John Deere Classic
It was a good week for us at the first ever playing of the 3M Open in Blaine, Minnesota, as we bagged a full e/w payout with our 150-1 pick Wyndham Clark who finished fifth.
Sunday evening certainly had its ups and downs and at one point Clark held the lead on his own. It was apparent however from around the seventh hole onwards that he was feeling the pressure as a succession of loose tee shots left him having to rely on his strong short game to stay in the hunt and with the leaderboard so tightly packed the place money was never even guaranteed.
By the time Clark stood on the 18th tee his chances of winning had all but gone as he had stalled on the back nine and needing par to claim a full place return our hearts were in our mouths as his second shot looked initially to have found a watery grave.
Fortunately luck was on our side as it had just crept over and Wyndham managed to secure the par 5 we needed.
Meanwhile, while Clark struggled over the back nine rookie Matthew Wolff on only his fourth PGA Tour start as a professional closed out his first Tour title in fine style with an eagle on the 18th hole to pip Bryson Dechambeau and Collin Morikawa by a shot.
It was an incredible effort from Wolff who had fared no better than 50th in his first three starts as a pro and with his prodigious distance off the tee he is sure to become a big star on the world stage.
A slight word of caution though before we all start backing him at silly odds for Augusta etc, we only need look at Cameron Champ to see that things don’t always go to plan immediately after the debut win, regardless as to how talented you are, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a period of adjustment for the 20yr old now.
Anyway enough of last weeks action and after two weeks of new courses and the unknown that has brought it’s time for something far more familiar in the shape of the John Deere Classic.
The John Deere Classic first became an official PGA Tour event in 1972. At this time it was known as the Quad Cities Open. After a couple of further changes of sponsor it became the John Deere Classic in 1999 and since 2000 it has been played at TPC Deere Run.
The event is played in Silvis, Illinois, which is just around 360 miles South and slightly East of Blaine, Minnesota, last weeks stop for the inaugural 3M Open.
With the event being played the week before the British Open there are obviously logistical troubles as well as preparational ones for players who are playing in the Open and who choose to tee it up at the John Deere.
To help with the travel issues and to help try and attract bigger names to its field, since 2006 The John Deere Classic has sponsored a charter flight which leaves the local area from Silvis on the Sunday night and arrives in Britain the following morning.
In addition to of course giving players a chance to add a PGA tour title to their CV the John Deere Classic is also known as the ‘last chance saloon’ for a player to qualify for the British Open who is not already exempt. This is because one spot is reserved for the highest placed finishing player who finishes in the top 5 at the John Deere and who has not already qualified for the Open.
Despite the efforts of the sponsors to attract bigger names by putting on flights etc the field is bereft of star names with most of the games leading lights choosing to either take the week of or to tee it up in the Scottish Open as part of their Open Championship preparation.
As a result the market is headed up by a bunch of young bucks, Hovland, Morikawa, Niemann, and last weeks winner Wolff, alongside past John Deere Champion Brian Harman.
TPC Deere Run is a par 71 measuring just over 7250 yds
The greens are Bentgrass.
The course was designed by DA Weibring and was opened in 1999, it then underwent some renovation over 2006 & 2007.
TPC Deere Run is basically your archetypal birdie fest and if you don’t make plenty of them you wont be in with a shout this week.
Although as already mentioned the event tends to attract a fairly weak field until last year over the last 10yrs all of the winners have actually been players from the higher echelons of the game, particularly when seen in relation to the field teeing it up on the week.
These winners have been Steve Stricker x 3, Kenny Perry, Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth x 2 [including his maiden tour win], Brian Harman, Ryan Moore and Bryson Dechambeau.
Last year this all changed though as unfancied Michael Kim arrived here on the back of three missed cuts and raced away with the trophy at what ever price you would have liked.
If we look at previous course history of these winners it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
The two course specialists Stricker & Zach Johnson obviously had a bundle of course form prior to their wins.
Last years winner Kim had finished 71st & 47th on two previous visits, Jordan Spieth had made the cut here on one previous visit prior to his first win, Brian Harman had a top twenty to his name in two previous visits, whilst Bryson Dechambeau had missed the cut on his only previous visit.
Ryan Moore however did have two top 10s to his name in four previous visits and Kenny Perry had finished 11th here the previous year to his win.
It’s worth noting though that none of the winners over the past eleven years were making their course debut when winning, which could be something to bear in mind if you are considering backing one of the inform rookies.
As for the recent form of past winners coming in to the event this throws up some interesting numbers.
Firstly six of the past eleven winners had already won on tour that season.
This includes Stricker who had won previously on all of the three years he had won in succession, Zach Johnson and Jordan Spieth, along with Kenny Perry.
It’s also worth noting that several of these wins had come recently to the victory at John Deere. Perry and Spieth [ on his second win] had actually won on their previous starts, Stricker on the year of one of his wins had triumphed recently at Memorial and Zach had won four starts previously at Colonial.
Four of the other winners over the past eleven years, Dechambeau, Moore, Harman and Spieth on his maiden win, had all posted previous top tens on the season.
In addition Moore and Dechambeau had both finished in the top 20 in their previous start, whilst Harman had a top 10 finish four starts prior.
It should be said though that last years winner Michael Kim threw all of these stats out of the window as he arrived here on the back of three missed cuts in a row and nothing better than 18th place all season.
In general though it does appear that TPC Deere Run is a place where in form quality players in relation to the field on display arrive with all components of their game in good order and just keep their recent good mojo rolling.
As I mentioned earlier TPC Deere Run basically offers up a barrage of birdie’s and this is reflected in the winning score over recent years.
The ‘highest’ winning scores we have seen in recent years was Perry’s -16 back in 2008 and Bryson Dechambeau’s winning total last year of -18, whilst the lowest was Stricker’s -26 back in 2010, however last year Kim improved on Stricker’s total by a shot, closing things out with -27.
The average winning score though tends to be around the -20 mark.
At the time of writing a strong thunderstorm is forecast for Wednesday afternoon, which assuming it materializes will lead to soft conditions and low scoring on Thursday.
The remainder of the week looks set to be dry, with the possible exception of a storm on Sunday.
Temperatures look set to be in the high 80s or even low 90s all week, while winds are not forecast to get above 10-12mph.
While it is of course possible we get another win this week for one of the young guns of the moment such as Hovland or Morikawa at the odds on offer I much prefer the idea of taking some bigger priced each way plays and I have gone with five players this week as follows;
JOHNSON WAGNER –90-1 - 1pt e/w – 1/5 odds 1st 8. - FINISHED 37th
First up for me this week on this basis is Johnson Wagner.
Wagner has been struggling on tour this year and up until last week he was on a run of five missed cuts from seven starts with nothing better than 33rd place since his second place finish in Puerto Rico in February.
Last week however at TPC Twin Cities the 39yr old produced his best effort in some time to finish 23rd.
In Minnesota Wagner finished the week for sixth in DA and ninth for putting with his approach play being the area that potentially prevented him from finishing higher.
Wagner now arrives at a venue that must rank as one of his favourite on the circuit as he has posted four top twenties including three top tens here in his last five visits and my hope is that a return to a course that clearly fits his eye will lead to an improvement in his iron play, which has held him back of late.
Currently sitting at 140th on the Fedex Cup standings the Texan needs a couple of big weeks if he is to make the playoffs and secure full playing privileges for the 19/20 season and with only three weeks of the full season left to follow this week, two of which are opposite field events, time is fast running out.
A three time winner on tour including at the Sony Open, which sits nicely here as correlating form with John Deere standing dish Zach Johnson, Wagner certainly knows how to get the job done and I am optimistic he will produce the goods for us this week.
FABIEN GOMEZ – 200 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
On a similar thread my second pick this week is another former Sony Open champion who is also in need of some big results, Fabien Gomez.
Gomez it can be safely said has not been setting the PGA Tour alight of late and until his 13th place finish last weekend in Minnesota his best return of the season was a meagre 23rd place at the Valero Texas Open.
As alluded to though last weekend things took a turn for the better for the 40yr old as he popped up with four solid rounds including a closing bogey free 65 to notch his best effort by far to date this year.
The Argentinian is undoubtedly a hard man to catch right and he can go awol results wise for months on end. It is worth noting however that his last win on tour in 2016 at the Sony Open came after an eye catching performance at Kapalua the week before, a course that was probably too long for him to seriously compete on, and having now seen TPC Twin Cities, and how distance off the tee certainly helped there, there is an interesting comparison to be drawn.
In addition of course the victory at the Sony gives us the link here to Zach Johnson again.
Gomez is in an even more precarious boat than our first pick for the week Wagner as he currently sits at 174th in the Fedex Cup standings so he is also in dire need of some results.
Interestingly though the club that his predominantly lead to him being in this predicament, the putter, for which he currently ranks 153rd on the season, improved considerably last week to see him ranked 25th on the week.
Gomez has no great history at TPC Deere Run, however he did have his best result here by far last year when he finished 23rd and at the huge prices on offer I am happy to take a chance on this two time tour winner to build on last years effort and last weeks showing, and to produce a really strong performance this week.
JOEL DAHMEN – 80-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED MC
As mentioned previously last years event was ‘owned’ by Michael Kim who romped away from the field to post an eight shot victory.
Trailing in Kim’s wake were four players who all shared runner up honours and I have chosen to include two of those this week, and the first of these is Joel Dahmen.
Regular readers will know that Dahmen did us a nice favour earlier this season when he came home in second place at juicy e/w odds at the Wells Fargo and despite not being able to claim victory that day he showed he has what it takes to perform in the heat of the battle.
Since that second place finish Joel has gone somewhat off the boil as he subsequently has posted two missed cuts and nothing better than 43rd place in his last five starts.
What strikes me here though is that his second place finish at Quail Hollow came in the middle of a stretch where Dahmen played seven weeks out of eight and you would have to think that towards the end of that run, and with his card for next year secure, he started to feel a bit jaded.
After two weeks off Joel now returns to a venue that he produced a really strong performance at last year and my hunch is that he will be refreshed and raring to go.
The fact that the 31yr old did played so well here last year should not come as too much of surprise to us as his strong ball striking sits well with the type of player who has performed well here over the years.
In summary Dahmen looks highly likely to break through in to the winners circle in the not too distant future and at the odds on offer I am more than happy to chance that this week will be the week that happens.
SAM RYDER – 80-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 18th
Another player who thoroughly enjoyed their week at TPC Deere Run last year was Sam Ryder and he joined Dahmen in sharing second place honours.
After basically wrapping up his card over this two week period last year Sam started his sophomore season like a house on fire with two top four finishes in his first four starts of the season.
Those with long memories may remember that these early season efforts, coupled with his solid debut season, were enough to gain Ryder a spot in my ‘six to follow’ column for 2019 published at the beginning of the year, in which I predicted a maiden tour victory for him.
Unfortunately though after this stellar start to the 18/19 campaign things have not gone at all to plan for the Florida native as he was forced to take two months off with a wrist injury.
Since returning at the Memorial understandably Ryder has struggled to regain his early season momentum, however last week he produced his best finish since March when coming home in 34th place at the 3M Open.
Closing things out with a final round of 66 Ryder’s renowned ball striking appeared to be back to somewhere near his best in Minnesota and this will surely have him in good spirits as he returns to the scene of his best PGA Tour finish to date.
When finishing second here last year Ryder was making his debut at TPC Deere Run and he took to the venue like the proverbial duck to water posting three rounds of 66 and a 67. Basically it appeared to be a perfect fit for someone who when on song, rather like another past winner here Ryan Moore, can hit fairways and greens all day for fun, and if his putter behaves this week you would have to think he will perform well here again.
One final thing to note is that behind his second place finish here Sam’s next best effort on tour is his third place finish at another par 71 TPC layout, TPC Summerlin, and it should be noted that the winner that week was Dechambeau, a former winner here.
All in all then the omens are good for Ryder going in to this week and I am confident he will deliver another great performance on his return to TPC Deere Run.
DOMINIC BOZZELLI – 175-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Finally I shall finish this week with a roll of the dice on Dominic Bozzelli.
Bozzelli is renowned for having one of the smoothest swings on the PGA Tour however unfortunately as a whole this has yet to translate to the results on tour that many expected from him.
After missing a large chunk of the previous season with injury the Auburn grad qualified for a Major Medical extension at the start of the 18/19 campaign.
Dominic put this MME to good use at the back of 2018 and early in 2019 to post an 11th place finish at the RSM and a fifth place finish at the Desert Classic as well as a 33rd at the Sony, which resulted in him gaining conditional status for the remainder of this season.
Unfortunately for the 28yr old however since his flourish earlier in the year he has struggled to string any meaningful results together and as a result he arrives here, like others in our team, in need of some big weeks.
From a positive point of view however If Dominic is to deliver the goods to keep his card TPC Deere Run seems a likely venue for him to do so as in two previous starts here he has finished 23rd and 25th.
One area of Bozzelli’s game that has held up particularly well this season is his putting and he currently ranks ninth with the flatstick, a vastly improved number compared to his past two seasons on tour.
From that point of view if he can keep the putter working in the same fashion on a return to a course, which one assumes suits his eye, a big week could be in the offing.
We saw last year with Michael Kim that poor form coming in here didn’t necessarily mean too much and at the prices on offer I am happy to take a chance that this is the week everything clicks for this hugely talented native New Yorker.