The final exemption to The Open Championship is on the line this week as current and future Hall of Famers, up-and-coming stars, past champions, and fan favorites all land in the Quad-Cities for the John Deere Classic. The Classic returns to the familiar 7,268-yard, par-71 layout of TPC Deere Run – which means you’re going to see low numbers posted in droves all week. TPC Deere Run marks the fifth time in the previous six weeks a PGA Tour event has been played on a TPC Network course. Here are five things you need to know about the 48th playing of the John Deere Classic.
Inside the Field
Many of the game’s biggest names are already across the pond in preparation for The Open. However, six of the top-25 players in the FedExCup Playoff Standings – including seven winners on Tour this season are in the 156-player John Deere field. Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau is making his first title defense. Quicken Loans National champion Francesco Molinari is back in action after his runaway victory at TPC Potomac. Three-time Classic champion Steve Stricker headlines a group of wily veterans in the field including major champions Zach Johnson and Davis Love III. Young guns Wesley Bryan and Si Woo Kim look to make their presence known, while 19-year-old Chilean Phenom Joaquin Niemann continues on his track to earning full Tour status.
Inside the Course
TPC Deere Run features three par-5s that are reachable by most players in the field, 11 par-4s, and four par-3s. This D.A. Weibring parkland design rewards players who can keep the ball in play and find greens-in-regulation. A few difficult holes can trip up players who get lazy with their execution. The rough can get up to three inches tall in some places, however generous fairways give players a green light off the tee. Greens are average sized but extremely receptive, so you’ll see plenty of birdie putts all week.
Feasting on TPC Deere Run
TPC Deere Run opened for business in 2010, and hoisting the trophy here has required low scoring from the word go. Six of the previous eight champions have reached 20-under par or better, with only DeChambeau at 18-under par last year, and Jordan Spieth at 19-under par in 2013 failing to reach 20-under. Steve Stricker racked up thirty-one birdies during his record setting run of 26-under par in 2010 and Paul Goydos posted a 59 that same year. Rounds of 62 or 63 are to be expected, as TPC Deere Run is one of the easiest courses on Tour.
The Controversy and Confirmation of Bryson DeChambeau
Last week controversy found Bryson DeChambeau when the USGA deemed his use of a compass to check pin locations was a rules violation. Most fans are media want to talk about his equipment and approach to the game, but lost in that shuffle is just how improved Bryson has become since last year. In 2017 DeChambeau was ranked 105th on Tour in Greens in Regulation. This season he’s ranked 17th. Last year DeChambeau ranked 77th in Strokes Gained: Total. This season he’s ranked 10th – with a full shot-and-a-half improvement. DeChambeau’s unusual techniques and methods will always be a talking point. More substantially however, the narrative should also include how Bryson’s also become one of the best players in the world.
Key Stats to Win
This D.A. Weibring design forces players to go low to win so you’re going to want to first look at Par Breakers leaders in the field. Rounds at or above par will keep players out of contention. Most approaches come from 175 yards and in, so you’re also going to want to look at Strokes Gained: Approach, and Proximity from 125 to 175 yards. As previously mentioned, Greens in Regulation will also be key so focus this week on players who can pick apart a course with their short irons and wedges.
It might be tempting to stick with proven names on an easy track this week, but I’m looking at Kevin Streelman to pick up the victory. Even coming off a missed cut last week that featured a disastrous first round at The Greenbrier, Streelman checks all the boxes to theoretically contend at TPC Deere Run. Kevin’s ranked 21st in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, 19th in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green, and 2nd in Greens in Regulation. Streelman’s Achilles this year has been on the greens, but in his four top-10 finishes this season he’s putted extremely well. If Kevin can just make a few early putts and build some momentum, watch out.