Fantasy Golf Picks: John Deere Classic Sleepers & Strategy
John Deere Classic
Defending Champ: Brian Harman
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John Deere Classic Preview
Only one thing separates us and the Open Championship at St. Andrews, the Steve Stricker/Zach Johnson John Deere Classic from majestic Silvis, Illinois. On the excitement meter, this event rates a shade below Wayne Campbell’s enthusiasm after being magically whisked away to Delaware.
Blame the schedule. Much like the Canadian Open three weeks from now, the John Deere Classic is a victim of scheduling. You’d be surprised how many quality players would rather hop a private jet overseas and prep for the Old Course than spend a week on the Iowa/Illinois border (Only a three hour drive to Wisconsin!) Actually, no you wouldn’t. This a pure scrub tournament, maybe the least competitive on the full PGA schedule. Need some evidence? The talented trio of George McNeill, Seung-yul Noh and Kevin Chappell are all inside the top ten of betting favorites. With the dearth of talent heading to the Quad Cities, load up on the favorites, take the safe points and ready yourself for St. Andrews.
John Deere Classic Key Stats
Total Driving (Favoring Accuracy over Distance)
Greens in Regulation
Birdie or Better Percentage 50-125; 125-150 yards
When you have the scrubbiest of scrub field, it’s best to set it up with ultra easy scoring conditions for maximum birdie generation. That, at least, will keep things entertaining. At first glance, 7,268 yards does’t seem short for a Par 71, but take out the 1,726 yards on the lengthy Par 5s and another 785 yards for the Par 3s and you’re left with a manageable 432.5 yards for each Par 4. To make matters easier on the players, the course actually plays shorter than its distance with TPC Deere Run having some of the most generous rolls off the tee if the ball hits the fairway. Shorter hitters won’t experience a disadvantage due to lack of distance, making total driving, with weight on driving accuracy the first stat to look at… along with Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, per usual. Four of the top seven on the leaderboard in 2014, including winner Brian Harman, finished inside the top eight in driving accuracy for the week.
With the extra distance afforded to the powerless, expect almost every approach to be from 100-150 yards. From there, it’s birdie central. In 2013, players made birdie or better on 25.75-percent of the time they found the fairway. And it doesn’t necessarily take a hot putter to go low. While Jhonattan Vegas (5th SG: Putt), Scott Brown (2nd SG: Putt) and Jerry Kelly (1st SG: Putt) rode hot putters to a top five finish last season, yet greens in regulation and proximity were the more common traits shared by those at the top of the leaderboard.
John Deere Classic Picks
Harris English & Steve Stricker - As with most low-level tournaments, the Yahoo! A-list is completely depleted, featuring only four names to choose from. You can toss out Kevin Stadler immediately, he’s making his first start since The Masters, last seen before that withdrawing from the Tournament of Champions in January because of a broken bone in his left hand. Steve Stricker is a lock. No player has achieved as much success as Strick in the history of this event. He won three years in a row (2009-2011) and hasn’t finished worse than T11 in any of his last six starts. Problem is, everyone, correctly, is going to own Stricker, and they’ll likely pair him with Harris English, a strategy I’ll be partaking in as well. English is having a down season, yet has reeled off four consecutive cuts and is lethal from the key approach distance of 125-150 yards (6th). Couple that with his total driving (36th) and ball striking (32nd) prowess and elite work with the flat stick (10th SG: Putt) and you have a blueprint for English’s third T25 in three weeks.
A-List Alternates: Seung-yul Noh & Kevin Stadler
Jordan Speith & Zach Johnson - Jordan Speith returns to the site of his first career win (2013), and in a field this shallow, don’t worry about burning his usage, he and Zach Johnson are THEE must haves at the John Deere Classic. I could give you a bunch of reasons why you need ZJ, like, how he’s posted 24 consecutive rounds in the 60s (totaling 105-under) or that he serves on Board of Directors for the John Deere Classic, but that’s all in the periphery. Here’s what’s important: Johnson hasn’t finished worse than third in any of the last four years.
Kevin Kisner & Brian Harman - Much like The Greenbrier, it’s tough to take Kevin Kisner’s course history very seriously at any event, he’s playing exponentially better at the moment than any other point of his career. On the heels of his third playoff loss of the season, Kisner, now No. 36 in the world rankings, is primed to finally notch that first win, rating highly in accuracy (18th), total driving (29th), and SG: Tee-to-Green (40th). Plus, he’s been one of the most consistent players on Tour since April, making eight straight cuts, five of which were T10. Since the talent pool is so shallow, let's roll out last year’s champ Brian Harman. Harman’s in nowhere near the same form entering play as last year, still, he has started turning a corner after a disastrous start to the season. While the lefty’s only played the weekend in three of his past five starts, he’s cashed a pair of T10 checks in that time, including solo third two weeks ago in Hartford.
B-List Alternates: Patrick Rodgers, Kevin Streelman, Kevin Chappell & Martin Flores
Jason Bohn & Scott Brown - I strongly considered the surging, and University of Illinois alum, Scott Langley in this spot, but Scott Brown, I wish I knew how to quit you. Brown’s been on point for months now, making 11 of 12 cuts, it’s just been one mediocre round that has prevented him from cashing a big payday. Something which hasn’t been an issue for him at TPC Deere Run. In 12 competitive rounds now at the John Deere Classic, Brown has never fired a round over par; resulting in two T10s, two of the past three years. Outside of Spieth and ZJ (and weirdly Chez Reavie), no player may have a game more tailored to this layout than Jason Bohn. Which makes his 2014 and 2012 missed cuts very peculiar. Bohner Jam is the third most accurate player on Tour, a big component of his elevated birdie rate (22nd) and GIR% (31st). And when he gets to use his wedges, he’s deadly. Bohn sits 13th from the key distance (50-125 yards), and god forbid he misses the fairway, he’s first in proximity 125-150 yards from the rough. Tack on his above-average putting (52nd) and propensity to make birdies on Par 4s (8th) and you have a legitimate contender.
C-List Alternates: Scott Langley & Sean O’Hair
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