Rocket Mortgage Classic
Our week at the Travelers Championship started badly when our headline selection Brooks Koepka withdrew prior to the off for Covid related issues and it never picked up from there unfortunately as three of the remaining four members of our team missed the cut, while the one who did make it through to the weekend, Joaquin Niemann, was hampered by a severely under-performing putter.
As it was then by the time Sunday came around we were pretty much purely a spectator to Dustin Johnson’s return to the winners enclosure.
DJ as is his want made heavy weather of things down the back nine, however after a weather delay he was able to finish things off to claim a one shot victory and ensure he continued his winning streak of seasons on tour, which now stands at thirteen.
A win next season would see Johnson match Tiger Woods at fourteen on this front and he would only then have Jack Nicklaus, who managed seventeen consecutive seasons ahead of him.
Following on from the Travelers week four of the rebooted season sees the tour head to Detroit in Michigan for the second edition of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which debuted last year.
The field is headed up by Bryson Dechambeau who is a clear favourite at single figure odds. Behind Bryson in the betting we then have Webb Simpson, Tyrrell Hatton, Patrick Reed and Hideki Matsuyama.
Detroit Golf Club will play to a Par 72 measuring at 7334 yards.
The greens are Poa Annua with an approximate 20% bentgrass mix.
There are two courses at Detroit Golf Club, the North and South, which were both designed by Donald Ross and completed by 1916. For this event the North Course will be used.
The course is a fairly typical Ross design with undulating fairways and greens. Despite the defence of the greens last year the track was there for the taking and I would expect more of the same this year.
With the course still being pretty new to us in addition to last years leaderboard the logical leap is to look at form on other Donald Ross courses used on tour and these include the following;
East Lake – Tour Championship
Sedgefield G&CC – Wyndham Championship
Aronimink – 2018 BMW Championship
Plainfield – 2011 & 2015 Barclays
Pinehurst No 2 – 2014 US Open
Here’s a look at last years final top ten.
1 Nate Lashley -25
2 Doc Redman -19
T3 Wes Roach -18
T 3 Rory Sabbatini -18
T5 Joaquin Niemann -17
T5 Ted Potter Jnr -17
T5 Patrick Reed -17
T5 Brandt Snedeker -17
T5 Brian Stuard -17
T5 Cameron Tringale -17
So what does this leaderboard tell us? Well not unsurprisingly for someone who posted a six shot victory Lashley was dominant in pretty much all statistical categories, finishing the week third from tee to green, sixth in approach play and second in putting, a pretty lethal combination!
Looking further down the leaderboard second place home Doc Redman is known for his strengths from tee to green and he allied that with a warm putter while three of those who finished tied for fifth Potter Jnr, Reed and Snedeker are all renowned for their short game wizardry. All in all it would seem that a strong short game is the priority this week followed closely by steady approach play.
As mentioned earlier it may also pay this week to look at form on other Donald Ross courses and one thing that strikes me on that basis is that two players who tied for fifth place Reed and Snedeker are former Wyndham Championship winners.
Away from Donald Ross tracks and whether coincidence or not, another link that catches my eye is to the Greenbrier. This is because both Potter Jnr and Niemann who also tied for fifth have been victorious there while Lashley finished third at the Greenbrier last fall.
Furthermore Sabbatini, Stuard and Tringale who all finished top 5 here have all posted top ten finishes at the Greenbrier in the past.
Finally from the point of view of form coming in to the week again obviously we only have one year to go on but Lashley had finished no better than 28th in his previous eight starts, all be it that performance had come in his previous outing at Pebble Beach in the US Open.
For the fourth week running since restart I could have probably copied and pasted this forecast. Hot, sticky, high 80s/low 90s and the possibility of a storm!
Wind does not look to be a huge issue for most of the week although Saturday does show the possibility of 20mph gusts.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
KEVIN NA – 40 -1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - WITHDREW MID EVENT - BACK INJURY
While we only have one years history to go on it would seem from looking at last years final leaderboard from Detroit that this shortish par 72 by modern day standards is one that suits neat and tidy players who particularly excel on and around the greens.
From that point of view the player near the head of the betting who offers the most value to me is Kevin Na.
After several years of being labelled someone not be trusted at weekends Na has transformed himself in to a proven winner over the past couple of years by adding three more trophies to his cabinet at the Greenbrier, The Charles Schwab and the Shriners.
This season since posting his victory at the Shriners in the fall it’s been a fairly hit and miss campaign for Kevin, with until this past weekend, a ninth place at the WGC Mexico and a 14th place at Pebble Beach being his best efforts, however after having his defence at the Charles Schwab hampered due to a stiff back/hip resulting from picking up his child, he sprung back in to life to finish fifth at the Travelers.
At TPC River Highlands all areas of Na’s game appeared in good working order, and it was particularly encouraging to see him finish the week 23rd in Strokes-Gained-Off-The-Tee, an area he currently ranks 186th in on the season. In addition of course his trademark putter was delivering the goods as normal.
While Na didn’t tee it up in Detroit last year he has a victory and other high finishes at the Greenbrier to his name, an event, which as previously mentioned seems to tie in well here based on the limited info we have.
Furthermore the Californian has shown over the years that he is a fan of Donald Ross designs having finished in the top ten on his last two visits to the Wyndham in and 12th at the BMW at Aronimink in 2018.
Over the years and certainly over the more recent ones, Na has time and again shown himself as someone who performs well at venues that his lack of distance off the tee does not hamper him and this weeks venue should be a perfect fit for him on that basis and on the back of last weeks strong showing I am expecting another great performance from him this time out.
BRANDT SNEDEKER – 60 -1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED - MC
Next up for me this week is another player who leaps off the page when you are looking for good putters with a strong record on Donald Ross venues, Brandt Snedeker.
Sneds has been struggling from tee to green this season languishing at 190th off the tee and 172nd in approach play, however on a course that putting and touch around the greens appears to be the key component he should always be considered.
A former two time winner at the Wyndham where he shot 59, and a winner at East Lake home of the Tour Championship, Brandt has shown himself as a lover of Ross tracks over the years. In addition he produced a third place finish at the Greenbrier in 2018 to give us that link again.
Unlike with our first selection Kevin Na though we don’t have to speculate about the Nashville native’s potential liking for this venue as Brandt tee’d it up here last year finishing in a tie for fifth.
This week Sneds arrives back in Detroit after another seemingly ho hum effort finishing 41st at the Travelers where his long game was again a struggle. From my point of view though I do think this is very much a ‘horses for courses’ situation and I am happy to put that effort to one side and instead focus on his attributes for this weeks venue.
At TPC River Highlands despite his long game struggles Sneds’ short game was again in tip top condition and any kind of improvement off the tee should see him right in the mix this week on a course made for his game. On that basis I am keen to side with him this week.
ALEX NOREN – 70-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED - MC
Next up this week I am going to give an opportunity to Alex Noren.
Noren at his best is a world class performer who would make a mockery of his odds in this field.
Unfortunately for the Swede though the last couple of years have seen him be anything near his best hence he lost his full PGA Tour card.
Despite this though the second half of 2019 did offer some encouragement to fans of the 37yr old as he posted a steady string of results on the European Tour and Co sanctioned PGA Tour events including top twelve finishes at the Open Championship and WGC Fedex St Jude.
2019/20 has seen Alex take what opportunities have come his way on the PGA Tour based on his 125-150 category and to date, similarly to the back end of last year, he has been steady but unspectacular, making eight out of ten cuts and posting three top fifteen finishes.
Last time out at the RBC Heritage Noren posted a 21st place finish, however he was actually in the hunt for something a lot better until a faltering back nine on Sunday, still it was good to see him back in the mix.
What particularly caught my eye about that performance in relation to this week is Noren’s stats on and around the green as he finished the week fourth in putting and fifth in strokes-gained-around-the-green, the latter being a category he has excelled in general in this season.
Another statistic that leads me to Noren this week is par 5 scoring, an area that last years winner here Nate Lashley is strong in and is naturally always key on a course with a set of four inviting par fives. Noren currently ranks sixth in this category on tour.
Finally while we don’t have a huge amount of form on Donald Ross tracks to go on with Noren did sit one shot off the lead at the halfway stage of the 2018 BWW Championship at Aronimink with opening rounds of 64 and 66, so he can clearly handle a Ross layout.
To sum up there is no doubt to me that Noren has been trending back in the right direction over the last nine months or so and on a track that really should suit his game I am happy to chance him at the odds on offer.
SI WOO KIM – 100-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED - 57th
One player who is a ‘must’ include for me at the odds this week is Si Woo Kim.
Still only 25yrs old Si Woo has had his share of highs and lows on the PGA Tour over recent years, with of course the obvious highest point coming at TPC Sawgrass.
The last twelve months or so however have been tough for the South Korean and other than a fifth place finish at the Wyndham Championship last August it has been slim pickings with plenty of missed cuts.
As a result of this struggle Si Woo turned to Claude Harmon III during the course of 2019 and last week finally saw some of the hard work come to fruition as he posted an 11th place finish at TPC River Highlands.
Whenever Si Woo finds some form he is always a man to keep an eye on as his two victories to date came on the back of a solid week on his previous outing, however this week on a Donald Ross track the former winner of the Wyndham Championship really catches my eye.
Looking at Si Woo’s week at TPC River Highlands what was particularly encouraging was that his game, with the exception of the putter, was strong in all departments. Fourth in Strokes-Gained-Tee-To-Green and ninth in Strokes-Gained-Around-The-Green stand testament to this and even the 51st in putting to be fair is an improvement to his poor stats this season in this area.
A proven high class performer on his day you never know what you are going to get with Si Woo and allowing for the fact that he missed the cut here last year another weekend off this time around wouldn’t be a huge shock. Equally though there was enough his performance last week that makes me feel I can’t leave him out and I am happy to chance him at the three figure odds.
BRIAN STUARD – 100-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED - 30th
At the same odds as Si Woo sits a far steadier pair of hands [of late anyway] in the shape of Brian Stuard.
Stuard is the type of player who springs to mind when you think of last years winner, Nate Lashley, basically a no bells and whistles, steady all round campaigner.
A one time winner on tour at the 2016 Zurich Classic Brian is having a typically solid if unspectacular season missing only three cuts in fifteen starts and posting two top tens so far.
Last week at TPC River Highlands the 37yr old was strong in all departments ranking 19th from tee to green and eighth around the green, an area which should stand him in good stead this week.
The end result of Stuard’s solid play in Connecticut was a 20th place finish, meaning his third straight cut since the tour resumed and this should see him arrive in Detroit this week in good spirits.
So we’ve established Brian is in solid nick but what of this weeks venue? Well this is where it gets really interesting as Stuard was born and raised an hour away from Detroit in Jackson, Michigan, before attending Oakland University less than an hour away.
Last year Stuard spoke of how special it was to play in front of friends and family in his home state and he didn’t disappoint them finishing in a tie for fifth on a course he knows well.
This year Stuard arrives back in Detroit in similarly solid form and I am happy to chance that he performs well again this time around.
WYNDHAM CLARK – 150-1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - WITHDREW MID EVENT - BACK INJURY
For my final pick this week I am going to roll the dice at big odds that Wyndham Clark can spring back to life on a track that is tailor made for his strong par five scoring and strong putting.
A hugely talented player Clark will no doubt break through in due course, however with the exception of a solid four week stretch just prior to lockdown his 19/20 campaign is yet to really deliver.
A player who I am always keen to have onside on a par 72 layout Clark rewarded us last year when placing at big odds at the 3M Open before coming ever so close to doing the same at the CJ Cup.
My logic on both of these occasions for siding with Clark was a simple one, chance him on a Par 72 where his strong par 5 scoring and putting will be a huge attribute.
This week Clark arrives at another similar such course where he finished 17th on debut last year and at the odds on offer I am happy to chance him to improve on that finish and deliver the goods for us this week.
UPDATED 30th JUNE - FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - PATTON KIZZIRE - DK VALUE - $6900
Two fairly obvious selections in this section this week, the first of which is Patton Kizzire.
Since landing two PGA Tour titles in the space of two months at the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 things have gione somewhat astray for Kizzire on the course and until last weekend his best finish on tour since his victory at the Sony was an eighth place at the Sentry Tourmanent Of Champions at the beginning of 2019.
Last weekend though this all changed for Kizzire as out of the blue he popped up and posted a sixth place at the Travelers finishing the week seventh in approach play, 12th from tee to green and 19th in putting.
Kizzire's strength has always been with the flatstick and on that basis you would like to think that he will be suited to this weeks challenge and he can build on last weeks effort. Furthermore one of his standout efforts over the past twelve months came when he finished 13th at the Donald Ross layout of Sedgefield CC, home of the Wyndham.
There is of course a danger that last weeks effort was a false dawn however as a proven winner on tour Kizzire's upside is huge compared to his value and I am happy to chance him in this section.
PICK 2 - LANTO GRIFFIN - DK VALUE - $6800.
Griffin started his second full season on the tour like a train, posting four top 20s in his first four starts before landing the spoils at the Houston Open.
Since then while he hasn't had quite the same level of consistency the 32yr old has posted two more top ten finishes, all of which adds up to him currently being at the lofty heights of ninth in the Fedex Cup standings.
After two missed cuts in the first two events back since the break Griffin played solidly last week at the Travelers to finish 24th.
A strong putter Lanto is another who should be suited well to the test this week. In addition he also finished 13th at the Greenbrier last fall giving us the link to that venue as mentioned earlier and he looks a good value play to me this week.