For two weeks in a row now on the PGA TOUR, we have seen what great players can do when presented with a rain-soaked, soft golf course. Denny McCarthy opened with a 60 at the Travelers Championship and Keegan Bradley won it with a score of 23-under par. Last week, Peter Kuest and Taylor Moore opened with rounds of 64. Rickie Fowler, Adam Hadwin, and Collin Morikawa all finished at 24-under par before Fowler prevailed in a playoff. This week at the John Deere Classic, rain and even hail is supposed to fall on Wednesday, leading into Thursday’s opening round. Thursday is then expected to be sunny and calm. Given the time of the year, is it too high on the “corny meter” to say that the opening round at the John Deere could provide some “fireworks?”
Bad jokes aside, it is safe to assume we’ll get some especially low numbers in the first round this week with what should be yet another soft golf course. It is interesting to note that the way most First Round Leaders get there is by gaining strokes on the field primarily in the areas of approach and putting. For this week’s tournament, I believe those are also two of the more important areas in which to have overall success, let alone just getting out of the gates quickly.
TPC Deere Run is similar to last week’s venue, Detroit Golf Club, in that the majority of the approach shots are going to come from 75-150 yards. Different from last week’s test, I don’t believe as much emphasis needs to be placed on the work off the tee this week. The fairways are wide at TPC Deere Run, bordered by nastier rough than what we saw in Detroit – but with the soft conditions, keeping one’s ball in the short grass should be easier for the entire field. The only off the tee statistic I looked at this week was Good Drives Gained. I put more focus on approach, hole proximity, ball striking, birdies, and putting.
I guess it can often be true that what one does in order to grab a first-round lead, can also translate into what is needed to be in the lead after four rounds – but it seems especially true this week given the skill sets garnering attention for both the first and final round leads. I’ve landed on four players this week who check quite a few boxes in their play from 150 yards out to eventually putting their ball in the hole.
Chris Kirk (+4500)
Kirk was a player I selected to win the Rocket Mortgage Classic last week, due in large part to his short-iron and wedge play. Over the last 36 rounds, he ranks No. 1 in this field in Hole Proximity from 125-150 yards. He’s third from 100-125 and seventh from 75-100 yards. He also ranks 26th for Strokes Gained: Putting (Bent grass), 21st in SG: Approach and 15th for Scrambling. He looks like a strong candidate once again for me.
Adam Schenk (+4500)
Once having fallen into the TOUR journeyman category, Schenk is having a career year and has ascended to 51st in the Official World Golf Ranking. He was runner-up at the Valspar Championship, lost in a playoff at the Charles Schwab Challenge, took seventh at the Memorial, and was seventh again last week in Detroit. Schenk finished fourth here at the John Deere Classic in 2021 and sixth in 2019. He is ninth in this field for SG: Approach over the last 36 rounds, 12th in Birdies or Better Gained, and 50th for SG: Putting (Bent grass). Schenk also ranks 40th on TOUR in First Round Scoring Average.
Stephan Jaeger (+5000)
Putting had been the area of concern for Jaeger but he has really turned that around recently. In shooting a final round 63 last week in Detroit, he was No. 1 in the field for SG: Putting on Sunday and 26th overall for the tournament. That was his third time in four starts, to have finished in the top 30 for SG: Putting. Over the last 36 rounds, Jaeger ranks 16th in this field for SG: Ball Striking, 17th in Hole Proximity from 125-150 yards, 14th in Birdies or Better Gained, and is sixth on TOUR in First Round Scoring Average.
Patrick Rodgers (+5000)
Being from nearby Indiana, this week’s midwestern tilt carries perhaps a bit more meaning for Rodgers, who finished runner-up here in 2017. Over the last 36 rounds, he is 29th in this field for SG: Ball Striking, 27th in Scrambling, and 14th for SG: Putting (Bent grass) – and is also 12th in this field for SG: Total on easy golf courses. In 2023, Rodgers has opened with a first round putting performance that has gained one or more strokes on the field six times.
Source : PGA Tour