Round 2 of the Midwest Birdie Fest outdid itself last Sunday, elevating to “eagle” status on the 72nd hole of the tournament at TPC Twin Cities. A 14/1 choice pre-tournament, Bryson DeChambeau jumped to a 1-shot lead over Collin Morikawa and Matthew Wolff, by making an eagle-3 on the Par-5 18th hole.
Wolff and Morikawa were one hole behind, in the 3M Open’s final pairing. Myself, along with my LongShots co-hosts, Matt Youmans and Wes Reynolds, all made DeChambeau one of our choices to win the tournament on last week’s show. At this point, I was figuring on a playoff for sure as both Morikawa and Wolff would likely birdie the final hole to tie DeChambeau at the end of regulation. They both hit their second shots into the green. Morikawa’s ball found the putting surface, probably around 35 feet from the flag. Wolff’s ball settled off of the green, in the fringe, 26 feet from the pin. Wolf, a pre-tournament 125/1 long shot, was the 2019 individual men’s NCAA champion from Oklahoma State and collegiate teammate of the already very successful Viktor Hovland. Wolff shocked all of those watching and forever changed his golfing career by rolling in the 26-footer from off the green for an eagle of his own, trumping DeChambeau by one stroke, and earning his first PGA Tour victory. The back nine on Sunday at TPC Twin Cities provided some tremendous theater and Wolff capped it off in dramatic fashion.
And how about this? In the third and final week of the Midwest Birdie Fest, Hovland, Morikawa and Wolff are all atop the oddsboard as the favorites to win the John Deere Classic beginning this Thursday in Silvis, Ill. Really a great story in golf and all of this leading up to next week’s British Open Championship at Royal Portrush, where they will crown the Champion Golfer of The Year.
While the fields have not been the most attractive, the storylines that have emerged from this midsummer stretch of events in America’s heartland have been compelling and the fan support has been outstanding. That trend will continue this week at the John Deere Classic as not a single player ranked in the world’s Top 50 is here, but John Deere is arguably the Tour’s very best sponsor and they put on a very well-attended, enthusiastic show year after year. Unlike first timers, the Rocket Mortgage Classic and 3M Open, the John Deere has been around for over 40 years. Since year 2000, they have been playing it at TPC Deere Run, very much a rural, parkland par-71 layout with a fair amount of sand and not much water coming into play. The consistency of the tournament is amazing. It always comes the week prior to the British Open. The stroke average year in and year out is always right around 69.5 and the winning score is always right around 20-under par.
As our self-proclaimed title indicates, the Deere is a birdie fest, too. Neither distance nor accuracy off the tee has mattered much here over the years, but rather approach shots, scrambling and whoever is wielding the hottest putter. Similar claims can be made about Colonial Country Club, home to the Charles Schwab Challenge, so one can look at this event for handicapping correlations. David Frost, David Toms, Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Steve Stricker and Kenny Perry have all won both events.
THREE LONG SHOTS TO WIN
THE JOHN DEERE CLASSIC
Denny McCarthy (60/1)
In his last six starts, McCarthy has missed three cuts, but has also recorded three Top 25 finishes, including 21st and 23rd the last two weeks. He is No. 1 on Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting, 36th in Birdie Average and 8th in Scrambling. He took 34th here last year, but shot 73 on the final day after shooting in the 60’s in each of the first three rounds. Gauging a hot putter is the most difficult handicap in golf but if McCarthy’s flatstick stays hot, he should contend.
Talor Gooch (80/1)
Another Oklahoma State Cowboy looking to draft off of Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff’s momentum, Gooch started out this season with a bang, taking 4th at the Desert Classic and 3rd at Torrey Pines. He’s showed some signs as of late, taking 17th two weeks ago in Detroit. He ranks 17th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach, 21st in Birdie Average, and 49th in Strokes Gained: Putting. Gooch also finished 29th at Colonial six weeks ago.
Sam Ryder (80/1)
Sam Ryder took 2nd at the John Deere last season in his very first visit to the tournament. He recorded his best finish of the season last week in Minnesota since returning to competition following injury. His stats are excellent across the board; 46th in Strokes Gained: Approach, 37th in Birdie Average, 36th in Scrambling, and 31st in Strokes Gained: Putting
As I have noted as a guest on Gill Alexander’s “A Numbers Game” on VSiN, it might be a wise decision to look at playing these futures in the “To Finish Top 10” market. In 22 tournaments played this season, I’ve had 16 futures choices finish Top 10, 14 of which have been top 5.