Skip to main content

Struggling Leonard Hopeful in Title Defense

2006 FedEx St. Jude ClassicMEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Justin Leonard isn't sure good memories will be enough to help him this week.
He comes into the St. Jude Classic as the defending champion, which he won wire-to-wire for his 10th career title. But he has struggled with his game this year, and he tied for 35th in January when trying to defend his title at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
That's why Leonard has mixed feelings in his return to the TPC at Southwind course.
'It's nice to be back here, though, knowing that I did play well last year. However, I don't want to raise my expectations too high just because I did play well last year,' Leonard said Wednesday after a practice round in the pro-am.
The 1997 British Open champion said he's not sure if his game fits the par-70, 7,244-yard course or if he simply had a week where he would have played well no matter where he competed.
'You have to have confidence to play well, and it's been a frustrating year so far the last three, four months. I continue to work hard, but it's been frustrating,' Leonard said.
He currently ranks 76th on the money list. He has two Top 10s in 13 events, but his best finish was a tie for seventh at the FBR Open in January. Since then, he's missed four cuts and hasn't finished better than a tie for 26th at Byron Nelson two weeks ago. He tied for 56th last week at Colonial.
Leonard, who won here by rolling in 63 of 68 putts inside 10 feet, has changed putters two or three times without finding success. He has used video to analyze his putting stroke, trying to work out the kinks.
He finally has a putter he feels comfortable with, but won't talk about it except to say he didn't pull out an old putter he has won with in the past.
'I look back at some of the putters I used to use, and that's not my taste right now,' Leonard said.
Putting better the past couple weeks, Leonard has run into new problems.
'When I do putt well, I don't hit my irons well. It's been one thing or another. I think my game's OK. I'd like to see everything come together better and shoot some better scores,' he said.
'Hopefully, it'll all change this week.'
Leonard will need everything clicking in the 49th year for this tournament even though David Toms, ranked eighth, is the only player here currently in the top 10 on the money list.
Memphis may be Toms' home away from home because he has finished fourth, first, first and second in the last four years with 14 of his last 16 rounds here in the 60s. He comes into this event already having won at Sony with four top 10s, and he's No. 1 on tour in the all-around ranking.
'I feel a lot like I would feel if I had a tournament I was playing at home,' said Toms, the Louisiana native who always draws plenty of fans at this course. 'Whatever benefit that is, I've always had it here.'
Also here are three other winners on tour this year in Tim Herron, who won Colonial in a playoff last week, Aaron Baddeley and Kirk Triplett.
The field might stiffen next year with a new sponsor after FedEx switches to a presenting sponsor. The purse will jump from $5.2 million this year to $6 million, and the event will be played a week before the U.S. Open.
For now, golfers are enjoying a course growing into changes after the 2004 tournament to erase a reputation for low scoring that included John Cook's winning 26 under in 1996. Leonard won with a 14-under 266 last year.
The Champion Bermuda grass on the greens has grown in enough that putts no longer roll straight in, forcing golfers to read more break. Dry conditions have the fairways firm, giving more roll off the tee.
'It'll take a good score to win here,' Toms said. 'If the weather keeps up like this, hopefully I can go low.'
The PGA TOUR and FedEx Corp. unveiled the new logo for the FedEx Cup on Wednesday. The logo is part of the tour's new schedule featuring a points competition that starts in 2007 with the playoff series of four tournaments in August and September. ... Notah Begay III, who won here in 2000, got into this event on a sponsor's exemption.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - FedEx St. Jude Classic