Rocket Mortgage Classic
It was another frustrating week for us unfortunately as we drew a blank at the Travelers. With the exception of our big priced play Ryan Moore all of our team performed solidly with Cam Davis a particular cause of frustration as he striped it from tee to green but couldn’t buy a putt. Meanwhile our win only play Patrick Cantlay looked like he might just possibly pull off a miracle late on Sunday as the runaway leader Keegan Bradley started to buckle.
Just as Bradley faltered though so did Cantlay, bogeying 16 and missing a short birdie opportunity on 17, thus allowing Bradley the breathing room he needed to see out the win.
All credit to the New Englander though, while he threw in a predictable late wobble he played superbly across the week as a whole and this victory coming in the area he hails from clearly means an awful lot to him.
Onwards we go then, hopefully with a change of our fortunes to come, and the Tour heads from the Travelers to Detroit in Michigan for the fifth edition of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which debuted in 2019.
In a surprisingly strong field the betting market is marginally headed up by defending champion Tony Finau who is then followed by the resurgent Rickie Fowler. This duo are then followed by Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Max Homa and Hideki Matsuyama.
Detroit Golf Club plays to a Par 72 measuring at 7334 yards.
The greens are Poa Annua with a bentgrass mix.
There are two courses at Detroit Golf Club, the North and South, which were both designed by Donald Ross and completed by 1916. For this event the North Course is used.
The course is a fairly typical Ross design with undulating fairways and greens. Despite the defence of the greens the track has been there for the taking in the first four editions and I would expect more of the same this year.
With the course still being pretty new to us aside from looking at the previous leaderboards we have seen to date the logical leap is to look at form on other Donald Ross courses used on tour and these include the following;
East Lake – Tour Championship
Sedgefield G&CC – Wyndham Championship
Aronimink – 2018 BMW Championship
Plainfield – 2011 & 2015 Barclays
Pinehurst No 2 – 2014 US Open.
In addition Oak Hill the scene of this years PGA Championship is also a Ross design.
Here’s a look at the final top ten from each of the first four editions.
1 Tony Finau – 26
T2 P Cantlay, Cam Young, T Pendrith – 21
5 S Jaeger
6 T Moore
7 T Kim
T8 JJ Spaun, W Clark
T10 C Hoffman, R Henley, M Wallace, S Stallings.
1 Cameron Davis -18 [Play Off]
T2 Troy Merritt -18
T2 Joaquin Niemann -18
T4 Alex Noren -17
T4 Hank Lebioda -17
T6 Bubba Watson -16
T6 Brandon Hagy -16
T8 Mark Anderson -15
T8 Sungjae Im -15
T8 Kevin Kisner -15
T8 Seamus Power -15
1 Bryson Dechambeau -23
2 Matthew Wolff -20
3 Kevin Kisner -18
T4 Ryan Armour -16
T4 Tyrrell Hatton -16
T4 Adam Hadwin -16
T4 Danny Willett -16
T8 Maverick McNealy -15
T8 Sepp Straka -15
T8 Webb Simpson -15
T8 Troy Merritt -15
1 Nate Lashley -25
2 Doc Redman -19
T3 Wes Roach -18
T 3 Rory Sabbatini -18
T5 Joaquin Niemann -17
T5 Ted Potter Jnr -17
T5 Patrick Reed -17
T5 Brandt Snedeker -17
T5 Brian Stuard -17
T5 Cameron Tringale -17
So what do these leaderboards tell us? Well not unsurprisingly for someone who posted a six shot victory Lashley in 2019 was dominant in pretty much all statistical categories, finishing the week third from tee to green, sixth in approach play and second in putting, a pretty lethal combination!
Looking further down that leaderboard second place home Doc Redman is known for his strengths from tee to green and he allied that with a warm putter while three of those who finished tied for fifth Potter Jnr, Reed and Snedeker are all renowned for their short game wizardry giving us an early indication that a strong putter maybe the key ingredient here.
Looking then at the 2020 leaderboard and Bryson Dechambeau used a combination of big hitting and a hot putter to triumph leading the field in distance and strokes-gained-off-the-tee and ranking second in putting, while second and third place home Matthew Wolff and Kevin Kisner both performed strongly on the greens as well.
With Dechambeau and Wolff finishing first and second in 2020 clearly distance off the tee can be seen as beneficial however the success of the likes of Lashley, Kisner, Armour and Redman over the first two editions shows clearly that shorter hitters can flourish here.
Looking at the 2021 winner Davis and he allied his power off the tee, ranking tenth in distance on the week, to some solid approach play, ranking ninth in the department, however he was relatively less productive on the greens as he ranked 22nd for the week with the flatstick.
A look further down the leaderboard from 2021 again rubber stamps that big hitting can be a route to success here as big hitters Joaquin Niemann, Bubba Watson and Brandon Hagy all finished in the top six.
Finally and bringing us up to date last years winner Finau, who triumphed by five shots produced a dominating performance ranking first from tee to green, second off the tee, sixth in approach and 14th in putting.
Meanwhile a closer look at the top ten last year, which as well as featuring Finau included Cam Young and Taylor Pendrith in a tie for second again gave more mileage to the fact that distance off the tee is certainly an advantage here.
As mentioned earlier it may also pay this week to look at form on other Donald Ross courses and one thing that strikes me on that basis is that two players who tied for fifth place in 2019 Reed and Snedeker are former Wyndham Championship winners.
Furthermore Ryan Armour who was fourth here in 2020 has two top ten’s over recent years at the Wyndham, Kevin Kisner who was third here that same year took the title at Sedgefield last fall and Doc Redman has also figured prominently in both events.
2021 champion Davis has posted a 15th and 22nd in two appearances at the Wyndham. Finally last years Wyndham Champion Tom Kim finished eighth here while Taylor Moore backed up his sixth place here with a fifth at Sedgefield.
Away from Donald Ross tracks and whether coincidence or not, another link that had struck me prior to the 2020 edition is to the Greenbrier. This is because both Potter Jnr and Niemann who also tied for fifth in 2019 have been victorious there while Lashley finished third at the Greenbrier the year prior to his win here.
Furthermore Sabbatini, Stuard and Tringale who all finished top 5 here in 2019 have all posted top ten finishes at the Greenbrier in the past.
Looking at the 2020 leaderboard here while there was no links as obvious to this event Mark Hubbard played well here to finish 12th having finished 10th at the Greenbrier the previous fall so this does seem a link still worth pursuing.
Finally 2021 runner up Joaquin Niemann posted his maiden tour win at the Greenbrier.
From the point of view of form coming in and 2019 champion Lashley had finished no better than 28th in his previous eight starts, all be it that performance had come in his previous outing at Pebble Beach in the US Open.
Bryson Dechambeau meanwhile had come out of lockdown in blistering form finishing third, eighth and sixth in his previous three starts so a win was clearly telegraphed.
Davis, similarly to Lashley had produced nothing noteworthy leading in with his previous eight starts yielding a best of 25th however Finau of course triumphed here on the back of winning the previous week at the 3M Open.
Finally low scoring here is clearly the order of the day with winning scores of 23- under and 25- under posted in the first two years. Things did toughen up slightly in 2021 with Davis triumphing on an 18- under total, however it was another birdie fest last year with Finau posting -26.
After a cooler start to the week with the possibility of a shower or two temperatures look set to warm up just in time for the tournament with all four days set to sit in the low to mid 80s.
The week as a whole looks set to be dry although at the time of writing Saturday does show the potential for a storm.
Wind could be a slight issue with all four days showing gusts of 15mph+ as a possibility with Sunday looking the breeziest day.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows.
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA – 18/1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
I will start things off this week with Hideki Matsuyama.
It was a sluggish start to the 22/23 season for the Japanese star as perhaps hampered by a neck injury he was only able to post one top ten, at the Farmers, prior to March this year.
While Hideki continues to look in occasional discomfort with his neck he found his mojo at the Players, finishing fifth, and since then he has been on a run of really solid results, which has seen him make every cut and finish no worse than 32nd.
Some strong stuff from Matsuyama over the past three months then however he has been unable to put that one big week together where it all clicks for all four rounds to get seriously in the hunt on a Sunday afternoon.
Last week at the Travelers Hideki was at it again as after a slow start to the week with a 69 he posted rounds of 64 65 and 66 to finish the week in 13th place.
On to this week then and having ranked tenth for the week from tee to green and eighth in approach play at TPC River Highlands Hideki clearly arrives in Detroit with his customary long game trending nicely and as someone who has a great record on Donald Ross designs you would expect him to be relishing the challenge ahead.
To expand on that latter point further and since 2015 Hideki’s record on Ross layouts such as East Lake, Sedgefield, Aronimink and Plainfield reads as follows…18 starts, one MC, one WD and 11 top fifteen finishes including four top tens, clearly then he enjoys them!
With regards to his visits to Detroit and the Masters Champion has been here three times with the most recent visit resulting in the WD noted above in 2021 when he was also perhaps understandably still experiencing a post Masters hangover. Prior to that he posted a 21st here in his second start after the Covid hiatus, having missed the cut in his previous outing at Hilton Head, while in 2019 in his debut in the event he was 13th.
Arriving this week then in the most solid form he has been in when coming here since that week in 2019 I expect Hideki to be looking to build on his recent momentum particularly as he is currently at 52nd in the Fedex standings, meaning although he is looking good for the Top 70, he certainly cant take anything for granted, while in order to make East Lake he needs to find a couple of big weeks. Add that to the fact that he is winless since the Sony in January 2022 and I expect a motivated Matsuyama to perform really strongly.
ADAM HADWIN – 66 /1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 2nd
Next cab off the rank this week is Adam Hadwin.
With Hadwin’s close friend and fellow countryman Nick Taylor having bagged the trophy in Canada a couple of weeks back Hadwin is very much on my radar as a player who could take inspiration from that victory and go on to post a second long overdue tour title of his own.
From that point of view then I am very much keeping a close eye on Adam at the moment and I am happy to risk him this week on a track, which he has had some success on before.
Focusing first on Adam’s history here and he was fourth when teeing it up in this event in 2020 for the first time so we know he can handle the track, even if his two subsequent visits haven’t reaped similar rewards.
Furthermore the Canadian posted a tenth place finish at the correlating Sedgefield CC in 2021 giving us another nice line of Donald Ross form.
Looking at Adam’s 22-23 season as a whole and he has notched four top tens to date to currently sit 51st in the Fedex standings so with just six weeks of the main season to go he will be fully focused on keeping his foot on the gas to wrap up his place in the top 70.
If we look at Adam’s stats for the season and with the exception of ‘off the tee’ he is solid in all departments from thereon in, ranking 56th from tee to green, 42nd in approach and 45th in putting, and as a player who has historically been known as strong on the greens he has the skill sets to cope with Ross’ putting surfaces. This is also backed up by the fact that he ranked 30th on the greens at Oak Hill recently on his way to a solid 40th place in the PGA.
Hadwin performed strongly in Canada to finish 12th, something perhaps lost in the euphoria of Taylor’s win and he then went on to have a decent week at the US Open where he was ranked 23rd in approach play for the week.
After a week off to recharge the batteries then Adam should arrive in Detroit raring to go and with Michigan bordering Canada he certainly shouldn’t lack support. I’ll take my chances then that Adam can ride the current Canadian wave and make a big push this week for victory number two on tour.
TAYLOR PENDRITH – 100/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 14th
Continuing with the Canadian theme and I will take a chance that Taylor Pendrith can use a return to a track that he was second at last year to kick start the remainder of his season.
Pendrith, who despite missing a chunk of last season through injury managed a 47th place finish in the Fedex Cup standings, has struggled to follow that up this time around and he currently sits a precarious 119th, with only one top ten much earlier in the year at Pebble Beach to his name.
On a track though which has certainly aided big hitters over recent years Taylor looked extremely comfortable last year, holding a share of the 54 hole lead heading in to Sunday before stalling on day four as Tony Finau ran away with things.
Returning this year then Pendrith faces a very different type of pressure having posted nothing better in a solo event than 29th on tour since that top ten at Pebble Beach. Interestingly though that 29th did come on another Ross design at Oak Hill in the PGA.
Last week Taylor again missed the cut at the Travelers however encouragingly on Friday when shooting 66 he went bogey free ranking tenth off the tee on the day, 18th from tee to green and 12th in driving accuracy so some positive signs.
Looking at the Canadian’s efforts over recent years and one other thing that caught my is that this does seem to be the time of year that he produces a lot of his best golf. Last year he returned from injury in the second week of July and posted four straight top 15 finishes including the runner up finish here, while the previous year he notched his best finish of the calendar year on the Korn Ferry, a fourth, in the first week of July.
If we then go back a further 12 months and Taylor started a run of four straight top three finishes on the Korn Ferry in the first week of July, while the same thing happened again in 2019 on the Mackenzie Tour of Canada in July as he went on a run of 16 2 3 1 through that month having been struggling previously. Basically for whatever reason Taylor seems to get ‘hot’ in July!
At this event last year after shooting an opening round of 8- under Pendrith talked about how this felt like a home game for him with plenty of friends and family making the three hour drive from Ontario to Detroit. I’ll take my chances this week then that with plenty of support again I’m sure, he can kick of another July heater on a course he clearly enjoys.
BEN GRIFFIN – 150/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 33rd
Next up this week I will explore the Donald Ross link further, particularly with Sedgefield CC and roll the dice on Ben Griffin.
Griffin has had a more than satisfactory debut season on the PGA Tour to currently sit 67th in the Fedex standings, however in keeping with the vast majority of the field this week he still has plenty to play for with the all important top 70 undoubtedly his goal over the next six weeks.
Earlier in the year Ben looked to be well on track for that play off spot however after a really good early part of the season he has stalled somewhat missing six of his last seven cuts since notching a 31st at Hilton Head.
Not hugely encouraging of late then however in the short time Ben has been out on tour it has become clear that his strengths lie on shorter tracks where he can plot his way round and his normally reliable putter can come to the fore, such as Bermuda where he had a great chance to win last year before finishing third, as opposed to the likes of Quail Hollow or Memorial where he has struggled. Therefore with Detroit Golf Club rewarding the likes of Kevin Kisner and Ryan Armour over the years, as well as the bigger hitters, there is certainly opportunity for him here.
While the aforementioned effort in Bermuda represents Ben’s best finish on tour as alluded to at the beginning the big pointer for this week is that prior to having his full status on tour he tee’d it up at Sedgefield CC last August and posted a superb fourth place finish there. With the clear correlation between both events then through the likes of Armour, Kisner and Doc Redman to name but three over recent years, that gives us a great pointer.
As mentioned Ben has been off the boil of late he played nicely over the first two days at Colonial three starts back while at the Travelers last week despite missing the cut his second round 66 saw him go bogey free, rank fourth off the tee, tenth from tee to green, seventh in accuracy and 11th in GIR with only a really poor day on the greens holding him back. Certainly something to build on then.
On a course, which should suit then I’ll take a chance on Ben getting back on track in Detroit this week and producing a big effort.
CALLUM TARREN – 200/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 -FINISHED 29th
Finally this week I am going to round things off by taking a chance with Callum Tarren.
The 32yr old Englishman has been something of a late bloomer only gaining his full card on the PGA Tour for the first time for last season after a big performance in the Korn Ferry finals at the back end of 2021.
Rather than slipping back in to oblivion at the first time of asking though Callum took his chance last season posting three top tens and doing enough to finish 119th in the Fedex standings and keep his card.
On to this season then and Tarren has pushed on again posting his biggest result to date when runner up at the RSM and he currently sits at 94th in the Fedex, within striking distance of the holy grail of the top 70 if he can find a couple of big weeks.
Looking at Callum’s season to date and it’s fare to say that since the big week at Sea Island before Christmas he has gone off the boil with a run of nine straight missed cuts from Phoenix through to Mexico really setting him back.
At the Wells Fargo though Callum snapped that streak and he then pushed on in his next start at the PGA to produce a big performance. At Oak Hill Callum sat right in the mix at the 36 hole stage after opening with rounds of 71 and 67 before understandably struggling in the rarified air on Saturday with a 79. To his credit though he bounced back on Sunday with a 68 to finish 29th, thus giving us some eye catching form on a Ross design.
After a missed cut the following week at Colonial the man from Darlington then played solidly again in Canada before catching the eye at the Travelers with a with a 33rd place finish, ranking fourth off the tee for the week and 15th from tee to green.
On to this week then and Callum returns to Detroit having played nicely here last year to finish 20th and if you add that to his 27th at the Wyndham and strong performance at Oak Hill he appears to have taken a liking to Ross layouts.
In addition At 27th on tour in Driving Distance Callum is one of the bigger hitters out there and with the leaderboards here peppered with big hitters over the first four additions his length is clearly an advantage here.
To sum up Tarren clearly isn’t one of the most consistent performers out there but with four top seven finishes to his name already including a runner up he has shown he is more than capable of hanging tough on the right track when the mood takes him. With plenty going for him this week then including his recent uptick in form I am happy to take my chances on him here.