The PGA Tour moves on to the Midwest this week for the John Deere Classic, played at the par 71 TPC Deere Run. The 7,268 yard track is perennially amongst the easiest layouts facing the Tour pros, with wide fairways and relatively slow greens providing scoring opportunities aplenty. With pre-tournament rain softening up the course before giving way to perfect playing conditions over the weekend, the winner can reasonably be expected to be at least 20 under par when all is said and done.
Last year’s Champion Ryan Moore followed a similar profile to previous winners Jordan Spieth (2016, 2013), Brian Harman (2014), Zach Johnson (2012) and Steve Stricker (2011, 2010, 2009) – excellent iron players who possess superb short games. Indeed, Moore led the Green-In-Regulation stat, hitting 60 of 71 greens on route to shooting 65-65-65-67 for his fifth PGA Tour win. Allied to this, he made just two bogeys on the week, pacing the field in the Scrambling category and it’s those two statistics that we’ll be heavily weighted to when looking to find our winner this week.
Given the bevy of birdie opportunities bestowed on the players at TPC Deere Run, I’m also looking to keep players with a penchant for low scoring on side and have therefore included Par Breakers (the percentage of time a player is under par against the par score for a hole) in my calculations, as well as a cursory nod to Strokes Gained: Putting.
The final consideration for finding a winner is that TPC Deere Run tends to be a track where the same faces and names populate the leaderboard year after year, best evidenced by Spieth and Stricker’s multiple wins, and Zach Johnson’s incredible six top three finishes. Given this, previous course form is very much something I’m looking for this week.
A footnote this week is the subplot surrounding entry to next week’s Open Championship. The highest ranked finisher not already qualified will get their shot at glory at Royal Birkdale and that may well add a little bit more motivation for those in the field with as-yet-unfulfilled Major aspirations.
Due to this event’s proximity to The Open, there is a paucity of talent in the field this week with the game’s biggest names opting to acclimatise early to Royal Birkdale’s links test. As a result, we are left with a field headed by Daniel Berger, a recent Tour winner but a debutante at TPC Deere Run. Although a great statistical fit for the course and clearly in good form, we’re willing to take our chances that he’ll need a spin or two around the track before entering the winner’s circle here. To oppose him, we’ll be siding with two other recent winners near the head of the market and an interesting looking long shot.
Kyle Stanley enters the week off the back of his second career PGA Tour win at the Quicken Loans National, and ticks a significant number of our statistical boxes. He’s the top ranked golfer in the field in this season’s GIR category, currently sitting 2nd overall, and also ranks 3rd in the field for Par Breakers on the season. He rates in the top 25% of the field in Scrambling and has previous course form with a runner up finish back in 2011. What piques our interest most is that Stanley tends to be a man who holds his form very well. He has three top 6 finishes in his last 6 events and his last PGA Tour victory was off the back of a runner up finish demonstrating that when his game gets hot, he stays in the groove. Given the combination of course form, recent form and statistical positives, he’s entitled to go very well this week.
My next best is Brian Harman who himself notched a second career PGA Tour win at the Wells Fargo Championship back in May, having recorded his maiden victory at this very tournament back in 2014. He followed that Wells Fargo triumph with a career best major performance at the US Open in June, holding the 54 hole lead before ultimately finishing runner up to an inspired Brooks Koepka. That performance demonstrated a newly held confidence, and with more top 10 finishes than missed cuts this calendar year, he has every right to be in the mix on a course where he’s had previous success. On top of the positive course and current form, he also ranks in the top 10% of the field in the Scrambling, Strokes Gained: Putting and Par Breakers stats so an above average week with the irons should have him bang in the mix again come Sunday. The offered odds of might look skinny on a normal week, but on a week when he’s the third highest world ranked golfer (28th overall) in the field, he’s entitled to be a good few points shorter given his profile.
My final selection is 23 year old world number 211 Michael Kim. A former amateur standout, Kim was voted the best collegiate golfer in America in 2013, generally a decent guide to future success as a pro if previous winners Justin Thomas, Russell Henley, Bill Haas, Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell are anything to go by. Kim is a PGA Tour sophomore so his body of work is largely incomplete but on debut here last year, he fired a third round 66 on route to a 47th place finish, demonstrating an affinity for the course. However, it is his improving form line over the past six weeks (MC-69-35-29) plus a weekend finish of 69-67 at last week’s Greenbrier which most raises my interest. He ranks in the top 15% of the field for both Strokes Gained: Putting and Par Breakers and if he can keep his strong finishing form from last week running into this, he could well outrun his three figure odds in this weak field.
*My preview will feature episode 48 of the Matchbook Betting Podcast to be released Wednesday evening