John Deere Classic preview and best bets

The John Deere Classic is among the weakest PGA Tour events so far this season, and Ben Coley has five players who are backed to take advantage.

Golf betting tips: John Deere Classic

2pts e.w. Scott Stallings at 35/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

2pts e.w. Patrick Rodgers at 35/1 (Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1.5pts e.w. Nick Hardy at 40/1 (Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. David Lipsky at 80/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Bill Haas at 200/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

When the John Deere Classic was moved back a week in the schedule, it would’ve been reasonable to suggest we might get a stronger field for this half-a-century-old mainstay of the PGA Tour. At the very least, organisers might have hoped that with the Open Championship now a fortnight away, not only have they not got to worry about getting players onto the charter flight to the UK, but that they might enjoy some time in the spotlight.

Not a bit of it. This tournament, the one which kickstarted the careers of Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau, is among the weakest of the season to date. Now that Daniel Berger has withdrawn, it suffers the ignominy of stark incongruity: this is a full-field, regular schedule PGA Tour event which does not feature a single member of the world’s top 50. There are five of those in the Irish Open, and more in LIV’s Portland event.

All of this will be thrown at an under-fire organisation and some criticism is justified, but for lower-ranked players – the kind of golfers the new operation from Riyadh has absolutely no concern for – this is a big opportunity. And, while we shouldn’t underestimate how complex a puzzle we have in front of us, the same is true for those trying to unearth a winner.

Sunday in some ways reminded us that elite players are never invulnerable, because Sahith Theegala probably ought to have taken down two of the sport’s biggest names, but in others it demonstrated that strength in depth at the front of a market can be very hard to overcome. Here, we have a favourite in Webb Simpson who isn’t yet back to his best, a second-favourite in Adam Hadwin who so far has one PGA Tour win to his name, and a wide-open tournament beyond them.

One win is of course more than most, and the Valspar Championship that Hadwin captured at Copperhead is a good guide to TPC Deere Run, but as 18/1 shots go he makes very little appeal. This might be one of the worst fields you’re ever likely to see on the world’s premiere golf circuit, but as betting heats go there really is a lot to like, and the tricky bit is narrowing down a shortlist which ought to include a good 20 or 30 players.

Top of mine is SCOTT STALLINGS, who arrives in excellent form and with an explosive quality which marks him down as an ideal type for this low-scoring test.

Stallings was near last after the opening round of the Travelers Championship last week but then carded rounds of 64, 68 and 63 to climb to eighth, a performance which should add further layers to his confidence following fourth place at the Charles Schwab back in May.

That effort in Texas, which saw him shoot a second-round 64 to lead at halfway, came on the heels of achieving his goal for 2022: to qualify for the US Open, which was held in his home state. Perhaps his failure to make the weekend at Brookline bled into last Thursday, but 15-under for the final three rounds was the best golf in the field.

It’s not the first time he’s played well at TPC River Highlands, but Deere Run looks even more suitable. Stallings was fifth here in 2017 having shot back-to-back 64s through the middle two rounds, had gone 67-66 across the same pair to sit 11th heading into the final round a year earlier, and 66-68 when on the fringes on his debut visit.

In 2019 he again defied a slowish start to climb more than 40 places through rounds two and three and while last summer he never quite got going, that was all down to his short-game. Stallings has excelled with his approaches here on each of his last five visits but what’s most striking is that he’s twice been among the best drivers and never lost strokes off the tee, despite that often being his weakness.

At 68th in strokes-gained approach and 39th in putting this season, a solid week off the tee should allow this prolific birdie maker to enhance an already solid course record, and strengthen those Copperhead ties I mentioned. That course is a good deal more difficult but we’ve seen a lot of crossover down the years, so the fact Stallings was third there on debut, in the mix in 2019 and third at halfway this year really encourages me.

One final point to note is that he’s never arrived here at the very top of his game but with two top-10s in his last four starts, there are no excuses on that front. The only real concern is that it’s been a long time since he won, but three victories at this level count for plenty and he can end the drought to complete what for Stallings would be a dream summer.

Among the many maidens with obvious claims it would be somehow fitting were Denny McCarthy to win one week after he’d been so heavily fancied, but his long-game was abysmal in the Travelers and that’s hard to overlook.

More appealing would be Maverick McNealy, who boasts plenty of form on tree-lined courses such as this one and is easily excused some short-game mishaps, but I can’t resist a fellow former college standout in PATRICK RODGERS.

Runner-up to DeChambeau here five years ago, Rodgers has shown how well he can score at Deere Run, with a round of 64, three 65s and a couple of 66s across his last four visits. He’d shown it too way back in 2012 when opening with a round of 67 and then shooting four sub-70 rounds for 15th a year later.

The fact all of those recent efforts, including second place in 2017, came despite poor iron play tells you that he’s been able to put his two main strengths to use, driving the ball really well and holing more than his share of putts. They remain his major weapons but there’s been a definite upturn in his approach work this year, and it’s that which can prove the foundation of his long-awaited breakthrough.

Winning when you’re losing ground with your iron play is extremely difficult. but Rodgers is a few ticks better than average for the season, which is a considerable improvement having never yet returned a positive figure for an entire campaign, and ranked outside the top 160 (i.e. in the bottom 25 per cent) for each of the past five seasons.

Six of his last eight tournament starts have returned better-than-average numbers, and one of the two exceptions came at the US Open where he was just a shade worse than that in elite company. I had already written in my Memorial preview that a big summer was ahead of him, and while disappointing there a wider view of how this year has gone is much more positive.

So then we come to the John Deere Classic which, for an Indiana native, is about as close as it gets to a hometown event. That was also true for three-time winner Steve Stricker, for Zach Johnson, for JP Hayes and DA Weibring, all past champions here, and it’s something Rodgers has touched upon himself more than once.

“Well, this is a special event,” he said last year. “The people of the Midwest make it feel like a hometown event, not just for people that are here but for everyone. This was one of the first events I ever came to. I watched Jonathan Byrd win in the final round and then went and walked the back nine, reliving every shot.

“I kind of have vivid memories of kind of dreaming of being a PGA Tour player because of this place, and so now to be able to compete here year in and year out has been really special.”

We saw just two weeks ago how this kind of familiarity and comfort can translate into performance, Matt Fitzpatrick winning the US Open at the course where he’d captured the US Amateur, and for Rodgers these high-summer events around this part of the United States are likely to provide his best opportunities.

And while we’re at it, this underachiever turns 30 on Thursday. No doubt his withdrawal prior to the Travelers last week was with the aim of recharging following a fine effort of his own at Brookline, and he might be rewarded at long last, delivering close to home just like he did at KFT Finals last year.

Sticking with a group of largely good putters and to some extent an obvious third selection, I can’t leave out rising star NICK HARDY.

This is Hardy’s hometown event, hailing as he does from Illinois, and it could not come at a better time. He’s recovered from surgery following an injury sustained in April and has been a factor on every start since, finishing second on the Korn Ferry Tour, then 35th in Canada, 14th at the US Open, and eighth last week.

Hardy was T2 heading into the weekend of the Travelers and right in the thick of things in a major championship before that so he should be razor sharp for what’s his third John Deere Classic start, the first two seeing him make the cut and bag a couple of low rounds to demonstrate what he can do here.

One of the standout rookies heading into this season, he’s had to watch Cameron Young, Davis Riley and Theegala doing most of the contending but this self-confessed slow burner is really coming to the boil now, helped by the fact he’s found greater rhythm in his swing as a result of the injury he incurred.

The fact his putter is rolling is no bad thing – there are echoes of DeChambeau in that his season-long ranking remains poor, but doesn’t reflect how he’s putting right now – and this quality driver should have plenty of chances to attack a course he knows well, and with a full house of fans back to support him.

Sticking with the local theme, that’s an added bonus to the profile of DAVID LIPSKY, who I strongly suspect will love this place.

A former college player at Northwestern, like Fitzpatrick (well, ish), Lipsky at last makes his debut in this event having taken the circuitous Asian Tour-DP World Tour path, finally deciding last year to dedicate himself to earning PGA Tour status which he did comfortably via the Korn Ferry circuit.

At 82nd in the FedEx Cup standings, unlike Hardy he’s already locked up his card for next season so it’s been a solid campaign, and two narrow missed cuts on his last two starts probably mask that fact a little. Ultimately he’s done very little wrong and he’d have sailed through in Connecticut but for making a mess of the 15th hole on Sunday, where he took five shots to get down from 40 yards.

Otherwise it was a perfectly solid effort particularly on Friday, where he hit 12 of 14 fairways and 15 greens, and continued to hit his irons well just as he had in Canada. There’s really nothing to be alarmed about and I don’t think he’s a million miles away from the form which saw him finish sixth in Mexico at the beginning of last month.

Crucially, this looks a lovely set-up for Lipsky, who is best on tree-lined courses, when power isn’t a prerequisite, and ideally under low-scoring conditions. We’ve seen at least two of these factors apply for most of his best form in Europe such as at Crans, Fanling, Saujana, Selangor and plenty other places besides, as well as when 10th in the WGC-Mexico Championship when that took place at Chapultepec.

If he can get that putter rolling – Lipsky is about average, but one of those who can be very good as he showed when leading the field at Pebble Beach – and continue to hit quality short-irons, he could go really well here.

There are so many possible options at bigger prices it almost seems silly to mention any of them, but Ryan Armour and Patton Kizzire both cropped up plenty. Armour’s season-long scoring stats mark him down as overpriced and this is theoretically a good course for the Ohio native, but he’s had enough chances here and it’s hard to see the 46-year-old managing to double his career tally.

Kizzire is of more interest as he’s gone well in all three visits and is a class above many of these at his best. In 2017 he finished 25th here when in terrible form, it was a similar story when 30th in 2018, and there was plenty to like about his return last summer when closing with a round of 65. It’s just a question of whether he can get away with some big misses off the tee, which crept in last week albeit at a more penal course.

Similar driving concerns apply to Chesson Hadley, whose short-game bagged him a precious top-10 finish last week. He’s been right in the mix here on each of his last three appearances and needs to squeeze more out of his chipping and putting if he’s to avoid a trip to Korn Ferry Tour Finals, although he’d be entitled to carry confidence with him given how good he is at that level.

Matt Wallace actually drove the ball well for three of the four rounds last week and is a potential dark horse under suitable conditions while Vincent Whaley is one I had half an eye on, but there’s a player at three-figures I’m really sweet on so I’ll limit the speculation to BILL HAAS at 200/1.

Haas has been quietly putting together a decent campaign and has made 11 of his last 13 cuts, no mean feat and something well beyond so many in this field. The thing lacking is a big finish and he’ll need one soon enough, as at 157th in the FedEx Cup standings he’s on course to burn his one-time career money exemption.

This is a serious drop in grade though and having ranked 11th in strokes-gained approach last week, there are some clear indications things are really starting to improve. That ranking would’ve been higher but for a poor first round, and across the final three he was second, 10th, and eighth with his irons, again in much better company.

A former runner-up at the Valspar Championship, he fared pretty well there back in the spring following a second-round 66 and has since built plenty of confidence on the greens, enough to suggest he can compete in a tournament where something like 20-under seems a reasonable target.

And while his form here shows six missed cuts in eight, he was third entering the final round back in 2019 following a third-round 64, his best yet, and it’s important to remember his first five tries all came more than a decade ago. Recently he’s played nine rounds at the course, eight of them par or better, and after an opening 73 last year he nearly made the weekend after rallying with a 67.

Haas ranked fourth in strokes-gained approach for that 10th place finish three years ago, his best of a campaign similar in some ways to this one. This time he arrives in better form and with his irons and putter both operating at higher levels, so bettering that finish in what’s a considerably weaker field seems eminently possible to me, just a few weeks on from his 40th birthday.

Posted at 1905 BST on 27/06/22

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