The PGA Tour moves from Michigan to Illinois as it takes in its traditional pre-Open Championship stop-off at Deere Run so read Steve's comprehensive John Deere Classic preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
"This event is basically a birdie-fest where the most important weapon is a hot putter and the average Putting Average ranking of the last ten winners is only 9.28/1."
Originally known as the Quad Cities Open, the John Deere Classic was first staged as a satellite tournament on the PGA Tour way back in 1971. It became an official event 12 months later and this year's renewal is the 50th.
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 last year, when both this event and the Open Championship were cancelled because of the pandemic, and in due 2016, when the event got switched to August to accommodate the Olympics, the John Deere Classic has 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.
Francesco Molinari went on to win the Open the following week after finishing tied for second here in 2018 and Zach Johnson won at St Andrews in 2015, a week after finishing third at Deere Run.
TPC Deere Run, Silvis, Illinois
Par 71 - 7,268 yards
Stroke Index in 2019 - 69.38
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 six 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 - five years ago. Paul Goydos shot 59 here in 2010 and the surprise 2018 winner, Michael Kim, amassed an incredible 27-under-par total with rounds of 63, 64, 64 and 66.
Water is in play on five holes and the average-sized bentgrass greens usually run at around 12 on the stimpmeter. The two nines end with two of the hardest holes on the course but they're far from impossible. The par four ninth was the hardest two years ago but it still only averaged 4.19 and the par four 18th, which ranked as the third most difficult in 2019, averaged 4.13.
It really is an easy course for pro golfers and only five holes averaged more than their par in 2019.
Live on Sky Sports all four days. Featured Group coverage begins at 12:45 UK time on Thursday and the full coverage begins at 20:00.
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2020 - Event Cancelled
2019 - Dylan Frittelli -21 90.089/1
2018 - Michael Kim -27 800.0799/1
2017 - Bryson DeChambeau -18 55.054/1
2016 - Ryan Moore -22 32.031/1
What Will it Take to Win the John Deere Classic?
The last ten winners here have had an average Driving Distance ranking of 25.1 and an average Driving Accuracy ranking of 30.6 so what you do off the tee is largely unimportant - although I'd slightly 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 five years ago) is the next worst DD ranking for a winner in the last decade but it's hardly a vital stat. We have to go all the way back to Sean O'Hair, who ranked third in 2005, for the last winner to rank in the top-12 for DD.
The 2019 winner, Dylan Frittelli, only ranked 32nd for Driving Distance but that was by some margin his worst statistical ranking for the week and he ranked second for Strokes Gained Putting. He made all 53 putts inside seven feet and he missed just two of 62 inside ten feet.
The last two winners have ranked second and seventh for Greens In Regulation and no winner in the last decade has ranked any worse than 34th for GIR (Spieth) but the GIR average ranking for the ten is still only 17.2 and this event is basically a birdie-fest where the most important weapon is a hot putter.
Frittelli only ranked 22nd for Putting Average but Russell Henley in second place ranked first, the 2018 winner, Kim, ranked first for PA and for Strokes Gained Putting, the first two home in 2017 ranked second and first for SGP. The average Putting Average ranking of the last ten winners is only 9.2.
Is there an Angle In?
Form at Colonial Country Club, home of the Charles Schwab Challenge, 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 the 2017 Charles Schwab Challenge, alongside Deere Run specialist, Jordan Spieth, and the 2014 JDC winner, Brian Harman, finished tied for seventh alongside Stricker.
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?
Dylan Frittelli was matched at a high of 150.0149/1 when the market first opened two years ago so the last two winners have been unfancied. Frittelli was quietly fancied and gambled in to around 90.089/1 but the 2018 winner, Michael Kim must go down as one of the strangest ever winners on the PGA Tour.
Matched at 800.0799/1 before the off, Kim came into the event with form figures reading MC-MC-18-MC-MC-MC and since his victory here he's played 65 times with his best finish being tied for 32nd!
Brian Harman was also a triple-figure price in 2016 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 four years ago and Spieth was 40/1 when he won his first PGA Tour title here in 2013.
Prior to Frittelli's victory two years ago, an American had won the previous 12 renewals and ther South African was only the eight overseas winners in the event's 49-year history.
This is a great place for up and coming players and five of the last seven winners have been getting off the mark on the PGA Tour for the first time here. In addition to the top-class Scott Hoch, who really should have won the 1989 US Masters, major champions, David Toms, Payne Stewart, Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau all won their first PGA Tour titles at the John Deere Classic.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2020 - Event Cancelled
2019 - Dylan Frittelli T5th - trailing by two 16.015/1
2018 - Michael Kim Led by five 1.422/5
2017 - Bryson DeChambeau 2nd - trailing by two 9.417/2
2016 - Ryan Moore Led by two 2.166/5
Frittelli was never outside the top-11 places or more than five adrift at any stage and Kim absolutely pulverised the field in 2018. He sat second and just a stroke off the lead after round one, was three clear after round two and five in front after round three. He went on to win by eight and 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, the 2017 finish was quite something...
Zach Johnson was the first to trade low when he hit 2.526/4 with a three-foot 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 2.6213/8 and Patrick Rodgers was matched at just 1.21/5, 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.
With most of the star names either taking a week off before the Open Championship next week, or warming up for the year's final major at the Scottish Open, which I've previewed here, the line-up is decidedly week this year, with the AT&T Pebble Beach winner, Daniel Berger, one of only 15 in the field playing in next week's Open, heading the market.
As highlighted above, Berger had a great chance to win here in 2017(finished fifth) and although he only tied for 33rd in his only other start here two years ago, he opened up with back-to-back 66s to sit fourth at halfway.
He won the aforementioned Charles Schwab Challenge last year so it's no surprise to see that this place suits him and having finished seventh in the US Open last time out, he's a worthy favourite.
Brian Harman looks a poor price given he's a bit flaky in-the-mix and that he's won just once (the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship) since getting off the mark here seven years ago and the only one of the market leaders I was remotely interested in was Russell Henley.
The 2019 runner-up has been in sensational form of late, contending at the US Open and the Travelers Championship in each of his last two starts but after a week off, I'm going to see how he starts the event before getting involved.
Although his course form isn't the strongest, I was more than happy to chance Troy Merritt at 60.059/1, which is the same price I backed him at last week after round one in the Rocker Mortgage Classic.
He was eventually beaten at the fifth extra hole in Detroit, having been matched at odds-on in-running, and he's been in great form for a while now. That was his fourth top-eight finish in eight starts and two of those high finishes came in the two events that correlate the best with this one. He was eighth at the Valspar Championship and seventh in the Charles Schwab Challenge.
He's ranked inside the top-10 for Putting Average in four of his last eight events and he ranked first for Strokes Gained Putting at The Memorial Tournament last month and second last week. I thought 60.059/1 was more than fair and that's the same price I've taken about Patton Kizzire.
I've backed Kizzire plenty of times this season already but I'm sticking with him once more after his spectacle finish on Sunday when he shot an eight-under-par 64 to climb up into the top-25 at the Rocker Mortgage Classic, where he found his form with the putter.
He's a bit in-and-out but his third placed finish in the Charles Schwab Challenge, one week after he'd finished third in the Byron Nelson Championship, is a nice pointer.
In two previous visits he's only finished 25th and 30th but on both occasions, he arrived at Deere Run in truly woeful form. In 2017, he 'd missed 12 of his last 20 cuts and his best result had been 32nd in the RBC heritage and his form figures before the 2018 edition read MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-64-MC-MC-MC.
I'll be back tomorrow with the Find Me a 100 Winner column.
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