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Our search for a PGA Tour winner takes us to the Quad Cities in the Mid-West for the John Deere Classic. This is the traditional stateside Open Championship warm-up and always presents an interesting challenge for keen golf punters. A field which includes Daniel Berger, Kevin Kisner, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson and 'Mr John Deere' Steve Stricker before they jet off on the special tournament charter flight to England adds intrigue to this week's proceedings. Never the strongest field-wise, the event is still worth a full 500 FedEx Cup points to the winner and comes with the standard 2-year PGA Tour exemption so it's a prize well worth taking.
Played at the extremely low-scoring TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois, the real skill is to work through which players have the motivation and skill-sets required to produce a birdie barrage around the accommodating D.A.Weibring Par-71 design. With the final PGA Tour Open Championship spot available this week to the leading non-qualified player who finishes in the top 5 or ties, competition should be fierce in a tournament that always provokes keen interest for those brought up in America's Mid-West.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Scottish Open - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
John Deere Classic - Featured Bookmaker
For the sixth consecutive week on a PGA Tour event, Betfair Sportsbook have gone 7 places each-way at 1/5 odds at the John Deere Classic. They have also gone 7 places each way 1/5 odds at the Scottish Open at the time of writing. Betfair have two promotions to choose from for new customers: £100 Welcome Bonus (UK only) or Bet £/€10, Get £/€30. T&Cs apply:
Course Guide: TPC Deere Run is a drag-strip of a Par 71 where you'd better make birdies or pack your bags come Friday evening. Ryan Moore, Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman all managed an eagle or 3 (always a bonus) and 21/22 birdies respectively when winning the last 3 renewals, whilst Zach Johnson and Spieth again made 24 and 25 birdies when enjoying their successes in 2013 and 2012. A minimum 1-in-3 birdie or better conversion is traditionally required to get the job done at the John Deere Classic with the course giving chances to both the shortest and longest players. It's also abundantly clear that the tournament eventually evaporates down to a putting contest where a sub-1.7 Putts per GIR performance is required if a player wants to be in the Sunday afternoon mix.
TPC Deere Run, Silvis, Illinois: Designer: D.A. Weibring 1999, with PGA Tour Design renovation 2006/07; Course Type: Resort; Par: 71; Length: 7,268 yards; Water Hazards: 3; Fairways: Bentgrass; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass 3"; Greens: 6,000 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass; Stimpmeter: 11.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 69.55 (-1.45), Difficulty Rank 42 of 49 courses. 2013: 69.40 (-1.60), Difficulty Rank 36 of 43 courses. 2014: 69.76 (-1.26), Rank 42 of 48 courses. 2015: 69.65 (-1.35), Rank 43 of 52 courses. 2016: 69.90 (-1.10), Rank 39 of 50 courses.
TPC Deere Run Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for TPC Deere Run and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Overview: TPC Deere Run is a course that's extremely scoreable for those players who love to manage their way strategically around a golf course rather than dominate it. With fairways that are easy to hit and receptive 6,000 sq.ft average Bentgrass green complexes to aim at, scoring is correspondingly low. Deere Run is a course that offers up opportunities for bombers like Jhonattan Vegas, Morgan Hoffmann and Kyle Stanley or plotters like Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore and Jerry Kelly. The key this week will ultimately be a hot putter and minimising bogeys which is always the case on resort scoring tests.
Despite playing slightly tougher in 2014, 11 holes still played under par across the tournament, whilst 2015 saw 13 holes, with 12 holes under par last term. It's worth noting that no course rookie has won the tournament since Sean O'Hair in 2005. Post-cut scoring increases slightly with more difficult pin positions and those with prior knowledge of this event know where those weekend holes will be cut and, more importantly, where to position off the tee to access them.
TPC Deere Run is a track that rewards consistency as bogeys in any great volume will cost a player any chance of victory. Fairways are wide for the length of course and 2 of the par-5s (2nd and 17th) are reachable for the whole field. As you'd expect, green complexes run pure and aren't overly taxing. The tournament tends to be won by excellent putters who can find enough greens and hit the ball close enough to the pin so as to create enough birdie chances. Another angle to explore this week is to find players who are comfortable on par-3s as TPC Deere Run's set of short holes yields plenty of birdies (2nd highest in 2016) each and every renewal.
Winners: 2016: Ryan Moore (-22); 2015: Jordan Spieth (-20); 2014: Brian Harman (-22); 2013: Jordan Spieth (-19); 2012: Zach Johnson (-20); 2011: Steve Stricker (-22); 2010: Steve Sticker (-26).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Brian Harman, Charles Howell III, Danny Lee, Daniel Berger and Charley Hoffman.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Wells Fargo Championship and includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: Moore 25/1; 2015: Spieth 4/1; 2014: Harman 125/1; 2013: Spieth 40/1; 2012: Zach Johnson 12/1; 2011: Stricker 7/1; 2010: Stricker 16/1. Average: 33/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Silvis, Illinois is here. 31mm of rain hit Silvis on Monday leaving the course soft. There may be some more early morning rain throughout tournament week, but play won't be impacted. Light winds and temperatures that are set to rise throughout the tournament will see the low scoring we expect.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 7 winners of this event since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how this track has set up in the past and what specific skills it requires:
Ryan Moore: "It's a course I've really grown to like over the years. I played it early in my career, and I took a few years kind of off in the middle, and when I came back and started playing it again, I don't know, I appreciated it more for some reason or another. Maybe I've learned over the years the type of golf courses that are good for me and that set up well for me, and this is definitely one of them. The golf course has enough angles, and the holes that you can force it down there a little bit farther, they're pretty difficult tee shots, so guys that hit it significantly farther than me don't have a huge advantage on a golf course like this.
Yeah, I think that's part of the success. I enjoy the course. I like bent greens a lot. These are honestly some of the best we putt on every single year, and they're probably the best I've ever seen them this year. They're fantastic."
Zach Johnson: "I think starting on 14, you've got often times a reachable par 4, a birdie hole, but a hole that if you're just a little bit off, a bogey hole. 15 is a really good par 4. Obviously 16 assuming it's one of the signature holes here if not the signature hole, great little par 3. A birdieable, maybe even eagle hole on 17, and then a brutal but fair 18th hole with a lot of opportunity and I would say treachery around the corner. It's just because of the character of the last five holes here, I think. I don't want to equate it to another golf course, but I look at I'm not saying we're going to have seven straight birdies to finish, but if you look at TPC River Highlands, it's kind of got that sort of ingredient, where you have a reachable par 5, you've got a short par 4, a par 3, a lot of water, and just holes that you can either go really, really low or it can really bite you, and I think that's why you see a little bit of movement and guys just kind of bunching up at the end."
D.A. Points: "Again, for lack of a better term, it's a putting contest and that's why Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson win a lot because they make everything. I shoot under par every time I come here; it's just not under par enough to see the weekend."
Keegan Bradley: "Yeah, you really need to be ready to go from the first tee to the last, because you're going to have to make a bunch of birdies on this course this week to contend, but most importantly, you've got to hit the ball on these fairways. They are generous fairways, but if you do hit the ball in the fairway, you're going to be able to basically attack every pin position right now because of the softness."
Steve Stricker: "Winning score? Depends on the weather, I guess. I mean, there's just a lot of good birdie opportunities out there, par-5s, some of them are reachable. For everybody, two of them are reachable, two out of the three. And there's a lot of short irons in your hand where you can make some birdies. And then the holes you've got to pay attention on, you make your pars and move on. But yeah, it'll be pushing that 20 number, I'm sure. The greens are pure."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 7 winners of this event:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other D.A. Weibring designs include:
• TPC Four Seasons - AT&T Byron Nelson (re-design 2008)
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their group and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bentgrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Recent winning totals of -16, -20, -26, -22, -20, -19, -22, -20 and -22 highlight that the key to success in Illinois is two-fold: make copious amounts of birdies and minimise dropped shots. It's not rocket science! However dig a little deeper and across the past 4 renewals Ryan Moore, Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman have entered the tournament in the top 90 of birdie-makers. That's ok, but effectively only top third on Tour. Look at Bogey Avoidance and those ranks correlate to 9th (Spieth 2013), 27th (Harman), 3rd (Spieth 2015) and 90th (Moore 2016), highlighting that players need to be balanced in being able to attack but keep the card clean on tough par-4s like the 9th, 15th and certainly the 18th which traditionally plays as the hardest on the course.
It won't surprise in a tournament where 4 straight rounds of 66 is the target that streaky scorers dominate the contending positions. Ryan, Jordan, Zach and 'Mr John Deere' Steve Stricker are all excellent putters, but equally ball-strikers can contend and occasionally win. Sean O'Hair, Jhonattan Vegas, John Senden, Troy Matteson and Kyle Stanley are hardly outstanding when it comes to the flat stick, but excellent close approach play on enough holes can generate the volume of close birdie opportunities required to feature. Tour maidens like O'Hair, Senden, Brian Harman and famously Jordan Spieth have captured their first titles in this event, but in recent times course experience has been absolutely key to get over the finish line.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
Turning the clock back 2 years to 2015, Jordan Spieth won this event in a play-off from Tom Gillis with the very much in-form Danny Lee and Zach Johnson only a shot behind. Spieth was a 4/1 shot, with Zach Johnson at 11/1 and Danny Lee 80/1. Looking back, Spieth was our Predictor Model Number 1 that week with a score that was 900 points higher than Zach Johnson in position 2 (Danny Lee was in 8th spot). Last year saw the Predictor highlight Ryan Moore in 5th spot at 25/1, plus Ricky Barnes (4th spot) at 125/1 which I also tipped - he finished T5. So at a tournament where a specific and consistent set of challenges has to be met year-in, year-out, I'm going to stick with 3 selections from the top 5 of this week's Predictor Model and Brian Harman leads the way.
Harman tops the predictor by a large margin and it's easy to see why. A winner here in 2014, the nature of the course lends itself perfectly to Brian's aggressive but tidy game play. He's also enjoying an excellent season with the flat stick, something that all winners ultimately share in common here. Stats-wise, 19th in Actual Scoring Average, 25th in Bogey Avoidance and 22nd in Birdie Average season-long PGA Tour skill categories is the perfect balance we're looking for at TPC Deere Run. 10th in Strokes Gained Putting, 4th in Putting Average and 3rd in my 10-week Putting Average tracker all help immeasurably.
Harman has always been the sort who performs well on shorter set-ups. Even this season he finished 3rd at PGA West with a -18/270 total. 3rd at Sedgefield in 2013, 7th at Harbour Town and 6th at TPC Southwind - both in 2014 - were all precursors to his victory here. But I like his chances here this week from a motivation angle as well. 2017 has seen Brian land his 2nd PGA Tour title at Eagle Point, a breakthrough 2nd at the U.S. Open and 4 more top-10 finishes which have pushed him up to a career high 26th in the OWGR. But at only 10th in the Presidents Cup qualification standings and with the likes of Dufner, Kuchar, Snedeker and Mickelson in his rear view mirror, the St Simons Island resident must know that the only way he gets into the United States team is by qualifying automatically. Whilst Berger and Kisner have already secured their spots, Harman knows that a 2nd win at Deere Run would seal his best ever season and a definite spot in Steve Stricker's team. Result: T10
Danny Lee has obvious chances. A player who enjoys cut in the fairways and receptive greens, the New Zealander will love the fact that 37mm of rain fell on Monday. 3rd in this week's Predictor Model, Lee is chasing a Presidents Cup spot on Nick Price's International team and with no Open Championship start despite finishing 5th at TPC Four Seasons, 6th at Colonial, 3rd at TPC River Highlands and 9th last week at Old White TPC since the start of May, the only way to keep the forward momentum going is to keep churning out results on short set-ups where he thrives.
We know that Deere Run is a specialised test where players often churn out regular contending performances, so it's interesting to note the detail behind Danny's last visit here in 2015. Fresh off of a victory at the Greenbrier Classic the Sunday before, Lee was grouped with Jordan Spieth pretty much throughout the whole tournament. Rounds of 68-68-62 (a career low) got the Texas-based 26-year-old into the Final Group with Spieth and going down the last Danny and Jordan were level with the clubhouse leader Tom Gillis. However an untimely bogey saw Lee miss out by a single shot on a play-off that Spieth rather predictably won. Fact is though, Deere Run suits the New Zealander down to a tee and we know that he's one to follow when he's in form and conditions are receptive.
Statistically Danny also fits the bill this week for me. 49th in Actual Scoring Average, 93rd in Bogey Avoidance and 67th in Proximity to Hole are great foundations to build a John Deere Classic contending performance upon. 30th in Birdie Average, 21st in Putting Average and 32nd in Strokes Gained Putting again highlight that Lee has the firepower and putting ability to go exceptionally close this week. A result footprint which includes 7th at Copperhead, 9th at Quail Hollow, 5th at TPC Four Seasons, 6th at Colonial, 3rd at TPC River Highlands and 4th at Robert Trent Jones GC also links well to the likes of Stricker, Johnson, Spieth and Moore. Result: WD
Charles Howell III is playing some great stuff right now and despite being a 'long time between drinks' as Ian Baker-Finch put it at the Quicken Loans National, the Augusta, Georgia man is well worth following this week. 2nd in my published predictor model, since the start of season 2016/17 Charles is up 47 spots in the OWGR, now finding himself on the fringes of the all-important top 50. 7th at El Camaleon, 8th at Waialae, 2nd at Torrey Pines and play-off loser 2 weeks ago at TPC Potomac, Charles is certainly trending in the right direction and his record on resort scoring tests and here at Deere Run is decent enough.
2nd in Actual Scoring Average, 1st in Bogey Avoidance, and 29th in Proximity to Hole are season-long statistics upon which you can build a real challenge for the John Deere Classic and Howell, who's ranked in the top 50 for Strokes Gained Tee to Green for the past 4 seasons, has also added some cutting edge with the putter of late. 44th in Putting Average, 49th in Strokes Gained Putting and 15th in my 10-week Putting Average tracker is worth taking note of, especially as he ranks 1st in my Greens in Regulation tracker as well. 'Chucky Three Sticks' also has undoubted ability when it comes to shooting low scores. -17/263 (3rd 2013) and -16/264 (8th 2017) at Waialae; -25/263 (2nd 2013) at PGA West; -18/270 (2nd 2008) at English Turn; -25/334 (6th 2002), -18/266 (5th 2005) and -19/269 (10th 2008) at TPC Summerlin; -17/271 (10th 2015) at Kuala Lumpur GC) - all courses that correlate well with the test this week and with previous winners such as Zach Johnson and Ryan Moore.
Howell III also has previous on the host course this week with a 3rd (-18/266) here in his rookie season of 2000 and a 5th (-16/268) here in 2011, allied to a further 4 top-25 finishes here in 10 appearances. Those looking for course designer links should also look towards CHIII's performances at TPC Four Seasons where he has finished 3rd (2010) and 4th (2016) on the Weibring re-design in Irving, Texas. Result: T19
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