The Wedgwood trophies handed out at the four World Golf Championship tournaments are among the most coveted prizes in golf every year. The trophy for the WGC-Invitational, the Gary Player Trophy, has been won by a number of the finest players in the history of the sport, even as the tournament has moved location and changed name. In the past it has been known as the WGC-NEC Invitational and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, before becoming the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in 2019. In all its iterations we have had some world class victors and that has certainly continued in recent years.
Overall, Tiger Woods is the most successful player in the history of the WGC-FedEx St. Jude with an amazing eight titles. That incredible feat is put into context by the fact that the second man to win this tournament more than once was Justin Thomas, in 2020. Woods won the first three editions of this tournament from 1999 onwards, adding a further four in five years between 2005 and 2009.
|2021||TPC Southwind||Abraham Ancer|
|2020||TPC Southwind||Justin Thomas|
|2019||TPC Southwind||Brooks Koepka|
|2018||Firestone Country Club||Justin Thomas|
|2017||Firestone Country Club||Hideki Matsuyama|
2021: Abraham Ancer
Of all the challenges facing professional golfers, coping with a lack of sleep is one that doesn’t get spoken about too often. Golf at the top level is an increasingly global sport though and it is to the immense credit of Abraham Ancer and Hideki Matsuyama that they made it into a playoff at the WGC-FedEx St Jude alongside Sam Burns just days after flying in from Japan having competed in the Tokyo Olympics.
All three men in the playoff had to gather themselves and muster any last bit of energy they had after a dramatic final round full of twists and turns. Harris English, Bryson DeChambeau and Cameron Smith were among the players who fell away having been in pole position at one stage leaving Ancer, Matsuyama and Burns as the last three men standing on -16.
Pars all round on the first playoff hole meant another trip back down the 18th hole. Ancer and Burns played the second playoff hole wonderfully. They both had very makeable birdie putts after Matsuyama, who missed out on a bronze medal on home soil in a huge seven-man playoff at the Olympics, made a par. Ancer, who was furthest away, drained his putt before Burns gifted the Mexican the title with a putt that just about missed. It was just reward for Ancer who earned his first PGA Tour win on this grand stage having finished runner up four times previously.
2020: Justin Thomas
It was a case of different golf course, same result for Justin Thomas at the 2020 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. When he won this tournament in 2018 it was played at Firestone Country Club but he proved his adaptability with this victory at TPC Southwind, a win which saw him promoted to the top of the official golf rankings.
Defending champion Brooks Koepka had a real chance to win again but in a reversal of the 2019 edition he was bested in the final group. Thomas looked like the most likely winner for much of the final round but it was the par five 16th hole where he started to pull away. Whereas Thomas made a birdie, Koepka made a mess of the hole and made bogey. Although the man from West Palm Beach reduced the gap with a birdie on the following hole, he then made another mistake on the final hole, landing his tee shot in the water, which reduced the pressure on Thomas’ shoulders and allowed him to serenely get home for par and celebrate the win.
Thomas ended up winning by three shots on -13 with Koepka’s double bogey on the 18th hole dropping him back to -10. This saw him share second place with Daniel Berger, Tom Lewis and Phil Mickelson.
2019: Brooks Koepka
Rory McIlroy is a multiple World Golf Championship winner and often finds himself in contention in these huge tournaments. However, getting into contention and winning are two very different things and for the second year in a row McIlroy flopped in the final round of the WGC Invitational. It was Koepka who took advantage, readily pulling clear of McIlroy and the rest of the field to win the newly named WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
Confidence was clearly sky high for Koepka, with this win coming just over a month after he won his fourth major at the PGA Championship. He has ruffled some feathers for saying that he finds the bigger tournaments easier to win but the way that he put daylight between himself and McIlroy with a burst of three birdies in four holes certainly provided more evidence that he has a knack for picking his moments to really turn it on.
Speaking after he became the sixth player to win a WGC event and a major in the same season, Koepka praised TPC Southwind. He called the new host of the tournament “a thinker’s golf course” and said that he enjoyed the challenge of positioning shots carefully off the tee.
2018: Justin Thomas
Firestone Country Club has produced some big wins during its time as the host of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational so it was fitting that Justin Thomas won the 2018 edition by four strokes as Firestone’s run of hosting the tournament drew to a close. In truth, Thomas was never really put under any pressure in his final round as nobody made a serious challenge and his own excellent golf kept him out of trouble.
That the chasing pack included Kyle Stanley on -11, Thorbjorn Olesen and Dustin Johnson on 10 under and Brooks Koepka on nine under showed just why Firestone has been such a great venue for this prestigious WGC event. This is a course at which any style of golfer can thrive, whether 350-yard bombers like Johnson and Koepka or ball strikers like Olesen and Stanley. Thomas, meanwhile, had all elements of his game in fine working order so was a very worthy winner.
Thomas’ celebrations on the final green were a family affair. Among those who had come to support him was his grandfather Paul, who had himself competed at Firestone in the 1960 PGA Championship.
2017: Hideki Matsuyama
Firestone Country Club is a golf course that has brought some of the world’s best golfers to their knees. It may not have been playing as difficult as we’ve seen it in years gone by on the Sunday of the 2017 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational but that takes nothing away from Hideki Matsuyama’s stunning closing round of 61 which saw him win his second WGC tournament in as many years.
To put Matsuyama’s round in context, it was the lowest final round score in 40 years at a course which has a rich history of hosting top level tournaments. It was not, however, the first 61 at Firestone involving Matsuyama. He watched on in awe as Tiger Woods shot 61 in the second round of the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the dominance of Matsuyama’s win four years on had a Tiger-like feel to it.
Matsuyama began the day in contention but with a two-shot deficit to make up on Zach Johnson and Thomas Pieters who were in the final group. It quickly became clear that the Japanese superstar was putting his stamp on the tournament and when the action was over he was fully five shots clear of Johnson who finished on his own in second. Matsuyama, who would go on to win the 2021 Masters, managed to go bogey-free, with seven birdies and an eagle more than good enough to see him claim his sixth win from his previous 20 tournaments.