The PGA Tour takes in its traditional pre-Open Championship stop at Deere Run this week and our man has the lowdown. Read Steve's comprehensive John Deere Classic preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
"Austin Cook was really impressive when he romped to a four-stroke victory at the low-scoring RSM Classic in November and he looks to have found some form again of late, finishing sixth at the St Jude Classic and fifth at the Greenbrier, either side of a missed cut at the Travelers Championship. This is his debut appearance at Deere Run but he had a Putting Average ranking of sixth last week and he looks a little over-priced to me at [55.0]."
Originally known as the Quad Cities Open, the John Deere Classic was first staged as a satellite tournament on the PGA Tour in 1971. It became an official event 12 months later.
Initially played at the Crow Valley Country Club in Davenport, Iowa, the tournament moved to Oakwood Country Club in Illinois in 1975 and since 2000 its permanent home has been here at Deere Run.
Apart from 2016, when the event got switched to August to accommodate the Olympics, the tournament had been staged in the week before the Open Championship every year this century and in attempt to keep the field here strong, since 2008, a special charter plane has been taking Open entrants straight to Britain immediately after the event on Sunday night.
See Rob Bolton's tweet below for a list of players flying to Scotland for next week's Open Championship.
Bronson Burgoon— Rob Bolton (@RobBoltonGolf) July 9, 2018
Si Woo Kim
+1 (highest finisher, not currently exempt, inside the top 5) https://t.co/EIyGbaa7M0
TPC Deere Run, Silvis, Illinois
Par 71 - 7,268 yards
Stroke Index in 2017 - 69.75
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 the third round four 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 - three years ago. And 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 the two hardest holes on the course but they're far from impossible. The par four ninth averaged 4.19 and the par four 18th averaged 4.2. It really is an easy course for pro golfers and for the second year in-a-row, only five of the 18 holes averaged over-par for the week 12 months ago.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 21:00 on Thursday. Live Featured Group coverage begins on Sky at 18:30 on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2017 - Bryson DeChambeau -18
2016 - Ryan Moore -22
2015 - Jordan Spieth - 20 (playoff)
2014 - Brian Harman -22
2013 - Jordan Spieth - 19 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the John Deere Classic?
The last ten winners here have had an average Driving Distance ranking of 24.4 and an average Driving Accuracy ranking of 31.9 so what you do off the tee is largely unimportant - although I'd favour length over accuracy.
With incredible course form figures, Zach Johnson's slight lack of length has arguably held him back here and it's probably the reason he's only ever won the title once. He only ranked 47th for DD when he won here in 2012 and 34th (Ryan Moore two years ago) is the next worst DD ranking for a winner in the last decade but it's hardly a vital stat. No winner in the last ten years has ranked any better than 12th for DD.
Brian Harman, who ranked eighth, and Ryan Moore, who ranked 10th, are the only winners in the last ten years to rank inside the top-ten for Driving Accuracy and Steve Striker and Jordan Spieth have both taken the title having ranked in the 60s for DA.
Harman and Moore continued the accuracy theme and both ranked first for Greens In Regulation and no winner in the last ten years has ranked worse than 34th for GIR (Spieth) but the GIR average ranking for the ten is only 18.5 and this event is basically a birdie-fest where the most important weapon is a hot putter. The first two home last year ranked second and first for Strokes Gained Putting and the average Putting Average ranking of the last ten winners is 9.9.
Bryson DeChambeau played the short holes in six-under-par 12 months ago and Zach Johnson, who finished tied for fifth, was the only man in the field to match the winner on the par threes but the par fives are often the key to victory here.
Zach only played the long holes in three-under-par last year and he was only beaten by three. DeChambeau played the par fives in eight-under-par and he was the 13th winner in 14 years to play them in at least eight-under. Spieth managed to win in 2013 having only played them in six-under-par but performing well on the long holes is vital.
Is There an Angle In?
Form at Colonial Country Club, home of the Fort Worth 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.
Sean O'Hair, who won this tournament in 2005, finished tied for second in last year's Fort Worth Invitational alongside Deere Run specialist, Jordan Spieth, and the 2014 JDC winner, Brian Harman, finished tied for seventh alongside Stricker at last year's Fort Worth invitational.
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 four 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. DeChambeau was a 50/1 chance 12 months ago and 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 11 renewals and there have only been seven overseas winners in the event's 46 year history.
Three of the last five winners have been getting off the mark on the PGA Tour for the first time and Dechambeau is in illustrious company. In addition to the top-class Scott Hoch, who really should have won the 1989 US Masters, major champions, David Toms, Jordan Spieth and Payne Stewart all won their first PGA Tour titles at the John Deere Classic.
We have to go all the way back to 1981 to find the last player to win this title from outside the top-ten places with a round to go but that doesn't mean we haven't witnessed plenty of drama.
Jordan Spieth was six back with 18 to play in 2013 but he birdied five of the last six to claim his first title and he confounded the stats two years later when he sat tied for 101st and eight adrift after round one but led by two after round three following a 64 in round two and a 61 in round three, proving a slow start can be overcome.
Spieth's dramatic finish wasn't the first exciting finale and it certainly won't be the last. In fact, last year's finish was quite something...
Zach Johnson was the first to trade low when he hit [2.52] with a three-feet putt to take the lead on the par four 14th but he missed that, bogeyed the 15th and was eventually beaten by three. Daniel Berger then hit a low of [2.62] and Patrick Rodgers was matched at just [1.2], before he lost his way on the par five 17th. DeChambeau's finish wasn't too dissimilar to Spieth's in 2013 as he birdied seven of the last ten holes.
Having spent years watching Francesco Molinari fluff his lines repeatedly, I've not witnessed the 35-year-old Italian win twice in four starts and he did nothing wrong in his homeland when finishing second in the Italian Open three starts ago either but this is his first visit to Deere Run and I can't believe his value at around 10/1.
Defending champ, Bryson DeChambeau, is having a fabulous season. His last nine starts have yielded a win, three other top-four finishes and a ninth last time out at the Travelers Championship. Spieth managed to double up here, although he finished seventh in-between, so he wouldn't be the first to double up and Steve Stricker won the event three years in-a-row between 2009 and 2011.
It took him a little while to get to grips with the place, but Zach Johnson is a standing dish around Deere Run now and his form figures over the last nine years read 2-21-3-1-2-2-3-34-5 and it's hard to imagine him not contending again. He looks like a no-brainer each-way bet but he has a bad habit of falling just short so I'm swerving him before the off too.
The 2016 winner, Ryan Moore, isn't putting well enough to chance and the player towards the head of the market to tempt me the most was Joaquin Niemann. The 19-year-old Chilean repeatedly catches the eye and I wrote about him again in yesterday's De-brief. He finished eighth in the aforementioned Fort Worth Invitational debut and it's only a matter of time before he gets off the mark. This could be perfect for him given top-class players Spieth and DeChambeau broke their ducks here but I just can't convince myself he's a value price at less than 20/1.
Nobody really grabbed me here, but I've played three for modest stakes.
Austin Cook was really impressive when he romped to a four-stroke victory at the low-scoring RSM Classic in November and he looks to have found some form again of late, finishing sixth at the St Jude Classic and fifth at the Greenbrier, either side of a missed cut at the Travelers Championship. This is his debut appearance at Deere Run but he had a Putting Average ranking of sixth last week and he looks a little over-priced to me at [55.0].
A birdie-fest is right up Scott Stallings street and he's finished 16th and fifth here in each of the last two years. His 13th at the Greenbrier last week was an eye-catching effort and he knows how to win given he's seeking his fourth PGA Tour title.
Last and probably least is Whee Kim who also caught the eye at the Greenbrier when he opened up with a 62! He fell away to finish tied for 74th eventually but he was third here two years ago and I thought [140.0] was plenty big enough.
I'll be back with the In-Play Blog on Friday.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter