedEx tried so hard to elevate the stage of the Memphis PGA Tour beyond its previous status.

Take Birmingham, Alabama native Trey Mullinax in contention as Friday wore on. As he walked onto the practice green before his turn, a group of men began shouting loudly for him and not for Thomas, another University of Alabama product who was standing next to him. .

Mullinax looked and waved, until he realized who he was waving at. It was his cousins ​​who laughed at him.

“He looked like, ‘These idiots again,'” Maddux Mullinax said with a laugh. “We also encouraged Brandon Wu in his group. He has no fans here and that’s sad.

Rory McIlroy hits from the fairway during the second round of the FedEx St. Jude Championship Friday August 12, 2022 at TPC Southwind in Memphis.

However, Rory McIlroy had plenty, despite another tough round at TPC Southwind. As he left the 18th green, with nine holes left to play because he had started his round at No. 9, a few fans shouted from the stand behind the green: “We love you, Rory.”

Golf’s biggest star and the face of the PGA Tour fight against LIV Golf then raised his putter in the air to greet them and thanked all the fans who had gathered on the rope.

It was as if he already knew it would be his last time at No. 18 this year, a year in which the winner of this tournament might also need to be introduced to most viewers.

You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto by email at mgiannotto@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto

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