Hot weather fan Gay upbeat about St. Jude defense

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All three of Gay's wins on the PGA Tour were achieved in sizzling, or at the very least warm, weather and he has often played his best golf in the high humidity of his native Texas.

"These are familiar surroundings for me -- the Bermuda greens and warm weather," the 38-year-old American told Memphis daily The Commercial Appeal while preparing for Thursday's opening round at the TPC Southwind.

"I've played my best tournaments through the years in Texas and throughout the South. My wins have come in Tennessee, South Carolina and south of the border (in Mexico).

Gay, who cruised to a five-shot victory here last year after leading for the first three rounds, said he has relished playing at Southwind since he first saw the par-70 layout.

Known as one of the best putters in the game, Gay has two top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, including a tie for second at last month's Byron Nelson Championship.

Having established himself as a strong front runner -- he had the lead going into the final round of each of his wins -- Gay knows his top priority for this week is to put himself into contention over the weekend.

"I've had great success with the lead, and kind of separating myself (from the chasing pack)," said Gay. "The hard part is getting in that position."

Gay will face a strong opposition at the TPC Southwind that includes three members of the world's top 10.

Among the American challengers, twice champion David Toms will be bidding for his eighth top-10 finish at the event.

(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)