Going up against the Olympics hasn't helped the John Deere Classic and the field isn't as strong as it usually is but that just makes Zach Johnson a stronger fancy at his beloved Deere Run. Read our man's in-depth preview here...
“Zach Johnson’s recent form figures at Deere Run are ridiculously good. He missed his first two cuts here, in 2002 and 2003, and in his next five starts he couldn’t better 20th but since 2009 he’s been outside of the front three just once in seven consecutive starts.”
The John Deere Classic was originally a satellite event named the Quad Cities Open. First staged in 1971, it was initially played at the Crow Valley Country Club in Davenport, Iowa, before it moved to Oakwood Country Club in Illinois in 1975. Since 2000 its permanent home has been here at Deere Run.
The tournament has been staged in the week before the Open Championship since the last century and between 2008 and 2015, a special charter plane was lined up to take Open entrants straight to Blighty. It became something of a tradition and the field strength here increased but the PGA Tour gave that slot to the ill-fated, abandoned Greenbrier Classic this year and this event has suffered as a result.
Its position in the schedule - up against the Olympics (previewed here) and soon after a run of two majors and a WGC event has had a detrimental effect and this year's line-up is the weakest in a decade with only two players from the world's top-50 in the field.
TPC Deere Run, Silvis, Illinois
Par 71 - 7,268 yards
Stroke Index in 2015 - 69.65
Designed by D.A Weibring and sitting on old Native American settlements, TPC Deere Run is a very easy track indeed, where low scores are very much the norm. Chad Campbell fired a 62 in round three two years ago but that wasn't even the best of the day as Scott Brown shot 61 and that was the same score that Jordan Spieth shot in round three last year. And he's no Jim Furyk but Paul Goydos shot 59 here in 2010.
Water is in play on five holes and the average-sized bentgrass greens usually run at around 11 on the stimpmeter. The two nines end with two of the three hardest holes on the course but they're far from impossible. The par four ninth ranked the hardest on the course last year but at 4.24, it only just averaged over-par. The par four 18th ranked the third hardest but only averaged 4.13 and only five of the 18 averaged over-par for the week with the par five second hole averaging only 4.49 strokes.
Live on Sky all four days, starting at 22:00 on Thursday and red button coverage of featured groups from 13:30 on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2015 - Jordan Spieth - 20 (playoff)
2014 - Brian Harman -22
2013 - Jordan Spieth - 19 (playoff)
2012 - Zach Johnson -20 (Playoff)
2011 - Steve Stricker -22
What Will it Take to Win The John Deere Classic?
Driving distance is irrelevant here and driving accuracy hasn't been an essential prerequisite either. Six of the last seven winners have reached at least 20-under-par and this is essentially a birdie-fest.
Jordan Spieth, who is disappointingly commentating on the Olympics rather than defending, has won two of the last three renewals because he's scrambled and putted brilliantly but the secret to success here is usually relentlessly finding the putting surfaces. Greens In Regulation is the most important stat but how you play the par fives is key too. Spieth managed to win here in 2013 when playing the long holes in just six-under-par but 11 of the last 12 winners have played them in at least eight-under-par for the week.
Is There an Angle In?
Form at Colonial Country Club, home of the Dean & Deluca Invitational, is worth close scrutiny. Since this event moved to Deere Run, Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson, Kenny Perry and Jordan Spieth have won both tournaments and Tim Clark has come close to winning both, finishing runner-up in each event.
Check out Valspar Championship form too as four men have won that tournament as well as this one - the aforementioned Spieth, John Senden, Sean O'Hair and Vijay Singh.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Brian Harman was a triple-figure price two years ago but you have to go all the way back to 2001 to find the previous winner to go off at more than a double digit price. Dave Gossett was around the 125/1 mark. Spieth was 40/1 when he won his first PGA Tour title here in 2013 but in the main, those at the very front of the market have prospered of late.
An American has won the last nine renewals and there have only been seven overseas winners in the event's 44 year history.
Don't worry if your fancy has a poor first round as a slow start can be overcome at Deere Run. Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson have both won recently having trailed by seven strokes after round one and Spieth trailed by six after the opening day in 2013 and by eight last year!
Spieth was still five back at halfway last year and he trailed by six shots after round three in 2013. And a year earlier Zach won having trailed by four strokes through 54 holes. Sean O'Hair won in 2005 from five back and in 2004 John E Morgan lost a playoff to Mark Hensby having trailed by five with a round to go. Hensby himself had trailed by four, so there are examples of players making up strokes to win but making up lots of places is really hard.
Dave Barr was five off the lead and tied for 16th with a round to go in 1981 but every other winner has been inside the top-ten after 54 holes. In the 44 renewals to date, 20 third round leaders or co leaders have gone on to win and 34 winners have been inside the top-tree and ties.
Zach Johnson's recent form figures at Deere Run are ridiculously good. He missed his first two cuts here, in 2002 and 2003, and in his next five starts he couldn't better 20th but since 2009 he's been outside of the front three just once in seven consecutive starts.
The 2012 John Deere winner hasn't won since becoming the Open champion last year but he comes into the tournament in reasonable form and if he putts well he's certain to go close and possibly even win the title for a second time.
Part-timer, Steve Stricker, is a three-time winner of this event and he's been playing brilliantly of late. Baltusrol was always going to be a bit on the long side for someone that's just seven months away from Champions Tour eligibility but his runner-up finish at the St. Jude Classic and his fourth at the Open were impressive performances and he's another that I'd expect to contend. Striker hasn't won in over four years now though. He was never really in with a chance of victory at the two aforementioned tournaments and I do wonder how well his aging nerves would stand up to the heat of battle now.
John Rahm was slightly disappointing last week given he was very positive about the venue beforehand and he looks plenty short enough here on the back of a poor week with the putter. This is not a venue where the emerging young Spaniard can make the most of his power off the tee and he looks like one to take on.
This is an extraordinarily weak renewal and as hard as I've tried, I can't get away from Zach. I've got a tiny bet matched in the top-five market at 2.942/1 and that's a great price given his course form and I've also had a small bet in the win market at 8.415/2.
Zach Johnson @ 8.415/2
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.
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