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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. The inclusion of 2-time Major Champion Jordan Spieth to the field before he jets off on the special tournament charter flight to Scotland adds intrigue to the week's proceedings. The fact that he's honouring the commitment he made to the John Deere organisers earlier this year should be applauded, but there's a view from some golf commentators that he should actually be practising at St Andrews (a course he has played only once before the 2011 Walker Cup), especially with what seems the imminent withdrawal of World Number 1 Rory McIlroy. What is clear is that nothing seems to phase Jordan and we won't be waiting too long before we see him attempt to earn a 3rd consecutive Major at the age of 21 on the Old Course.
Linking this week's test at TPC Deere Run to what will be required at the Old Course isn't as far-fetched as you might think with Spieth publicly stating that his goal will be to get into contention this week with a chance to win Sunday on a track where birdies will be the name of the game. We have now reached the point of Woods-like 3/1 pricing on Spieth so at the very least it will be interesting to see if he can deliver on his word.
Likely Open protagonists Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Branden Grace, Shane Lowry and Jimmy Walker amongst other notables are taking the traditional Open warm-up route by playing the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Gullane Golf Club this week. Paul Williams has cast is eye over both the course and the field and you can read his thoughts on that event here.
2015 Punters League
Martin Butcher's selections of Danny Lee at 150/1 for the Greenbrier Classic and Martin Kaymer for the Open de France landed him the weekly £/€25 Paddy Power free bet. Sean Colgan still leads the overall league after 26 weeks, but Andrew Davies is closing the gap. New entrants are always welcome, so enter your 6 players across the John Deere Classic and the Scottish Open on our 2,500-strong facebook group now!
The John Deere Classic offers the final qualifying spot for next week's Open Championship to the leading non-qualified player who finishes in the Top 5 or ties. Here's my John Deere Classic preview which walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
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. Brian Harman managed 3 eagles (always a bonus) and 22 birdies when winning his first Tour title here 12 months ago; whilst Zach Johnson and Jordan Spieth made 24 and 25 birdies respectively when enjoying their success 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.
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 Jason Bohn. 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, but 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.
Winners: 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 John Deere predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players included in the Top 5 of the Predictor include Jordan Spieth (Predictor number 1), Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, Jerry Kelly and Jason Bohn. Lower down in the Top 25 (Danny Lee was there last week) Jonathan Byrd (140/1), Pat Perez (66/1) and Scott Piercy (75/1) offer up value.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Zurich Classic / China Open and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour. 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: 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. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Silvis is here. The course was hit with plenty of rain in the last 10 days of June and Monday evening (yesterday) saw electrical storms again deluge the course. So the course, like most events in recent weeks, will play soft. Rough will be up, but light winds across Thursday and Friday will make for typical JDC scoring. However stronger breezes up to 15mph will be a factor across both Saturday and Sunday making scoring slightly trickier.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 5 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages: Driving Distance: 25th; Driving Accuracy: 31st; Greens in Regulation: 21st; Scrambling: 15th; Putting Average 9th.
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 5 winners at Deere Run.
So let's take a view from players as to just what are the key attributes required at the John Deere this week:
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."
Recent winning totals of -16, -20, -26, -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 2 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) and 27th (Harman), 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, 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. 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.
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My selections are as follows:
Form-horse Kevin Kisner has been in my team for the John Deere since the US Open, but typically he decided to contend last week on an altitude track where he'd previously recorded 3 Missed Cuts from 3 appearances! Naturally as a result his price this week, in the second-weakest PGA Tour field of 2015, has been slashed. Some value hunters will walk away at that price for a Tour maiden, but Kisner reminds me very much of Webb Simpson in 2011 prior to his first win at Sedgefield. Opportunities came and went, but eventually Simpson's win came. Three play-offs since the start of April at Harbour Town, TPC Sawgrass and Old White TPC to date haven't gleaned the win that Kevin's performances have deserved. " Yeah, I keep knocking on the door. I'll be there soon enough. If I keep playing well, I'll win one of them." was Kisner's apt response on Sunday. He doesn't lack self-confidence and I'm sure he remembers his closing round 64 here 12 months ago which was only equalled by the recent John Deere master, Zach Johnson. Top's my rolling putting average monitor, sits 5th in Bogey Avoidance and 12th in Scrambling Tour categories. RESULT: T35
Aussie bomber Steven Bowditch has had a magnificent season grossing over $2.5 million and at 14th in the FedEx Cup standings he's close to guaranteeing a first ever visit to East Lake. Bowditch will jump on board the Sunday charter flight to Scotland looking forward to a host of big tournaments including St Andrews, Firestone and Whistling Straits and I was amazed to see him as high as 61st in the Official Golf World Rankings which sees him sit 14th in qualification terms for the President's Cup. Representing the International team is a realistic aim so what about his chances this week? Well Steven loves bentgrass greens, loves soft conditions and key stats like 50th in Birdie Average, 24th in Bogey Avoidance, 2nd in Scrambling and 44th in Putting Average certainly grab my attention. Let's not forget that Bowditch won in May at TPC Four Seasons at -18 and his record here reads 38th, 12th and 11th from 4 appearances. Heavy rain pre-event can only help the 2-time PGA Tour winner's chances. RESULT: MC
I'm sticking with my view that Shawn Stefani is due a maiden Tour win sooner rather than later and his season-long stats appeal. 20th in Actual Scoring Average, 17th in Birdie Average, 40th in Bogey Avoidance and 19th in Putting Average offer a lot of upsides for TPC Deere Run. After last week's career best 13th at Old White TPC, it was noticeable that Stefani jumped 15 spots in Proximity to Hole (82nd) and in an area where he is weaker, namely scrambling, he was 9th last week. Shot 64-66 across the weekend here 12 months ago and his consistent approach-play was back to its best last week. Windier conditions across the weekend will suit. RESULT: T35
Last time I backed Scott Brown was at the Royal Montreal Blue Course Par 70 last year where Tim Clark mugged a faltering Jim Furyk with a winning -17 total. Brown was 5th after 36 and 54 holes and had every chance before faltering, but it's true that the 32 year-old loves resort scoring birdie-fests. Brown, who grew up in Augusta, is also Brendan Steele-like as he makes it 100% clear what courses he plays well on. The 2013 Puerto Rico Open Champion (he won at -20) loves Trump International, plus has recent Top 5 finishes across Annandale (2012), Harbour Town (2013), CordeValle (2013) and Sea Island (2013); however he absolutely thrives in the Quad Cities. 3 appearances here have delivered a 7th, 24th and 5th last year which was aided by a Saturday 61. Asked why he plays so well at Deere Run "It really fits my eye well. 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.". Scott is playing far better now than he was 12 months ago and was 5th after 36 holes at the Travelers a fortnight ago. RESULT: MC
A whole bunch of season Top 10 finishes always helps find the John Deere Classic winner so I'm happy to finish my team with 2 players who have 9 between them across this season.
Jason Bohn couldn't handle the final group pressure last week at Old White TPC but he's clearly playing the golf of his career and we all know that he excels in resort scoring tests. His Saturday 61 last week was exceptional and highlights how well Bohn can play: Fairways Hit: 13/14 - 92.86%; Greens Hit: 14/18 - 72.2%; Putting Average: 1.296. His key season long stats read better than a 70/1 shot as well: 3rd Actual Scoring Average, 22nd Birdie Average, 7th Bogey Avoidance, 2nd Proximity to Hole, 42nd Scrambling, 8th Putting Average. Shot a 3rd Round 64 here 2 years ago, but to date hasn't strung 4 rounds together but still has 4 Top 25 finishes. Huge opportunity this week. RESULT: T12
Let's start with the negative - Boo Weekley hasn't played since Memphis. But 5 Top 10s this season at Jackson (-14), PGA West (-20), Trump International, TPC Louisiana (-20) and TPC Southwind mark him out as a player who should be respected at 90/1. A streaky scorer whose wins at Harbour Town (2007 & 2008) and Colonial (2013) link in well with champions Stricker, Johnson and Harman. At a putting contest Boo doesn't jump to the front of the mind, but Weekley is clearly putting much better in 2015 and at 43rd in Proximity to Hole, 50th in Birdie Average, 70th in Bogey Avoidance and 76th in Putting Average he has a better chance than many this week on a course where he fired a -8/63 in 2010. Responsive conditions can only help Boo this week. RESULT: T69
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