With Jason Day and Justin Rose returning to winning ways this year, 2023 has been a year of comebacks. After threatening often over recent months – particularly at the US Open a few weeks ago – Rickie Fowler joined them last week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, securing his first PGA Tour title since the 2019 Phoenix Open.
Rickie entered the final round in Detroit with a one-stroke lead over Canada’s Adam Hadwin and following a strong start – where he birdied three of his first seven to at one stage go three-strokes up – he found birdies hard to come by on the back nine. Allowing Hadwin to close on him and leaving the door open for Collin Morikawa to get into the mix from four back at the start of the day.
After letting birdie chances slip by on both of the par 5s on the back nine, Fowler needed to birdie 18 to tie the clubhouse lead Morikawa had just set – who himself had agonizingly watched a birdie putt just miss on the final hole that would’ve given him the win outright.
Fowler proceeded to hit a superb, nerveless approach into 18 to around 3ft and work his way into the playoff with Morikawa, whilst a par at the last for Hadwin made it a three-man playoff.
Despite being the only one to miss the fairway on the first playoff hole, Fowler hit the best approach of the trio, to around 11ft, directly on the line of Hadwin’s 21-footer. As both the Canadian and Morikawa – who inexplicably missed the green with wedge in hand – failed to make birdie, Fowler holed his 11-footer for the win, ending a few years of decline for one of the game’s most liked players.
He’ll now have major championship glory on his mind, as will many of the top stars who will be heading over to the UK for next week’s Scottish Open and then the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool GC the following week. Though first the PGA Tour heads to Silvis, Illinois for the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run.
The John Deere Classic started off life as the Quad Cities Open in 1971 and has taken place almost every year since its inception – excluding 2020 when it was cancelled due to covid.
The event moved here, to TPC Deere Run in 1999, at which moment it adopted the name of its title sponsor, John Deere, and for much of the last two decades had provided us with a direct lead-in to the Open Championship. Though it was moved to this spot on the schedule – two weeks before golf’s oldest major – last year.
Deane Beman won the first two editions of this tournament in 1971 and 1972, getting the better of eight-time major winner, Tom Watson for the second of his successes.
Beman is one of four players with two John Deere Classic wins, most recent of which was Jordan Spieth in 2013 and 2015. Though Steve Stricker, who won three on the spin from 2009 to 2011 and the designer of our over twenty-year host course, D.A. Weibring (1979, 1991, 1995) are locked together at the top of the most-wins table, with three wins each.
Scores frequently exceed -20 here but by far the most impressive win in the tournament’s history was Michael Kim’s 2018 victory, as he shot a record 27-under-par; an emphatic eight strokes better than a quartet of players who tied for 2nd.
J.T Poston returns as our defending champion this week after winning at TPC Deere Run last year for his second title on the PGA Tour; holding off the international duo of Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Emiliano Grillo.
TPC Deere Run is a 7289-yard par 71 (11x par 4s/4x par 3s/3x par 5s); designed by three-time winner of the John Deere Classic, D.A Weibring and is one of the most popular courses – with the players – on tour.
The generous fairways and lack of danger have typically been responsible for low scoring here, with the event possessing an average winning score of just a shade under -20 since the course took over hosting duties in 1999.
Following renovations to the course in 2021 ahead of last year’s renewal – where all bunkers were rebuilt and some fairways tightened – scoring remained low in the 2022 edition, as J.T Poston recorded a winning score of -21. Though there were some noticeable differences in how the course played.
The predominantly doglegged, sloping fairways have regularly been some of the easiest to hit on the PGA Tour, often averaging over 70% in driving accuracy across the field. Last year, the driving accuracy percentage was 63.52%, which whilst still above the average on tour, was down significantly on previous years after those alterations.
This put more emphasis on quality driving last year because TPC Deere Run is not without penalty for missing fairways, which are protected by thick rough and strategically placed bunkers. Additionally, due to much of the course being densely tree-lined, line-of-sight issues present themselves often if players go missing too far on the wrong side.
Having said that, when finding the short grass, the course remained as vulnerable as ever, with greens-in-regulation percentages into the smallish bentgrass surfaces in the top 10 highest on tour; greens which slope gently and with a lack of severe undulations, rank amongst the easiest to putt on.
However, you must hit them, as scrambling around TPC Deere Run has frequently been the most challenging aspect of play, with some tricky, deep bunkering, run-off areas and thick rough resulting in the course ranking 12th for scrambling difficulty of the regular season events on tour.
Despite those obstacles, the course remains very scorable, with all par 5s reachable for most and many shorter, potentially drivable par 4s there to be attacked providing you keep the ball in-play. Water is in-play on just three holes, with some moderate elevation changes not enough to hold off the birdies.
Two of those water holes do come on the par 5s, turning them into risk/reward holes, whilst the final water hole is the exciting closing hole; a 476-yard par 4 on which the left-hand side of the green is protected entirely by water.
- SG: Approach
- SG: Putting (Bentgrass)
- SG: Off-the-Tee
- SG: Around-the-Greens
- Birdie Average
Another week and another birdie-heavy golf tournament on the PGA Tour. The positive with this is that we know what it typically takes to win these events – strength in approach and/or on the greens usually of primary importance – though I do think TPC Deere Run throws a few curveballs to your average birdie-fest, particularly with those course changes in 2021.
In winning last year, J.T Poston did produce quality approach play, ranking 10th and ranked 4th in greens hit – important around here to avoid those scrambling challenges – whilst he was a solid 31st on the greens. However, he excelled most around-the-greens, ranking 1st and also driving it well, ranking 15th off-the-tee, led to Poston being the top player in the field tee-to-green.
Whilst short-game quality is no new necessity, as we saw with Dylan Frittelli in 2019, who ranked 2nd ATG when winning, Poston wasn’t alone in producing a strong driving display to contend, as six of the top 10 last year ranked inside the top 10 off-the-tee. Something I’m expecting to continue to be of importance with the fairways now more difficult to find.
Nevertheless I still think approach play/greens-in-regulation will be the most important factors. Aside from Poston ranking 4th in GIR last year, runners-up, Emiliano Grillo and Christiaan Bezuidenhout ranked 1st and 3rd respectively.
Strong iron play has been a recurring theme throughout the event’s history, as we saw with Lucas Glover in 2021, who ranked 3rd in approach when winning; Ryan Moore in 2016 ranked 2nd in approach and 3rd in GIR when he won; whilst Michael Kim ranked 3rd in GIR when winning in 2018.
Kim matched that green-finding ability with quality on the greens, as he led the field with putter; Dylan Frittelli was the second-best putter in the field when winning in 2019; Bryson DeChambeau ranked 4th on the greens in 2017, with runner-up Patrick Rodgers 2nd; Ryan Moore and Lucas Glover produced top 20 putting performances on their way to victory.
Correlating Events (Courses)
Travelers Championship (TPC River Highlands)
With rolling, tree-lined fairways that have typically been similarly easy to hit; bentgrass greens that are close in size to TPC Deere Run and possessing a comparable level of difficulty in scrambling, TPC River Highlands should act as a good comp for this week’s event.
Jordan Spieth and Kenny Perry have won at both courses, whilst other former John Deere Classic winners, J.T Poston, Ryan Moore and Brian Harman have each finished 2nd at the Travelers Championship.
Kevin Streelman, who has multiple top 10s here, is a past winner at River Highlands; Scott Stallings, Chad Campbell, Vaughn Taylor and Chris Stroud all possess strong form across both courses.
Wyndham Championship (Sedgefield Country Club)
Sedgefield Country Club is a traditional tree-lined course that ranks closely to TPC Deere Run in GIR percentages, ability to hit greens when missing the fairway and scrambling difficulty. Additionally, though typically tighter and harder to find fairways than here, we may also see the courses start to rank closely to each other in driving accuracy percentages with those changes made to TPC Deere Run in 2021.
J.T Poston and Ryan Moore have both recorded wins at the two courses, whilst Jordan Spieth has finished 2nd at the Wyndham. Kevin Na has finished 2nd at both; Roger Sloan has a 2nd there to go with a strong record here; Scott Brown, Russell Henley and Harold Varner are amongst a large group of players with form across the two events.
Shriners Open (TPC Summerlin)
Though the setting may be different, there are many similarities in the way TPC Deere Run and TPC Summerlin play. Both see their biggest challenges around the greens, whilst offering closely matched ball-striking tests; with fairways and the bentgrass greens easy to find.
Ryan Moore, Bryson DeChambeau and Jonathan Byrd have all won at both courses, whilst other former Shriners winners, Kevin Na and Troy Matteson have finished 2nd at the JDC.
Kevin Streelman and Chad Campbell each match strong records here with 2nd-place finishes in Vegas; Lucas Glover, J.T Poston and Adam Schenk offer more form-ties.
3M Open (TPC Twin Cities)
TPC Twin Cities has that similarly kind ball-striking test, combined with a high level of challenge around the bentgrass greens, as here at TPC Deere Run.
2017 JDC winner, Bryson DeChambeau has finished 2nd there, whilst Emiliano Grillo has finished 2nd at both events.
Keith Mitchell, Lucas Glover, Chesson Hadley and Adam Hadwin have top 10s across both; Cameron Champ, Doug Ghim and Mark Hubbard all possess decent form in each tournament.
Memorial Tournament (Muirfield Village)
Though the challenge at the Memorial Tournament is much tougher, it does have many parallels with TPC Deere Run; from the small bentgrass greens and generous fairways, to the high level of scrambling difficulty on show. With that, many form-ties have developed.
Vijay Singh, Kenny Perry, Steve Stricker and Bryson DeChambeau have each recorded wins at both events; Zach Johnson and Ryan Moore have each finished 2nd along with winning here; Kyle Stanley and Kevin Na have finished 2nd at both.
Form across the two events from Scott Stallings, Russell Henley, Joaquin Niemann, Kevin Streelman and Jonathan Byrd further strengthen the form-ties.
It’s set to be a warm, humid week in Illinois, with thunderstorms possible throughout the week, which should bring about some rainfall and a potentially soft course. Which with nothing more than a mild breeze, should see low scoring this week.
This is one of the PGA Tour’s weakest fields of the year so far, with Cameron Young at #19 the only player from the world’s top 20 in attendance; joined by just a further eight from inside the top 50 in what looks a wide open contest.
Last year’s winner, J.T Poston is back to defend, with a further four of the last six winners (Lucas Glover, Dylan Frittelli, Michael Kim and Ryan Moore) also in the field.
Former amateur star, Ludvig Aberg is back in action for his fourth PGA Tour start on the bounce, whilst current #1 amateur Gordon Sargent will be hoping for better than last week’s missed cut. The talents of William Mouw, a former #7 amateur and Tommy Kuhl, a former #31 amateur offer more interest as they look to make a name for themselves in this weakened field.
The market is headed by the in-form Denny McCarthy at 14/1 and followed by, in contrast, the out of form Cameron Young at 16/1; along with Russell Henley on the same number.
The lack of strength in this field is signalled by the fact four of the top six in the betting have zero PGA Tour wins between them, most of whom are unappealing at the prices. With proven winner, Henley the one who attracted the most attention from me.
However, we go all the way down to 40/1 for my first selection, as I’m taking Stephan Jaeger to grab that first PGA Tour win this week.
Jaeger has spent the best part of his pro career between the Korn Ferry Tour – where he’s a six-time winner – and the PGA Tour. Though he has yet to break through on the biggest stage, he’s playing well this year and in the type of birdie-fest in which he’s often thrived, he can take advantage of this weak field at TPC Deere Run.
The German was rock-solid in the wraparound season at the end of 2022, as he made six of seven cuts and recorded a top 10, when 9th in the Houston Open. He’s continued this consistent form into 2023, making 15/17 cuts and hitting the top 25 on a further five occasions; including a 9th-place finish last week in the Rocket Mortgage Classic – his best finish of the year.
Jaeger’s tee-to-green game is thriving this season, as he ranks 30th on the PGA Tour, with his quality around-the-greens – where he ranks 9th – his biggest asset and an important one around these putting surfaces this week.
He’s also very strong in approach, especially on current form; gaining strokes in six of his last eight starts, whilst in addition to that, he ranks 16th on tour in greens-in-regulation.
Jaeger missed the cut here on debut in 2018, though improved massively last year when 30th; a performance that I feel can be upgraded a little. He was the 3rd-best player in the field tee-to-green there, struggling on the greens and got much better as the week went on, shooting a combined 7-under over the weekend.
Solid top 20 efforts in the Wyndham Championship and Shriners Open increase my confidence, as does a top 25 on his first visit to Muirfield Village earlier this year and if Jaeger can keep the putter rolling like he did last week, he should go even better than last year’s 30th-place effort.
Austria’s Sepp Straka looks well priced this week amongst a group of players who haven’t come close to matching some of his better performances over the last couple of years. With Ryder Cup places still very much up for grabs, he can solidify his claims with a second PGA Tour win this week.
Straka had a breakthrough year in 2022, winning his first PGA Tour title in the Honda Classic and recording other contending performances in strong fields when 2nd in the St Jude Championship and 3rd in the RBC Heritage.
He continued that form into the new season when 2nd in the Sanderson Farms Championship at the end of 2022 and has again amassed some quality finishes in 2023.
Though a hugely commendable 5th when defending his Honda Classic title, Straka’s undoubted best result of the year came six starts ago when he recorded his first ever major top 10; finishing 7th in the PGA Championship thanks to an excellent ball-striking display in which he led the field in GIR and ranked 2nd in approach.
His form has remained solid since, with a 16th at the Memorial Tournament four starts ago another worthy effort and he’s continually drove the ball well. Though by far his biggest asset is his approach play, where he ranks 18th on tour this season and as proven by that effort in the PGA, he is capable of lights out performances in this area of his game.
Straka has played here twice, finishing 26th on debut in 2019 before missing the cut on his return in 2021. A good record at Muirfield Village, where he’s only missed the cut once and recorded two top 20s is a good sign he’s capable of better here. As are strong performances in the Travelers Championship, 3M Open and Wyndham Championship; with top 20 finishes in each.
He’s a little streaky with his irons, though when they catch fire he’s as likely to lead the field with them as anyone in this field. Something I’m hoping he can do this week.
Mark Hubbard had been in strong form before his two latest missed cuts. Two performances I’m willing to forgive this week at a place where he has a good record.
Hubbard started the 2022/23 season excellently at the back end of last year, finishing 21st in the Fortinet Championship, 5th in the Sanderson Farms Championship and 28th in the Shriners Open on his first three starts of the new season.
His form after that and leading into 2023 was a little underwhelming, though an 11th-place finish in the RBC Heritage in April set about an upturn in form.
Two starts after that, Hubbard finished 18th in the Mexico Open and then recorded two top 10s over his next five starts; when 9th in the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial and 6th in the Canadian Open. Though he’s missed his two cuts since that 6th in Canada, he played well in approach and putting at the Travelers, whilst was good on the greens again last week in the Rocket Mortgage Classic, and I’m more than willing to forgive a rare poor iron display there.
My inclination to forgive that latest approach performance is because Hubbard has been in excellent form with the clubs this season and in particular, over recent months. He ranks 12th over that period and 16th for the season as a whole, whilst his solid short game is another plus around this setup.
Hubbard has played here five times, finishing 24th on debut and produced his best result to date last year, when 13th and was well in the mix going into the weekend.
Top 16 efforts in the Wyndham Championship, Travelers Championship and 3M Open are added plusses in relation to his ability to perform well around here and if able to return to the approach performances that preceded last week’s performance in Detroit, he’d have a live chance at PGA Tour win #1 this week.
I was pleasantly surprised by Chez Reavie’s price on current form. He responded well to his final-round disappointment at the Travelers Championship with a 29th-place finish last week and with his strong record here, as well as an appealing book of correlating form, this three-time PGA Tour winner looked good value in this much weaker field this week.
Reavie struggled at the start of the year, following 35th and 41st-place efforts in Hawaii on his first two starts of 2023 with six missed cuts in a row but found some form when 6th in the Texas Open at the beginning of April and has maintained a good level of form since.
He finished 11th in the start immediately following that in the RBC Heritage and has only missed one of his prior eight cuts to this week, including that 4th in the Travelers Championship.
Reavie has been excellent on the greens and in approach over that period, ranking 9th and 29th respectively; stats we can upgrade when we remove all of those top-ranked players who aren’t in attendance this week.
Even more impressive was that following his frustration in the final round at TPC River Highlands, in his 29th at the Rocket Mortgage last week he led the field in approach and in gaining 2.1 strokes per round, produced his best approach display since 2015.
Since making his debut at TPC Deere Run in 2008, Reavie has produced many top finishes. The best of which is a 5th in 2011. His strong record at the Travelers – where he’s a past champion – is another plus, as are his multiple top 10s in the Wyndham Championship.
Though Reavie was a far bigger price to win two weeks ago in the Travelers, this field is much weaker and most importantly his performance last week didn’t suggest he’d suffered any hangover from the struggles he faced there. Add in his proven winning ability and that excellent approach display last week, and he looks to have an excellent chance here in Illinois.
Nate Lashley’s game has looked in good shape for much of this year and if able to put it all together this week, he’d look a big price in this field.
Lashley started his year strongly with a 7th-place finish in the Sony Open, backing that up with a second top 10 five starts later, when 3rd in the Puerto Rico Open.
Though he hasn’t quite managed to crack the top 10 since, his results have remained consistent and he’s recorded two further top 25s over his last five starts; finishing 17th in the Canadian Open and 23rd in the AT&T Byron Nelson.
The strongest area of his game has undoubtedly been the irons, where he ranks 55th for the season and has been even better over recent weeks, ranking 21st in approach for the last twenty rounds played. The short game has been solid, with Lashley gaining strokes in both putting and ATG overall this season, contributing to him being one of the fifty best birdie-makers on the PGA Tour this season.
Lashley finished 26th on debut here in 2019, though missed the cut last year on his second try. However I am encouraged by the fact he putted well on both of those visits, no surprise considering he’s a player who regularly putts well on bentgrass.
His solo PGA Tour win to date in the 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic – an event he won by an emphatic six strokes – could well prove another worthwhile correlation, as another tree-lined course that is generally kind on ball-striking. If able to put together the quality he’s shown in approach and in the short game at varying points over recent months, Lashley can add a second PGA Tour win this week.
Though not yet a PGA Tour winner, China’s Zecheng Dou is a prolific winner elsewhere and with his game showing ever-increasingly positive signs, he looks a lively outsider on this favourable setup this week.
Since turning pro in 2014 following a promising amateur career, Dou has amassed seven wins worldwide. He first started out on the PGA Tour of China, winning four times in 2016, which earned him an upgrade to the Korn Ferry Tour.
There he wasted little time continuing his winning habit, winning the Digital Ally Open (now the AdventHealth Championship) in 2017 – an event last year’s John Deere Classic winner, J.T Poston, has finished 2nd in – gaining an instant promotion to the PGA Tour in 2018.
That first stint on the main tour didn’t go well and Dou spent the next three years back on the Korn Ferry Tour, though he did continue to collect titles, with wins in the Bahamas Exuma Classic in 2019 and the Ascendant last year – which went some way towards earning him a return to the PGA Tour this year – taking him to three KFT victories.
Dou started his second stab at the PGA Tour much more positively, recording two top 25s in his first four starts in the wraparound season. However he’d largely struggled this year, before bursting into life with a 5th-place finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson five starts ago.
Though he’s been unable to match that effort over subsequent starts, Dou has continued to show promising signs, with his 17th-place finish in last week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic coming with a second successive positive approach display, whilst the putter has also started to fire on the bentgrass surfaces he’ll find this week; both of these areas complimenting the driver, which has been the best club in his bag so far this year.
Dou missed the cut on his one-and-only try here five years ago, though as a player who regularly ranked amongst the most prolific birdie-makers on the Korn Ferry Tour, I’m certain he has the game for this test. If he can find further improvements in approach, he can apply the strong winning habit he’s developed elsewhere to claim his first PGA Tour win this week.