Whilst the Olympic Golf Competition in Rio de Janeiro quite rightly gets top billing this week, the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ohio takes place on the PGA Tour. Never the strongest field-wise, 2016 is the weakest I can remember with Jordan Spieth deciding to skip defending his title certainly not helping tournament organisers. 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. With only this week and the Wyndham Championship next week left of the Tour regular season, players further down the FedEx Cup standings will be desperate to perform to earn a top 125 position which not only earns them full playing privileges for season 2016/17, but also a prized spot in the FedEx Cup PlayOffs which start at Bethpage Black in a fortnight.
Over in Rio, Paul Williams previews the Olympic Men's Golf Competition - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
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. Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman both managed 3 eagles (always a bonus) and 21/22 birdies respectively when winning the last 2 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.
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 and Kyle Stanley or plotters like Zach 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, with 13 holes playing 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 would expect, green complexes run pure and are not 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 (4th highest in 2015) each renewal.
Winners: 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 which are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published John Deere Classic 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 Steve Stricker (Predictor Number 1), Jerry Kelly, Zach Johnson, Ricky Barnes and Ryan Moore.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to The Memorial/Nordea Masters and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 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; 2009: Stricker 15/1. Average: 30/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Silvis is here. Greens are always responsive at TPC Deere Run and 20mm of rain last Thursday will have aided that process. Further rain in the form of thunderstorms cannot be ruled out across a humid Friday. From then on it will be clear, sunny and hot with a light breeze so expect low scoring.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners of the John Deere Classic 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 TPC Deere Run has set up in the past and what specific skills it requires:
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. I think there's only three, isn't there? 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 6 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
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 and -20 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 3 renewals both Jordan Spieth and Brian Harman have entered the tournament in the top 75 of birdie-makers. That's ok, but effectively only top third on Tour. Look at Bogey Avoidance and those ranks jump to 9th (Spieth 2013), 27th (Harman) and 3rd (Spieth 2015), 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. Jordan, Zach and 'Mr John Deere' Steve Stricker are all excellent putters, but equally ball-strikers can contend and 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.
As ever though this will come down to a putting contest, plain and simple, with anybody in the top 10 or so come Sunday having a chance to win with a strong closing round.
Bookmaker Offers. A couple of bookmakers have extended their each-way terms again this week plus there are a couple of other offers out there:
My selections are as follows:
It's rare to see any player rank over 700 points better than the rest of the field in any of our published predictor models throughout the season. Funnily enough, last time I can recall it was here 12 months ago when Jordan Spieth was over 1,000 points clear of Zach Johnson - he won at 4/1. Now Steve Stricker is no Jordan Spieth and we know he hasn't won since 2012, but his renaissance in 2016 has been one of the stories of the summer which has included 11th at Riviera, 7th at Copperhead, 2nd at TPC Southwind in June and a fantastic 4th at Royal Troon in July. Stricker won 3 straight titles here between 2009-2011 and he's finished 5th, 10th and 11th since. 6th for Actual Scoring Average, 18th for par-3 Scoring Average, 9th for par-4 scoring Average, 2nd for Bogey Avoidance, 1st for Scrambling and 2nd for Strokes Gained Putting are a compelling set of season-long statistics for Deere Run where the obvious star men tend to shine.
Stricker admitted at Troon that he's focused currently on earning as many World Ranking and FedEx Cup points as he can with his limited schedule - he's sure to be motivated this week - and that he's enjoying getting the old competitive juices flowing again when in the mix. Nobody knows TPC Deere Run as well as Stricker and it's worth noting that 7 of his 12 PGA Tour victories have come in 'Up-State' America and that he's won 7 of his 11 PGA Tour strokeplay titles with scores of -17 or lower. With 46 year-old Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk shining in recent weeks, I can see 49 year-old Stricker taking their place in golf's spotlight this week. RESULT: T52
Kevin Na invariably comes to the party when the scoring is low and with this depth of field I'm happy to keep him on side this week. Yes he doesn't win nearly as many tournaments as he should, but this particular John Deere Classic with such a weak field could be the tournament where he finally backs up the win he had at TPC Summerlin in 2011, which he won with a total of -23/261. 22nd in the US PGA, 22nd at the Open Championship and 7th at the US Open shows a level of Major Championship consistency that's impressive, especially as all 3 tournaments were played on set-ups which aren't really Kevin's cup of tea.
Na prefers shorter tests, is happy on tree-lined courses and loves it when resort-level scoring is possible. Take autumn last year where Kevin finished 2nd at Silverado (-15 classical tree-lined), 2nd at TPC Summerlin (-15 desert target golf) and 3rd at Kuala Lumpur GC (-24 classical tree-lined). Na never capitulated in those tournaments, making birdie on the 18th to force a play-off with Emiliano Grillo in California, fluffing a chip on the 17th to lose out by 1 shot to an incredible 61 from Smylie Kaufman in Nevada and never quite being able to catch the flying Justin Thomas in Malaysia. 3rd in the Career Builder at PGA West (-21/267) and 4th at Harbour Town have followed on in 2016 and Na's participation this week at TPC Deere Run - a course he has only played once in 7 seasons - suggests he clearly enjoyed his visit here 24 months ago. 13th featured rounds of 65 and 66 and statistically he ticks all of the boxes. RESULT: T8
Scott Brown finished 25th at the Travelers last week which was his best finish for 4 months. The talented 33 year-old from Augusta, Georgia has always liked low scoring tests and TPC Deere Run is no exception as he's finished 7th (2012 course debut), 22nd (2013) and 5th (2014). You may remember Brown starting this season well with 5th in El Camaleon, 10th at PGA National, 10th at Copperhead and 5th in Puerto Rico, totalling 4 top 10s on the Tour. He also led after 54 holes at Torrey Pines before the Sunday carnage started. A previous winner at Puerto Rico in 2013, Brown shot a career-low 61 here on Saturday in 2014 and commented afterwards about Deere Run, "It really fits my eye well for some reason. I have no clue. I tend to drive it well. If you drive it well around here, you're going to have a lot of good looks at birdie, because we have short irons in our hands. If you hit it on the fairway, you can get it close, so I think that's why. I just drive it well, and it leaves me some good numbers in."
His finish last week in Hartford featured only 6 bogeys (4th best in field), he was 2nd for Total Driving (links well to his course comments) and 5th for Scrambling. RESULT: T16
Ricky Barnes has had his best season since 2010 when the 35 year-old delivered 6 top 10 finishes across Riviera, Augusta, Harbour Town, Colonial, Muirfield Village and TPC River Highlands. That set of courses tells you all you need to know about the Scottsdale, Arizona resident - he plays well on classical golf courses and short/tight set-ups bring him to the fore. Those were heady days with brilliant chances to win at both Harbour Town and Muirfield Village passing Barnes by, as they had at the Bethpage-hosted US Open the season before. Ensconced in the OWGR top 100, it was only a matter of time before he claimed his first Tour title. However from there Barnes slipped as low as 469th in the OWGR after the John Deere Classic last July. From those dark days though Ricky has undoubtedly found his game with confidence returning this season: 9th at Harbour Town, 4th at TPC San Antonio when leading after 54 holes and 5th at Glen Abbey 3 weeks ago are all noteworthy results. Barnes hung around when in contention in both Texas and Canada and I think TPC Deere Run will suit the Californian this week as he sits 32nd in Birdie Average, 30th in Bogey Avoidance, 3rd in par-3 Scoring Average and 35th in Stokes Gained Putting.
Played well here in 2012 when he was -11 after 36 holes - good enough for 4th spot - and when interviewed said, "I tell my caddie every time we come back that there are only a few tournaments where I actually like the golf course. It does suit my eye. I like the way you can hit driver or 3‑wood off a lot of the tees. You can take it down and be aggressive or not." RESULT: T5
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