Dustin Johnson (30/1) won a PGA Tour event for the 13th straight season with a victory at last weekend’s Travelers Championship. It was also a win in “Point Spread Weekly” for yours truly. Johnson is now tied for the most PGA Tour wins since 2008 with Tiger Woods, who has yet to return to the tour but could play at the Memorial in two weeks.
Johnson is usually best off the tee but ranked only 46th in SG: Off The Tee and provided his backers with a scare due to a couple of poor tee shots on Sunday’s back nine. Instead, his approach play and putter won the day. He rated fourth in approach proximity, sixth in strokes gained approach and fourth in strokes gained putting. Johnson, like many top golfers, has played in three consecutive events since the PGA Tour resumed, and he is taking this week off.
Last week 34 of the top 40 players in the Official World Golf Rankings were in Hartford, Conn. This week only 12 of the top 40 will be in Detroit for the Rocket Mortgage Classic as many players are electing to skip the event before heading to Dublin, Ohio, for the double dip of the Workday Charity Classic and the Memorial Tournament. The odds-on favorite is Bryson DeChambeau at 6/1. DeChambeau is playing his fourth straight event and has tallied three straight top-eight finishes: T3 at the Colonial, T8 at the RBC Heritage and T6 at the Travelers. In that span, he is a combined 46 under par, better than any other player on tour. DeChambeau’s top-eight streak dates all the way to the Genesis Invitational at Riviera in February. He’s going to win soon, but oddsmakers rightly aren’t being overly generous with the short price.
Webb Simpson (12/1) won his second event of the season two weeks ago at the RBC Heritage and has proven success on Donald Ross course designs, as evidenced by his record at the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C. Simpson won there in 2011 and has back-to-back runner-up finishes the last two years. Patrick Reed (16/1) is another former winner at Sedgefield (2013) and tied for fifth in Detroit last year. Tyrrell Hatton and Hideki Matsuyama are priced at 18/1 and rank first and third, respectively, on the PGA Tour in SG: Tee-To-Green. Nate Lashley won the inaugural event in Detroit last year by getting into the field as an alternate after failing to make it via Monday qualifying. Lashley won by six strokes as a 250/1 shot, and the price for his title defense is half that at 125/1.
The Rocket Mortgage Classic is in its second year in Detroit as a PGA Tour event. Rocket Mortgage is the online brand for mortgage lender Quicken Loans, which was the title sponsor for the National event in the D.C. area from 2014-18 before leading the PGA Tour to move the event to Detroit, where Quicken is headquartered. The company is committed to sponsor the event through 2022.
The Detroit Golf Club is the venue for the Rocket Mortgage Classic. The club’s North Course is 15 minutes north of downtown Detroit near the University of Detroit Mercy campus. The track was designed in 1916 by Donald Ross and is a classic tree-lined layout that plays as a par-72 of 7,340 yards. Only one hole, No. 14, has water, but the course’s 87 bunkers provide the main defense. The greens are inverted from last week with the surface being weighted more toward Poa Annua (80%) than Bentgrass (20%). These are trademark Donald Ross greens featuring 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 rough has been grown slightly more this year to make play a bit more difficult than last year. Scoring will still be low, but the course might play a bit firmer this year with relatively dry conditions. No wind or rain is expected. The traditional par-72 is broken up into four par-5s, four par-3s and 10 par-4s. The par-5s are a bit longer than average — No. 4 is 635 yards, No. 7 is 552, No. 14 is 555 and No. 17 is 577. Three par-5s should be reachable in two for the bigger hitters, but they aren’t necessarily gimme birdies. The easier holes look to be the par-4s. Five are 450 yards or less, and three are shorter than 400 yards.
With little course form or history to go on, the best method of evaluating potential success at Detroit Golf Club is arguably looking at how players have done on other 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
Rocket Mortgage Classic Recent History
2019: Nate Lashley (-25/263) 250/1
• Lashley won this event wire to wire last year after making it into the field as an alternate.
• Strokes Gained Rankings last year: 29th SG OTT, 6th SG APP, 13th SG ATG, 3rd SG T2G, 2nd SG Putting.
• Statistical Rankings: 44th DD (300), 11th DA (73.2%), 4th GIR (81.9%), 19th PROX (30-10), 3rd Scrambling (84.6%).
Rocket Mortgage Classic Trends and Angles
It’s difficult to find notable trends and angles, considering the brief history of the event. But, like every week on the PGA Tour, some pertinent stats can give us an idea of who could fare well, including Greens In Regulation, SG: Approach and SG: Tee-To-Green:
Greens In Regulation
1. Emiliano Grillo (5) 72.96%
2. Aaron Wise (8) 72.22%
3. Bryson DeChambeau (9) 72.08%
4. Tyrrell Hatton (10) 71.94%
5. Webb Simpson (12) 71.79%
6. Will Gordon (13) 71.53%
7. Kyle Stanley (17) 71.32%
8. Hideki Matsuyama (18) 71.21%
9. Cameron Percy (21) 71.08%
10. Adam Hadwin (22) 70.94%
Strokes Gained Approach
1. Tyrrell Hatton (1) 1.194
2. Webb Simpson (4) 0.937
3. Hideki Matsuyama (7) 0.871
4. Viktor Hovland (12) 0.776
5. Christiaan Bezuidenhout (13) 0.742
6. Cameron Percy (16) 0.692
7. Doc Redman (17) 0.690
8. Tom Hoge (22) 0.631
9. Russell Knox (24) 0.561
10. Harold Varner III (25) 0.554
Strokes Gained Tee To Green
1. Tyrrell Hatton (1) 1.947
2. Hideki Matsuyama (3) 1.711
3. Bryson DeChambeau (6) 1.569
4. Tony Finau (8) 1.391
5. Webb Simpson (13) 1.188
6. Harold Varner III (14) 1.132
7. Sungjae Im (22) 0.935
8. Scottie Scheffler (28) 0.867
9. Viktor Hovland (29) 0.848
10. Erik van Rooyen (30) 0.822
(Parentheses indicate overall ranking on PGA Tour in category)
Tony Finau 33/1
Just below the tournament betting favorites are three players who have proven they have the talent to be among the world’s best but simply don’t win enough: Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler and Tony Finau. Matsuyama fits the statistical profile, as he usually does, by ranking in the top 10 in this week’s field in most ball-striking categories. Fowler is sponsored by Quicken Loans and is featured in the company’s marketing campaigns, and tournament organizers would love nothing more than to see him get back on track here. While spectators are banned and his sponsor obligations are substantially less than usual this week, it’s always difficult to select the player who has the same sponsor as the event.
So that leads us to Finau. Unlike Dustin Johnson last week, Finau doesn’t really fit the statistical profile, though he ranks in the top 10 in SG: Tee-To-Green. He does have strong form after missing the cut last week in Hartford, but this is more of a gut play. I have a feeling that Finau will be inspired by the play of his longtime friend and fellow Utah resident Daniel Summerhays. Summerhays was playing what was thought to be his last event as a touring professional last weekend at the Utah Championship. He has stated his intention to retire and become a teacher and golf coach at his high school alma mater. Summerhays was playing on the golf course, Oakridge CC, where he won the Utah State Amateur 20 years ago and shot a final-round 62 before bowing out on the first playoff hole. Summerhays’ brother Boyd is Finau’s swing coach.
Finau is still a top-20 player in the world, but it has been four years since his lone PGA Tour win at the alternate Puerto Rico Open. Since that victory, Finau has seven runner-up finishes, including a playoff loss this season in Phoenix. Perhaps his buddy Summerhays’ determination not to go so quietly into that good night will be the inspiration Finau needs to finally live up to his potential.
Kevin Na 40/1
Na finished fifth last week at the Travelers, shooting 66-66-65-67. He also ranked fourth in the field in Driving Accuracy and second for Greens In Regulation. In addition, he ranked fifth for SG: Putting. Na has four career PGA Tour wins, with three in the last two seasons. All four victories have come on Bentgrass putting surfaces, so he should like the greens this week. Furthermore, he was 13 under on the par-4s, bettered only by tournament winner Dustin Johnson, and the par-4s are relatively shorter on this track, so his lack of length off the tee should be mitigated by good ball striking and his usual elite putting.
While lacking a victory on a Ross design, he is usually very solid on his courses, as shown by two straight top-10s in his last two visits to the Wyndham.
J.T. Poston 45/1
When looking at Donald Ross course correlations, we don’t have to look too far to find the last winner of a full-field event on a Ross track. That would be Poston, who won the 2019 Wyndham last August. Poston missed the cut last week but returns to a track on which he went T11 on debut last year. Before last week’s missed cut in Hartford, Poston was one of only four players (Daniel Berger, Brooks Koepka and Matthew Fitzpatrick) to shoot in the 60s in all eight rounds in the first two events since the resumption of tour action.
Poston also posted consecutive top-10 finishes in those events (10th at Colonial, eighth at RBC Heritage). Now he comes back to the Donald Ross course where he will like these greens better. He rates seventh in SG: Putting (+ 0.75 per round).
Brandt Snedeker 54/1
Snedeker doesn’t exactly come to Detroit in tip-top form, having missed three of his last five cuts. He hasn’t been hitting the ball well lately (190th Off The Tee and 172nd Approach), but he comes to a great place for him to get right: a Donald Ross course.
Snedeker told the media here last year on his way to a T5 finish: “I seem to like Donald Ross courses. That’s the whole reason why I showed this week. When I saw the golf course we were playing, I knew I wanted to be up here. So I did a great job of putting the ball in the fairway off the tee, and from there I could be aggressive. Had a lot of wedges in my hand, hit some great short irons and then obviously played to my strength. I’m a good putter, and I love poa annua greens.”
Brandt won the Wyndham Championship at the Ross-designed Sedgefield in August 2018. He also won the 2012 Tour Championship at East Lake, another Ross design, in Atlanta. The Ross correlations also extend to having two top-nine finishes at both U.S. Opens hosted at Pinehurst No. 2.
Erik van Rooyen 90/1
The South African is a fully exempt member of the European Tour and earned his first win on a major tour last year with a victory at the Scandinavian Invitation. However, he really opened eyes in the golf world with a T3 finish this season at the WGC Mexico Championship against an elite field. Currently, van Rooyen is trying to gain full status on the PGA Tour for next season via non-member points. To do that, he needs one more high finish.
He is ranked No. 40 in the world, his career high. He’s one of the real bombers in the game and ranks third in Driving Distance (315.2 yards). His Driving Accuracy (208th) and GIR (217th) need to get a lot better, but this course is not all that challenging in those categories. He also ranks top 10 (30th on tour overall) in this week’s field in SG: Tee-To-Green.
This seems like a good price to get on a really good player who’s under the radar this week even in a weaker field.
Brian Stuard 100/1
Stuard is a local, having been born and raised and still living in Jackson, Mich. He played his collegiate golf at Oakland University in nearby Rochester, about 15 miles north of Detroit. He finished T20 last week at the Travelers but gained strokes in all five areas and returns home, where he finished T5 on debut last year. The Michigan man is one of the shorter hitters on tour (215th) but one of the more accurate ones (fifth).
Patton Kizzire 165/1
Kizzire finished a solid T6 last week at the Travelers and tallied his best finish since winning the Sony Open in 2018. His strong finish at the Travelers was based on great ball striking, in which he ranked eighth in approach, and 13th tee-to-green, with a very respectable 23rd in SG: Putting.