John Deere Classic: The favourites look strong, says The Punter

Steve Stricker on the 18th hole at Deere Run

Steve fancies the first and second favourites will take all the beating in Illinois this week but he's still picked out a 1000.0 shot. Read his preview here...

"How far and in which direction you hit the ball off the tee is largely irrelevant here. It's all about accurate wedge-play and, in-particular, good putting. In short, it's a birdie-fest."

Tournament History
Having started life on the PGA Tour in Davenport, Iowa, as the Quad Cities Open back in 1972, the John Deere Classic moved to Oakwood Country Club in Illinois a few years later and then on to its now permanent home at TPC Deere Run in 2000. This will be the 42nd staging of the event.

The John Deere Classic always precedes the Open Championship and as always, a special charter flight will be ready and waiting to fly anyone playing at Muirfield straight there on Sunday night.

Venue

TPC Deere Run, Silvis, Illinois

Course Details
Par 71 - 7,183 yards
Stroke Index in 2011 - 69.55

Designed by D.A Weibring and sitting atop old Native American settlements, TPC Deere Run is a very easy track, where low scores are the norm. Paul Goydos shot 59 here in 2010.

Water is in-play on five holes and the average-sized bentgrass greens will run somewhere between 11 and 12.4 on the stimpmeter. The two hardest holes are the par 4 9th and the par 4 18th but you'd hardly describe them as brutal - they averaged 4.21 and 4.17 respectfully last year. As a measure of how easy the track plays, only four other holes averaged over-par for the week 12 months ago.

Useful Sites
Event Site

Course Site
Twitter Link
Course Details
Tee Times
Weather Forecast

TV Coverage
Live on Sky all four days, starting at 8.00pm on Thursday

Last Five Winners

2012 - Zach Johnson -20 (Playoff)
2011 - Steve Stricker -22
2010 - Steve Stricker -26
2009 - Steve Stricker -20
2008 - Kenny Perry -16 (Playoff)

What will it take to win the John Deere Classic?
How far and in which direction you hit the ball off the tee is largely irrelevant here. It's all about accurate wedge-play and, in-particular, good putting. In short, it's a birdie-fest. The last six winners have all ranked inside the top-ten for putting and the last three winners have ranked inside the top-three.

TPC Deere Run has three well spaced out par 5s - the 2nd, 10th and 17th and they're usually the key to success - every winner in the last ten years has played them in at least eight-under-par.

Is there an identikit winner?
Although low-scoring is the norm, it's not the young fearless hotshots that prosper around TPC Deere Run; it's the experienced patient types. Jonathan Byrd and Sean O'Hair are the only recent winners below 35 but both are mature beyond their years. We've already seen ten first-time winners on the PGA Tour this season but I'd be very surprised if we saw an 11th here.

In-Play Tactics

As is so often the case when scoring is low, a fast start is essential. Zach Johnson was tied for 11th and four off the lead at halfway 12 months ago but in the four years before that the winner sat first or second through 36 holes.

Although you need to be up with the pace, being in front with a round to go appears something of a handicap. Since the event moved to Deere Run in 2000 only five men, David Gossett, JP Hayes, John Senden, Kenny Perry and Steve Stricker, have converted a lead or co-lead after three rounds so be wary about taking a short price about the leader on Sunday morning.

With the 17th hole offering up genuine birdie/eagle opportunities and with water in-play on the tricky 18th much can change late on and three players traded at odds-on 12 months ago. Steve Stricker hit a low of 1.9310/11, Troy Matteson, who was beaten by Zach Johnson in a playoff, was matched at 1.654/6 and Johnson touched 1.031/33 in regulation play when he found the final green with a two shot lead, before Matteson eagled the 17th.

Market Leaders
The now lightly-raced veteran, Steve Stricker, heads the market and that won't be a surprise to anyone. His record at Deere Run is simply stunning and but for a late stumble 12 months ago, he'd be lining-up on Thursday about to embark on a historic five-timer. Trying to make it four in-a-row last year heaped the pressure on and now that pressure's gone, if he turns up in the sort of form he showed last time out at the US Open, he'll be tough to beat on his favourite course.

Defending champ, Zach Johnson, has broken par in each of his last 16 rounds at Deere Run and he's highly likely to contend again this time around. His form has been a bit in-and-out this season and his best performance came at the Crowne Plaza Invitational back in May when he just failed (finished third) to defend his title.

Johnson has a habit of playing well in the same events and his bold showing when defending at the Crowne Plaza was far from a one off. He earned the nickname Back-to-Back Zach as long ago as 2002 when he defended his Iowa Open title on the Hooters Tour and he successfully defended the Valero Texas Open in 2009. Many players struggle to defend titles but Zach appears to positively thrive on it and he loves Deere Run too. His form had dropped off quite badly after he'd won the Crowne Plaza last year but he bounced back in style here and he could easily do so again this time around.

Major champions, Louis Oosthuizen and Keegan Bradley vie for third-favouritism but both look readily opposable. Louis has played here just once before - missing the cut in 2011 and Keegan is making his Deere Run debut, so neither player has any course form to call upon and neither is playing particularly well at present.

Selections
In stark contrast to last week's PGA Tour event, where I took the favourites on from the get-go, I'm backing them here.

Stricker and Zach were an industry best 10.09/1 and 23.022/1 in the Fixed Odds Market last night and I was more than happy to take both prices. The Stricker price has been cut but the 23.022/1 about Johnson is still available and it looks a very fair one to me.

To accompany the two market leaders, I've also backed an outrageous outsider - David Duval at 1000.0. His form figures this season and at this event are atrocious but he tweeted a month ago that his game was showing encouraging signs and that he was excited about playing in this event. It's a shot in the dark I know but DD was the best in the world at one time and he has shown signs of life a couple of times before. He finished runner-up at both the 2009 US Open and the 2010 AT & T Pebble Beach when seemingly woefully out of form so it can be done.

Selections:
Steve Stricker @ 10.09/1 (Fixed Odds Market)
Zach Johnson @ 23.022/1 (Fixed Odds Market)

David Duval @ 1000.0

I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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