Expert Picks for John Deere Classic
We inch closer to the third major of the season and we are starting to see the rise of youth on the Tour. While Tiger continues to rest and introduce reason to question his future, new and exciting names are becoming stars on the PGA Tour and introducing reason to cheer for the future. Nick Watney served us well as winner at the AT&T National (our top-ranked golfer for last week), fresh off a similar effort from Ryan Moore and Fredrik Jacobson battling for the win at the Travelers Championship. The Tour noted one-third of this year's tourneys have been won by first-time champions, giving golf fans a new list of heroes, giving the so-called elite a new list of enemies, and giving fantasy owners a new list of potential employees.
This week the Tour heads to Illinois to do battle at the John Deere Classic, and while the the field is shallow in overall talent, it could be a break the elite class needs to remind us all why they are "elite." Steve Stricker is one of the only top-rated golfers in the field, but he has also taken the last TWO oversized checks from John Deere home. He clearly has an affinity for the TPC Deere Run and thus he clearly serves as the proper introduction to this year's group.
In examining other targets, we note the TPC Deere Run is another in the series of TPC courses that tend to encourage reasonable-yet-humble scores. A young track by Tour standards (opened in 2000), bunkers rule the day and are never the same, presenting various locations, depths, and sizes that will challenge the best duffers on the Tour should they end up on the beach. The course covers 170 acres, but only 60 were disturbed during construction of this track. The rest is in the same condition it was in when the bulldozers first pulled on site, and that is as impressive as any fact you'll find about Deere Run.
The course is also littered with small ponds, elevation changes, and those trademark oak trees that dot this portion of the country. The TPC site may sum it up best, at least when you turn the discussion to the true nature of playing golf on this course: "TPC Deere Run is not a target-oriented layout. It requires shot making and maneuverability, plus imagination with the short game." Former champions include J.P. Hayes, Vijay Singh, Mark Hensby, Sean O'Hair, John Senden, Jonathan Byrd, and Kenny Perry.
There are few tourneys as clear in a top seed as the John Deere Classic, but there is no debating Steve Stricker's place on any set of rankings produced by any golf writer this week. The man has not only earned two consecutive wins at this course, but he's done so in impressive fashion. This year's field may be as poor as any he's faced.
Jason Day [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #1
We waste no time in reaching for potential rather than history on this TPC course for multiple reasons. For starters, few are as talented and touting as much momentum as Jason Day coming into the week in Illinois. However, the historic trend at this course isn't a trend at all as leaderboards from the past indicate what very few return customers can figure out each and every year. That means Day should be almost as valuable as the one golfer who does figure it out every year.
David Toms [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #178
Toms has a long and impressive resume, an asset few in this year's field can boast. He also has momentum, having played some of his best golf ever in 2011. He has one win under his belt for the year and it wouldn't be shocking if he added another to become this year's first multi-tourney champ. Last year we had several of those, this year we have none. We like Toms' chances to break rank and compete.
Trahan has been an annual target for us at the John Deere for three straight tourneys and we might be as optimistic as ever for his chances in 2011. The only noteworthy competition consists of a list of three (see the names above) and, on this particular track, Trahan serves as one of only two names on that list with history at his back. He should be as tempting as any option not named Stricker for the week.
Vaughn Taylor [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #102
It's difficult to consider we are listing a commodity with this sense of value so early in this week's rankings, but the field may be as shallow in reliable options as any we've seen this season and Taylor has (for all intents and purposes of worth to fantasy owners) given reason to suggest he is worth more. Taylor has played well this season and has been one of few making respectable finishes at the majority of his starts. He also has positive work on his resume from this track, and under these conditions, that's enough.
Jason Dufner [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #66
We've seen enough from Dufner to know he'll be on patrol and prowling against this limited field of competitors. He's been one of the more reliable options on the Tour through starts of this nature this season; he has several starts on this Deere Run track, and the list of options all but demands a golfer playing like Dufner is today be mentioned early.
Byrd is a former John Deere champion and he did so on these same links in Illinois. Granted, he isn't found making a charge to repeat that performance as often as we would like (at this or any other tourney), but he rarely misses the cut at this event and he, much more often than not, produces a finish fantasy owners can appreciate when the Tour swings through Illinois.
Charles Howell III [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #90
CH3 has been one of the more underrated options of this season, staying as busy as any golfer on the Tour and putting up more than his fair share of worthy finishes. He comes fresh off an outstanding week at the AT&T National -- he was among top finishers on this same TPC course last season -- and while his history at this track is checkered, he isn't facing a crowd we deem capable of halting his momentum.
He is a gamble to cause headaches. Verplank has battled injury this season and has left all of us wanting more, both as fans and as fantasy owners. However, he's shown flashes of improved health, he is joining a field he clearly feels is vulnerable, and he could (with reason) be tabbed as the best value available for hire this week. He lacks premium momentum and history, but he doesn't lack ability or stature.
Zach Johnson [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #17
To be frank, we would list the Zach version of the Johnson options as one of the more worrisome options for the week. He's played horribly this season and has been wildly inconsistent, even in tourneys where he carries history on his side. His work at the John Deere over recent seasons has been atrocious as well, but when you review this field, he clearly deserves to be mentioned based on talent alone. We wouldn't touch him, but circumstances are dire.
Austin is another top wager to lay when you consider how far his game has fallen over the last three seasons. It wasn't long ago we heard Austin complain of his absence from the Ryder Cup conversation, but today there is no way he makes the grade since he hasn't been a factor on the Tour since. Still, he carries some outstanding history on this particular course and we wouldn't be surprised if he makes it again in 2011.
We might normally indicate that history and undeniable talent should push Cink into our top ten for the week, but he's let us down so often this season that we can't recommend his services in good faith. He doesn't have history on his side at this track either, making the complete and total lack of reliable options the only excuse to get Cink on the radar. In any other week, we'd have him ranked lower.