WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational: Is Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas the real defending champion?

Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports

WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational: Is Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas the real defending champion?

PGA Tour

WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational: Is Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas the real defending champion?

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A glance at the PGA Tour’s official WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational website shows where the Tour stands on the matter.

Under the list of past champions, an image of Justin Thomas posing with the Gary Player Cup appears for the year 2018.

But after last year’s PGA Tour event at TPC Southwind, Dustin Johnson hoisted the trophy.

So who carries the title of reigning champion as Memphis prepares to host the most-important professional golf tournament in the city’s history?

“I would tell you Justin Thomas is the defending champion,” said Andy Pazder, chief tournaments and competitions officer for the Tour. “But Memphis has the best of both worlds with both champions back. That’s the way I would look at it. That’s win-win for sure.”

Thomas won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Ohio last year and is receiving the “defending champion” billing as the event moves to Memphis with a new title sponsor.

MEMPHIS, TN - JUNE 10: Dustin Johnson fist bumps fans along the ninth hole during the final round of the FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind on June 10, 2018 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

Eventual champion Dustin Johnson fist-bumps fans along the ninth hole during the final round of the 2018 FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind in Memphis. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

Johnson capped his FedEx St. Jude Classic victory last year with a 169-yard hole out as he finished 19 under par for the lowest winning score at TPC Southwind since David Toms won with a 20-under in 2003.

But the 26-year-old Louisville native will be new to TPC Southwind.

Thomas never played the FedEx St. Jude Classic, which should give Johnson – a two-time winner in Memphis – a clear edge between the two this week.

The emphatic victory followed his 2012 win in Memphis with final score of 9-under.

”It’s just a good all-around golf course,” Johnson said at the time. ”There’s a lot of good holes out there. I like the shape of all the holes. It sets up good to my eye.”

After winning last year’s FedEx St. Jude Classic, Johnson added a third-place finish at the U.S. Open, a win at the RBC Canadian Open, a third-place finish at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and a third-place finish at the Tour Championship.

But he comes to Memphis this year without a top-10 finish since he placed second at May’s PGA Championship.

Although new to TPC Southwind, he will arrive in Memphis after a 3-under finish and tie for 11th place in the British Open.

Aug 5, 2018; Akron, OH, USA; Justin Thomas poses for photos after winning the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at Firestone Country Club - South Course. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

By virtue of his victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last August in Akron, Justin Thomas is the official ‘defending champion’ this week in Memphis. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Johnson finished tied for 51st at 3 over on Sunday at the British Open.

Returning to Memphis for an event with elevated stakes could be an opportunity for Johnson to hit his stride entering the FedExCup playoffs. He boasts a solid recent history in WGC events.

Johnson won the WGC-Mexico Championship in February and finished in the top-10 in three of four WGC events last year. He won two of the four WGC events in 2017 and won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2016.

Thomas played better this past week, however.

It represented his best finish since he notched three top-10s in February.

Since then, Thomas has been working through a wrist injury and adjusting to a revamped Tour schedule that has moved the location of the last event he won.

Johnson is the last player to win in Memphis. But Thomas is heading to an unfamiliar course as the event’s defending champion.

“Obviously, I would have liked to play a couple more events (this season),” Thomas told reporters at the British Open. “Everyone’s had to deal with the schedule change and trying to figure it out. But it’s like anything; you get used to it.”

(David Cobb writes for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, part of the USA TODAY Network.)

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