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There were thoroughly deserved victories for Russell Knox and Kevin Na in Ireland and West Virginia respectively last week. Knox has undoubtedly placed himself right in the shop window for European Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjorn and the Scot, who has a WGC title on his CV, will be wanting to put right the very near miss he had to selection back in 2016. Kevin Na’s victory was only his second PGA Tour triumph in 334 Tour appearances, coming almost 7 years after his maiden victory in 2011. Put yourself in position enough times and things eventually go your way. Knox and Na were 28/1 and 50/1 winners respectively – well done if you landed a victory last week. We managed a partial 28/1 each-way return on Joaquin Niemann who is now guaranteed full PGA Tour privileges for next season in what was otherwise a frustrating week.
The John Deere Classic is the traditional stateside Open Championship warm-up and always presents an interesting challenge for keen golf punters. 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:
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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 here, whilst defending champion Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson and Spieth again made 24, 24 and 25 birdies respectively when enjoying their successes since 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 boils 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 with Fine Fescue 4″; Greens: 6,000 sq.ft average featuring L-93 Bentgrass; Stimpmeter: 11ft; 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. 2017: 69.75 (-1.25), Rank 38 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 Designer Links: For research purposes, other D.A. Weibring designs include:
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, Patrick Rodgers and Bryson DeChambeau or plotters like Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore and Wesley Bryan. The key this week will ultimately be a hot putter and minimising bogeys which is always the case on resort-level 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 in both 2016 and 2017. 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. Saying that ball-striker extraordinaire Bryson DeChambeau won this in 2017, entering the tournament ranked 195th in Strokes Gained Putting. 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 & 4th highest in 2016/2017) each and every renewal.
Winners: 2017: Bryson DeChambeau (-18); 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).
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 10 of my published predictor are Chesson Hadley, Zach Johnson, Brian Gay, Chez Reavie, Ricky Barnes, Zac Blair, Brandon Harkins, Ryan Moore, San Saunders and Bryson DeChambeau.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Wells Fargo Championship and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2017: DeChambeau 50/1; 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: 35/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 51/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Silvis, Illinois, is here. It hasn’t rained here since 26th June so don’t expect soft conditions. However the organisers here always want to encourage birdies, so greens will undoubtedly be receptive. Breeze across Thursday, Friday and Sunday may take the scoring down just a notch, and there’s a 60% chance of rain on Saturday. Temperatures will reach 30-33 degrees Celsius.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 8 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 the course sets up and what specific skills it requires:
Bryson DeChambeau: “Yeah, you got to be hitting your wedges really close. If you can do that all week, you’ll be just fine. If you can make pars on the tough par-3s and hit it on the fairway, like on 15 every day, land it on the green, two-putt, make your par, get out of there, I think you have a very good chance of playing well here.
I have always liked short par 4s. My favorite is No. 9 at Cypress. It’s definitely a cool little short par-4; drivable. A lot of risk/reward in it. I think D.A.’s (Weibring) done a great job with 14, as well as 17. Definitely risk/reward holes that if you execute shots well you’re going to get rewarded. That’s the epitome of golf, right? Executing a shot, having it end up beautifully, even though sometimes you can get a bad break, right? So you could hit a beautiful shot on 14 and get absolutely into the worst place possible. Like if you pull it just a little bit on 14 and get on the down slope in the rough to the short left pin you’re toast. You’ve got to know where to miss it on those holes. I think he’s designed it very, very well.“
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 8 winners of this event:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of pure Bentgrass green PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Recent winning totals of -16, -20, -26, -22, -20, -19, -22, -20, -22 and -18 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 Bryson DeChambeau, 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), 90th (Moore 2016) and 139th (DeChambeau 2017). Bryson’s number from last year is certainly an outlier, where the season-long number was based upon a terrible start to 2017 where he’d missed 12 cuts with a new putting style. However you can see the requirement for players 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. Bryson DeChambeau, 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, Bryson DeChambeau 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.
My selections are as follows:
Kyle Stanley 2pt EW 28/1 with Paddy Power
Kyle Stanley is going along very nicely. I tipped him up at the Travelers Championship and he gave us a run, getting into 11th spot after 54 holes when finishing 15th. He then went to TPC Potomac where he was defending his Quicken Loans National title. A slow start to the week was almost expected for a player who has rarely defended, but mid-rounds of 67/66 again highlight a player who’s playing some great stuff right now. He eventually finished 32nd – another positive in a 2018 which has seen Kyle finish 2nd to Bryson DeChambeau at Muirfield Village, finished 13th at Quail Hollow and make it to the Quarter Finals of the WGC Dell Match Play Championship at Austin Country Club. 5th at Sheshan and 10th at Waialae this season highlight a player who keeps getting in the mix. So the John Deere Classic feels like a perfect tournament for Stanley, who has always liked tree-lined set-ups and prefers Bentgrass to Bermudagrass greens.
He won’t be too fussed about Carnoustie next week, leaving him to focus his efforts on a tournament which has always served him well. 2nd (2011), 19th (2012), 18th (2015) and 22nd (2016) amongst 7 pay cheques from 8 appearances is a very positive return here at Deere Run and I think Kyle has got a big week in him. The reason? Well there’s a kind of quiet (what else would you expect with Kyle) revolution going on with Stanley’s game. A renowned world class ball-striker, Kyle is undoubtedly putting better of late. He’s finished in the top 10 for Strokes Gained Putting across Waialae (6th), Torrey Pines (8th), Bay Hill (6th), Muirfield Village (9th) and TPC River Highlands (7th) and that’s a huge move, especially when arriving at a tournament which demands such excellent putting. I remember Kyle’s runner-up finish here in 2012 to Zach Johnson where he delivered rounds of 65-67-65-66 on a week when he finished 1st for Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 23rd for Strokes Gained Putting. If he can match that ball-striking excellence this week, he has the confidence with the putter in 2018 to go very close. RESULT: MC
Chesson Hadley 2pt EW 33/1 with Coral
Chesson Hadley has had an exceptional 2017/18 season and all that’s missing is his 2nd PGA Tour title. With a no-pressure trip to Carnoustie to look forward to and the John Deere Classic charter flight to Edinburgh Airport on Sunday night all organised, I’m thinking that Chesson will see this week as an excellent opportunity to have a strong week on a resort-level scoring test he thrives on. Chesson has always been one of those players who loves stringing top-10 finishes together, with hitting fairways often the catalyst. So his 8th spot last time out at TPC Potomac, where hitting fairways is hard, raised an eyebrow especially as he was 15th for Total Driving, 10th for Scrambling and 2nd for Strokes Gained Putting. 6 top-7 finishes this season see Hadley in 17th place on the FedEx Cup rankings – the second highest non-winner behind Tony Finau – and a look at Hadley’s career really peaks my interest in him this week. A 4-time winner on the web.com Tour, 3 of those victories have come with low -19/265, -23/265 and -16/268 winning scores. Be very aware that the North Carolinian loves to go low and that’s again highlighted by his maiden PGA Tour title back in 2014 when he won the Puerto Rico Open at -21/267.
That win at Coco Beach G&CC is interesting, especially when you link that tournament to the John Deere Classic. Jordan Spieth (2nd 2013 in Puerto Rico), Scott Brown (1st 2015), Danny Lee (2nd 2014), Alex Cejka (1st 2015) and Bryson DeChambeau (2nd 2017) as a collective can boast 3 wins, a couple of 3rds and two-more top-7 finishes here at Deere Run. It makes sense as both tend to favour birdie-makers and at 9th in this season’s Birdie Average charts Chesson is certainly one of those. 7th at Harbour Town (2018), 9th at TPC Boston (2014), plus 5th (2013) and 4th (2017) at TPC Summerlin link in well with the likes of John Deere winners Harman, Spieth, Moore and DeChambeau and it’s also interesting to note that Bryson won the 2016 DAP Championship on the web.com Tour at Canterbury Golf Club in Ohio. Chesson was 2nd there last year and he also played last year’s John Deere Classic, where he shot 69/64 to be 5th after 36 holes. That highlights an aptitude for the Deere Run track and 12 months down the line, if he can get in the same position, with far more PGA Tour experience I think he can seriously contend. RESULT: T72
Chris Kirk 1pt EW 50/1 with Unibet
Chris Kirk is another who deserves respect this week. Within my top 10 of resort-level scoring players in this field, the Georgia man has been taking a well-earned rest of late, missing events at TPC River Highlands, TPC Potomac and Old White TPC which he’s never really excelled at. So it’s interesting that he makes a return at Deere Run, a course where he was 22nd on debut in 2011 and in 2013. That 2013 outing is noteworthy as Kirk shot opening rounds of 67-66-66 to get right in the mix on Saturday evening, 6th after 54 holes, “This is the style of golf that I really enjoy playing, and this is definitely one of my favourite tournaments of the year. I love the golf course here and love the town here where we’re at,” were Kirk’s comments after shooting -14 across the opening 4 days, so he clearly likes the course here in Illinois.
It’s also worth recognising in this field that Chris has won 4 times on the PGA Tour. His maiden win at Annandale in 2011 came at -22/266 and his 3rd and 4th titles came at TPC Boston (2014) and Colonial (2015). Both of those tracks feature Bentgrass greens and correlate well to the likes of Steve Stricker, Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson. Kirk’s season has featured excellent approach play – 22nd in SG on Approach – and relatively mediocre putting, but Chris has also been positive in terms of putting across Colonial, Muirfield Village and TPC Southwind. That makes him a dangerous proposition on a scoreable, shorter format where he tends to excel. Of late 11th at Colonial featured an opening round -4/66, 52nd at Muirfield Village featured a 3rd Round -6/66 and his last outing at TPC Southwind saw Kirk put up a 2018 best finish of 6th. In Memphis he delivered an opening -4/66, which he matched on the Saturday. Kirk also rates in the top 20 for both Greens in Regulation and Putting Average across my 10-week rolling skill statistic window. RESULT: T23
Chez Reavie 1pt EW 80/1 with Coral
In a field where value is particularly hard to track down, I was surprised to see 80/1 about Chez Reavie. Yes Reavie arrives in Illinois off the back of 2 straight missed cuts – the last of which was on the number at TPC River Highlands – but that hasn’t put off the likes of Jonathan Byrd and Brian Harman who have won this straight off zero weeks; after all, with many players it manages pre-tournament expectations. Instead the positives on Reavie are numerous – a player who always thrives when scoring is lower. A player who has won in Canada and who has a number of high profile finishes in up-state United States. A player who has 4 top 20 finishes and a couple of runner-up finishes in 2018, plus was 6th just last month. Throw-in his PGA Tour stats profile which includes 29th for Scoring Average, 51st for Birdie Average, 18th for Bogey Avoidance, 13th for Proximity to Hole and 41st for Strokes Gained Tee To Green and he’s a live runner this week.
2nd at TPC Scottsdale (-18/266) and 2nd at Pebble Beach (-14/274) back in February, Chez shot 67-67-68-71 to finish in 6th spot in Memphis last month. Reavie though has always excelled on lower scoring tests on shorter formats. His first breakthrough on the PGA Tour came with 5th at the 2007 Bob Hope Classic and 2008 saw him win his sole PGA Tour title at Glen Abbey (-17/267). He then re-emerged in 2011 with 5th at Colonial, 5th here at Deere Run, 9th at Sedgefield, 2nd at TPC Boston and 8th at Cog Hill. At 56th in the OWGR, Reavie has become a quality performer of late and his record here includes that 2011 5th where he shot -9/62 to lead after 36 holes. 2013 saw him fire an exceptional -10/61 to again get in the mix and even last year he produced bookend 66/67 to finish 39th. A 3-time professional winner on Bentgrass greens (1 PGA Tour, 2 web.com Tour), Reavie loves the greens here and could go well at a cracking price. RESULT: MC
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