Best bets for PGA Tour's Rocket Mortgage Classic

June 29, 2021 07:30 PM
Harris English outlasted Kramer Hickok in an eight-hole playoff, which tied the second-longest playoff in PGA Tour history, to win the Travelers Championship. English now has two victories (Sentry Tournament of Champions and Travelers) in 2021 and has reached the highest OWGR in his career at No. 12. Hickok earned his best PGA Tour finish with a runner-up and moves from No. 322 to No. 137 in the world. Bubba Watson, tipped in this column last week at 50-1, held the lead through 13 holes on Sunday and was the odds-on favorite to win at that point but put a couple in the drink and ended up shooting 6 over (bogeys at 14, 15, 16, double bogey at 17 and another bogey on 18) for his last six holes and plummeted to a T-19 finish. 
This week, the PGA Tour moves to Detroit for the Rocket Mortgage Classic, where Bryson DeChambeau (T-19 last week) will attempt to defend his title as the tournament favorite (15-2) once again. Patrick Reed (14-1) finished fifth here on debut but missed the cut last year. Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama (16-1) is one of the few players in the field to make the cut in both years of the event's existence and begins a busy month of July here before going on to the British Open and then the Olympics as the face of golf for the host nation, Japan. Webb Simpson (18-1) finished eighth last year and at least should have a better showing than his disastrous two rounds at the U.S. Open two weeks ago. Will Zalatoris (22-1), who is making his debut in Detroit, and Jason Kokrak (25-1) also are looking to rebound from missed cuts at the last major as well. Joaquin Niemann (25-1) still has not found his form from earlier in the year but did finish fifth on debut here in 2019.
Matthew Wolff (33-1) was a surprise contender for most of the U.S. Open after missing the previous two months with hand injuries and taking a mental health break but also missed the cut at the Travelers. Jason Day (33-1) was the co-leader after 36 holes last weekend before settling for a T-10. Sungjae Im (33-1) comes in after a rare off week and has made the cut both years here but did not contend for either title. Kevin Kisner (35-1) shot the low round (63) Sunday at the Travelers to finish T-5 for his first top 5 since the RSM last November, plus he finished third in Detroit last year. 
The Rocket Mortgage Classic is in its third year in Detroit as a PGA Tour event. Rocket Mortgage is the online brand for Quicken Loans, which is the leading mortgage lender in the United States. Quicken Loans was the title sponsor for The National event in the Washington D.C. area from 2014 to 2018 before getting the PGA Tour to move the event to Detroit, where it is headquartered. The company is committed to sponsor the event through 2022. 
The Detroit Golf Club serves as the venue for the Rocket Mortgage Classic. The club's North Course is located 15 minutes north of downtown Detroit near the University of Detroit Mercy's campus. The track was designed in 1916 by Donald Ross and is a classical, tree-lined layout that plays as a par-72 of 7,340 yards. There is only one hole with water (No. 14), but the course's 87 bunkers provide the main defense. The average-sized (5,150 square feet) greens are inverted from last week in terms of the surface being weighted more toward Poa Annua (70%) vs. Bentgrass (30%). These are also vintage and trademark Donald Ross greens featuring a back-to-front pitch, surrounded by tightly mown run-offs into collection areas. The downhill putts are difficult to attack, so approach shots below the hole are ideal. 
The fairways are also a Bent/Poa mixture and the rough is a Bluegrass mix. The traditional par-72 is broken up into four par-5s, which are a bit longer than average (No. 4, 635 yards; No. 7, 552; No. 14, 555; No. 17, 577), four par-3s and 10 par-4s. Three of the par-5s should be reachable in two shots for the bigger hitters and they aren't necessarily easy birdies. The easier holes look to be the par-4s as five of them are 450 yards or less and three are shorter than 400 yards.
With little course form and history to go on here, arguably the best method of evaluating potential success at Detroit Golf Club is looking at how players have done on the other following Donald Ross designs that are or have been part of the PGA Tour schedule:
Pinehurst No. 2: 2014 U.S. Open
East Course at Oak Hill: 2013 PGA Championship
Sedgefield CC: Wyndham Championship
Plainfield: 2011 and 2015 Barclays
Aronimink GC: 2010 and 2011 AT&T National and 2018 BMW Championship
East Lake GC: Tour Championship
2020: Bryson DeChambeau (-23/265); 6-1 
2019: Nate Lashley (-25/263); 250-1
The top two on the leaderboard in Detroit last year were two of the biggest bombers on the PGA Tour in Bryson DeChambeau and Matthew Wolff. 
Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee
1. Bryson DeChambeau 26.1
2. Cameron Champ 18.8
3. Charles Howell III 17.1
4. Bubba Watson 17.1
5. Tom Lewis 16.2
6. Jason Kokrak 15.5
7. Jason Day 15.3
8. Keegan Bradley 12.9
9. Si Woo Kim 12.4
10. Luke List 12.3
11. Joseph Bramlett 11.5
12. Joaquin Niemann 10.5
Note: Last 24 rounds
With only two events in Detroit, it is difficult to create links between the two event champions, Lashley and DeChambeau. Lashley won on good iron play and accuracy, while DeChambeau concocted his "bomb and gouge" strategy that led him to win the 2020 U.S. Open. Both players, of course, got hot with the putter. One thing that both players did was hit a lot of greens (Lashley, fourth; DeChambeau, 13th). 
Greens In Regulation Gained
1. Emiliano Grillo 37
2. Doug Ghim 27.9
3. Matthew NeSmith 27.2
4. Keegan Bradley 25.7
5. Hank Lebioda 25.6
6. Russell Knox 24.8
7. Will Zalatoris 24.1
8. Danny Lee 22
9. Hideki Matsuyama 21.8
10. Kyle Stanley 21.5
11. Bryson DeChambeau 20.4
12. Brice Garnett 19.2 
Note: Last 24 rounds
The winning scores in the two events have been 23 under and 25 under, respectively, so you must make a lot of birdies and/or eagles to win this tournament.
Birdie or Better Gained
1. Jason Kokrak 22.8
2. Charley Hoffman 17.1
3. Emiliano Grillo 16
4. Patton Kizzire 15.8
5. Danny Willett 14.7
6. Hideki Matsuyama 14.5
7. Phil Mickelson 14.1
8. Cameron Tringale 13.6
9. Matthew Wolff 12.9
10. Bryson DeChambeau 12.5
11. Troy Merritt 12.4
12. Lucas Glover 11.7
Note: Last 24 rounds
Opportunities Gained
1. Emiliano Grillo 27.4
2. Hideki Matsuyama 26
3. Jason Kokrak 24.4
4. Charley Hoffman 19.1
5. Kyle Stanley 19
6. Troy Merritt 17
7. Keegan Bradley 16.2
8. Adam Schenk 15.8
9. Chez Reavie 15.4
10. Harold Varner III 14.2
11. Patton Kizzire 13.3
12. Bryson DeChambeau 12.9
Notes: Last 24 rounds; Scoring Opportunities Gained — birdie opportunities inside 15 feet from green or fringe PLUS Greens/Fringe Under Regulation. (Note: A green or fringe under regulation within 15 feet counts as two opportunities)
As mentioned above, Detroit GC is a Donald Ross design and there are a multitude of players that tend to play well on all Ross designs.
Strokes Gained: Donald Ross designs
1. Jason Day 35.5
2. Webb Simpson 32.3
3. Ryan Armour 29.6 (22 rounds)
4. Rory Sabbatini 29.7
5. Nate Lashley 17.4 (6 rounds)
6. Sepp Straka 17.8 (12 rounds)
7. Brice Garnett 25.8 (22 rounds)
8. Byeong Hun An 19.4 (14 rounds)
9. Matthew Wolff 15.8 (10 rounds)
10. Camilo Villegas 24.9
11. Brandt Snedeker 23.5
12. Hideki Matsuyama 23.1
Note: Last 24 rounds unless designated. 
Joaquin Niemann 27-1
Niemann finished fifth in his Detroit debut two seasons ago. 
The young Chilean rates ninth on the PGA Tour for Driving Distance and 16th for Birdie Average. 
Jason Kokrak 30-1
Last week, Harris English joined Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Stewart Cink and Kokrak as two-time victors in the 2020-21 PGA Tour season. 
Kokrak missed the cut two weeks ago at the U.S. Open, but Detroit Golf Club should be perfectly suited for his game. He ranks sixth for SG: Off-The-Tee in this field over the last 24 rounds and leads the field for Birdie or Better also over the last 24 rounds. 
Emiliano Grillo 50-1
Once again, Grillo stands out across the board for relevant statistics this week. However, it did not work out last week at the Travelers, where he rallied on Friday but missed the cut by one stroke. Grillo leads the field over the last 24 rounds for Birdie Opportunities Gained and GIR Gained. 
Doc Redman 55-1
Redman has two top-10s over his last five starts. He has four finishes of third or better during his PGA Tour career and two of them are on Donald Ross designs, including a runner-up here in 2019. 
Maverick McNealy 85-1
McNealy led the field last week in Hartford for SG: Off-The-Tee on the way to finishing T-30. He finished T-8 last year in Detroit and he is very comfortable on the Poa/Bentgrass mix that he grew up playing on out west. 
Sepp Straka 100-1
It is hard to call someone a horse for the course when an event has only been played twice, but Straka certainly qualifies. Straka has the best aggregate finish of any player in the field who has played this event both times with finishes of eighth and 11th. The Austrian also posted his second top-10 of 2021 with a T-10 last week at the Travelers. 
Troy Merritt 100-1
Merritt finished eighth here last year.
He also comes in having made six of his last seven cuts, including three top-10s. Merritt can make a lot of birdies and has done so of late as evidenced by his recent Birdie or Better and Opportunities Gained statistics. 
Irish Open
Norway's Viktor Hovland won his first event on the European Tour last weekend at the BMW International Open in Germany as the pre-tournament favorite of 13-2, holding off hard-charging Martin Kaymer, whose Sunday 64 left him two shots short. 
Hovland will not participate in this week's Irish Open, but the event does have a big headliner as Rory McIlroy (11-2) returns to the event after missing the last two years due to becoming a father in 2019 and the 2020 event being rescheduled due to COVID-19. McIlroy, the tournament favorite, and his foundation served as the host of this event for several years. He is a former champion of this event (2016, The K Club) as is Shane Lowry (12-1) who won this event as an amateur at County Louth in 2009. Tommy Fleetwood (16-1) follows in the market and is still seeking his first worldwide victory since November 2019. Christiaan Bezuidenhout (18-1) and last week's runner-up, Martin Kaymer (20-1), are slotted just behind. Sam Horsfield (25-1) finished T-5 last week in Germany and won twice in the U.K. last summer to firmly place him as a Top 100 OWGR player. 
Robert MacIntyre (25-1) has played most of his golf in the U.S. over the last few months but is now back in Europe trying to find his peak before the British Open in two weeks. Lucas Herbert (33-1) finished T-7 in this event last year at Galgorm Castle and Andy Sullivan (35-1), T-5 last week in Germany, was runner-up two years ago to Jon Rahm at Lahinch. Ryan Fox (35-1) also was a runner-up in this event in 2018 at Ballyliffin. Last year's champion John Catlin (100-1) won the event last year against a watered-down field but has won three European Tour events in the past 10 months. 
The Irish Open's history dates to 1927 and rotates yearly to courses throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland. Dubai Duty Free, which manages duty-free shops at the Dubai International and Al Maktoum International Airports, took over the sponsorship in 2015. The event lost its status as a Rolex Series event and took a substantial drop in prize money for 2020 when it was forced to be moved from late May to late September. While its Rolex Series status has not been restored, the top end of the Irish Open field has improved with McIlroy, Lowry and Fleetwood participating. Past winners include McIlroy, Lowry, Jon Rahm, Paul Casey, Padraig Harrington, Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo and a host of other European champions. 
The Mount Juliet estate was slated to host the 2020 Irish Open before COVID-19 forced a move to Galgorm Castle. Now it receives another opportunity in 2021. The course hosted this event from 1993 to 1995 with Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Sam Torrance winning. It also hosted the 2002 and 2004 WGC-American Express Championship, won by Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, respectively. Mount Juliet is a par-72 of 7,250 yards designed by Jack Nicklaus and Ron Kirby in 1991. 
Located in Thomastown in the county of Kilkenny, Mount Juliet is a parklands design that is a tree-lined track with generous fairways and Bentgrass greens that can reach 12 on the stimpmeter. Water is in play on half of the holes and the pair of nines are of virtually identical length and composition with two par-3s, five par-4s and two par-5s on each side.
2020: John Catlin (-10/270); Galgorm Castle; 40-1
2019: Jon Rahm (-16/264); Lahinch; 8-1
2018: Russell Knox (-14/274); Ballyliffin; 28-1*
2017: Jon Rahm (-24/264); Portstewart; 14-1
2016: Rory McIlroy (-12/276); The K Club; 4-1
2015: Soren Kjeldsen (-2/282); Royal County Down 150-1**
2014: Mikko Ilonen (-13/271); Fota Island; 80-1
2013: Paul Casey (14/274); Carton House; 50-1; 
2012: Jamie Donaldson (-18/270); Royal Portrush; 66-1
2011: Simon Dyson (-15/269); Killarney; 25-1
2010: Ross Fisher (-18/266); Killarney; 20-1
* playoff win over Ryan Fox
** playoff win over Eddie Pepperell and Bernd Wiesberger
The past five Irish Opens have been won with GIR ranks of sixth, 17th, first, fourth, and first.
Both Els (2004) and Woods (2002) rated first in their fields for Scrambling when they won their WGC events here.
The last nine Irish Open champions had at least one top-10 in the seven lead-up events.
Sam Horsfield 25-1
The Englishman finished T-5 last week in Germany despite carding a 5-over 77 on Friday. Horsfield rates first on the European Tour for Putts Per Green in Regulation, first in Sand Saves, fourth in SG: Total, fifth for SG: Approach, seventh for SG: Tee-To-Green and 11th for Greens In Regulation.
Andy Sullivan 35-1
Sullivan earned his first top-5 finish of the season last weekend in Germany. 
Last summer, Sullivan earned his first win in almost five years at the English Championship at Hanbury Manor, which was designed by Jack Nicklaus II, and that design does have a resemblance to Mount Juliet. 
Laurie Canter 40-1
Canter went well at this event last fall at Galgorm Castle with a T-14 and may find this wider course a little more to his liking. It should benefit his game off the tee even more. He ranks fifth on the European Tour for SG: Off-The-Tee, sixth for Greens In Regulation, and 11th for SG: Tee-To-Green.
Calum Hill 66-1
Scotsman Hill has four top-10 finishes on the season. He ranks third on the European Tour for Scoring Average (68.84).
Adrian Otaegui 80-1
The Spaniard finished T-29 last week in Germany but ranked ninth in the field for SG: Approach and sixth for SG: Tee-To-Green.
Last week's performance follows up a runner-up performance two weeks earlier at the Scandinavian Mixed, where he hit 80.6% of his greens. He is obviously hitting the ball very well of late.
Eddie Pepperell 80-1
The half-English, half-Irish Pepperell has always had a solid record in this event with a top-10 at The K Club and top-5s at Royal County Down and Lahinch. 
The top three non-qualified players here will gain entry into the British Open. Pepperell has needed good finishes either at the Irish Open or the Scottish Open to get into the major in the past and has accomplished it a couple of times.
Connor Syme 150-1
Syme has basically been consistently inconsistent here in 2021. He has missed six cuts in 11 events, but in the five cuts he has made, he has garnered four top-20s and two top-5s.
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