John Deere Classic Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 10 Jul 2017 | Comments

The John Deere Classic represents the final chance for those not already in the field to qualify for The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

The tournament is played at TPC Deere Run, which is a beautiful course set up for shot makers. Steve Stricker won in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and will be back again. It was won in 2012 by Zach Johnson, in 2013 and 2015 by Jordan Spieth, in 2014 by Brian Harman and last year by Ryan Moore - the one thing that all of these guys have in common is that none of them are bombers, which should help us to narrow down the list of possible winners. Johnson was also runner-up in 2013 and 2014.

Designed by DA Weibring, the course is a par 71 measuring just over 7,200 yards - in 2010, Paul Goydos recorded a 59 and the winning score is usually around 20 under par. The key to going low at Deere Run is to keep the ball in the middle of the fairway. Miss the short and prepared and you will struggle, which is why big hitters tend to struggle here.

Stricker may now be eligible to play on the Champions Tour, but his ranking allows him to keep playing on the PGA Tour. He has become fairly selective about the events he plays these days but when he arrives on the first tee he still expects to contend. His playing schedule is a part-time one, but there is nothing part-time about the quality of the golf he plays.

Of course, he is one of the straightest drivers of a golf ball the game has ever seen. However, you don't achieve what he has by only managing to find fairways. He was and remains a brilliant wedge player and while many other players lose their touch on the greens as they get older, his putting stroke remains the envy of many - and he holes a lot of putts.

If you are looking for an each-way bet, put your mortgage on Stricker. He may not win, but he will surely be in the mix come Sunday evening. There are those who have encouraged him to keep playing on the PGA Tour, and there is no doubt that he retains the skill to do so, but after almost 30 years on the Tour he has had enough of living out of a suitcase.

Moore, who won last year, is another who scarcely knows what the rough looks like. Once a leading amateur, Moore gave Rory McIlroy a heck of a battle at the Tour Championship last year and his end-of-season form earned him a captain's pick for Davis Love III's American Ryder Cup. Moore fully justified his selection and was one of the stars of the American team.

In truth, he hasn't had a stellar season, but if you believe in horses for courses, you would be pretty foolish not to consider his chances of making a successful defence of his title. Moore has an idiosyncratic golf swing, with a lot of moving parts, but he has what were once described as "educated hands". In other words, he always knows precisely where the clubbed is and finds a way to get it back to the ball nicely squared up. Moore also possesses terrific imagination around the greens and has a wonderful temperament. He is a golfer who can hit a poor shot, shrug his shoulders, forget about it and move on.

He may actually be worth keeping an eye on at Birkdale because he learnt to play in the wind and knows how to control the golf ball in all conditions. The weather at Deere Run should be perfect, and Moore will be looking to take advantage of the conditions.

Charles Howell III will still be kicking himself at his inability to convert a great opportunity into a victory at the Quicken Loans National, where he lost in a playoff to Kyle Stanley. His last success came in 2007, which is astonishing when you consider his undoubted ability. He must surely put that right soon.

Look out, too, for another big week from Johnson, the 2015 Open champion. He is regarded as a short hitter and, by today's standards, it is true that he doesn't stripe it miles from the tee, but he is plenty long enough and, crucially, he plays most of his golf from the middle of the fairway. I have a sneaky feeling that Johnson may contend at Birkdale and he will be looking to use the John Deere Classic to get his game in shape for his attempt to win a third major. There is no more ferocious competitor on the PGA Tour than Johnson.

Daniel Berger does not fit the profile of your typical winner at this track but he is a terrific shot maker and is in the form of his life. If he can find most fairways then he will take some beating. And do you know what? He is so strong that even if does find the rough he is strong enough to muscle his way out of trouble.

To Win: Zach Johnson. Loves this tournament and this course

Each Way: Steve Stricker. Could strike a blow for the over-50s

Each Way: Ryan Moore. Returns with good feelings

Fantasy Picks

Zach Johnson. Tuning up for The Open

Steve Stricker. Still defying the years

Ryan Moore. Mr Accuracy

Charles Howell III. Will he ever win again?

Daniel Berger. A future major champion

Ryan Palmer. Needs a good finish

Sean O'Hair. His talent has never been in doubt

Kevin Streelman. Accurate driver who can go low - really low

Daniel Summerhays. Has had several near misses

Kevin Na. Overthinks the process but capable of winning anywhere

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