John Deere Classic 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

Russell Henley has been playing great golf of late. If the putter gets hot, it could spell victory this week for the 2019 John Deere Classic runner up. Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

If nothing else, the John Deere Classic deserves credit for surviving 50 years despite being saddled with a difficult date in the heart of the sweltering summer.

Again one of the weaker fields on the PGA Tour, there are still 500 FedEx Cup points, $1.16 million and a two-year exemption awaiting the winner after four rounds at the par-71 TPC Deere Run layout which will likely play around 7,100 yards.

There are certain similarities to last week. Soft greens, shortish course, bentgrass wall-to-wall. The pros must shoot 2 or 3 under to reach the weekend and likely 18-20 under to hoist the tractor.

The fairways are generous, and the greens are significantly easier to hit than the average Tour event. But the thick rough must be avoided. It’s a fun layout with an interesting finish. The 16th is a par 3 along the river. The 17th is a reachable par 5 with a unique green and the 18th delivers a daunting finish, starting with a challenging tee shot, water guarding the left side of the green and a penal bailout to the right.

RELATED: John Deere Classic course preview of TPC Deere Run | The Caddie Line homepage

We identified players who are playing well. I took a trip or two around TPC Deere Run and pros who arrive on form  generally have little trouble solving the layout. For model purposes, we targeted players who enjoy shorter, easier courses, creating and converting birdie opportunities. An array of players can win at Deere Run, a testament to D.A. Weibring’s layout. A combination of accurate iron play and strong bentgrass putting trumps distance.

It’s another opportunity for those fighting for their card or their first victory, which has been a recent trend in Silvis, Illinois.

The Bargain Bin

  • Ben Martin, Sam Ryder, Adam Schenk, Roger Sloan, Kevin Tway

Predicting putting is the most difficult aspect of golf prognosticating. Everyone in the field, more or less, is capable of a hot week on the greens. Expect a shootout where a half-dozen competitors have a legitimate chance heading to the back nine on Sunday. Course history has been important here and was given more weight than usual in the primary model.

As always, good luck.

Golfer power rankings

25. Zach Johnson – I envisioned a mildly better year for Zach Johnson in 2021 but it hasn’t materialized (99th in FedEx Cup). Still, this is his major and there’s enough gas in the tractor to make another lap on the leaderboard. He’s missed the cut only once in the last 16 John Deeres, posting six top 5s since 2009. More recently, Johnson gained 4.5 shots on approach in a T-25 at the Travelers. Top 10 in the field in putting on bentgrass and scoring on 400-450-yard par 4s.

24. Steve Stricker – The U.S. Ryder Cup captain ruled Silvis from 2011 to 2013, winning three consecutive John Deere titles. He claimed a Champions Tour major by four shots two weeks ago and played the weekend in five of his last six starts on the PGA Tour, landing in the top 15 twice. Finds most fairways. Iron game and putting remain elite.

23. Scott Stallings – The TPC Deere Run has been fertile ground for Stallings, yielding three top 20s in his last four visits. He gained five strokes on approach last week in Detroit, drove the ball better than the field average and tied for 25th. Top 35 in the field in SG:Total on shorter courses and easier courses.

22. Henrik Norlander – Short game curbed Norlander’s harvest in recent weeks yet he’s still made three consecutive cuts and gained shots Tee-to-Green in the last four outings. Tied for 27th in the 2016 John Deere. Ranks better than the field average in the eight categories identified in the primary model this week.

21. Richy Werenski – Putts his best on bentgrass, which he showed last week in a T-25 at the Rocket Mortgage. More important, the 2.8 strokes he gained on approach in Detroit was his sharpest effort since February. Has made the cut in each of his three John Deere starts (two top 25s).

20. Seamus Power – Power missed last week’s Rankings because he joined the field late. He’s thrived early and late over the last month or so, ranks second in the field in SG: Approach over the last 12 rounds and 27th in putting on bentgrass in the last 36. Also has two top 25s in the John Deere. Charging hard for a card.

19. Lucas Glover – He’s top 10 in the field in Birdies or Better Gained over the last 36 rounds and has top 15s in 2017 and 2019 at the John Deere. Also thrives on shorter courses (fourth in field) in part because he handles the 400-450-yard par 4s. Bent is his best surface and remarkably has gained strokes on the greens in eight of the last 10 tournaments.

18. Bo Hoag – If a putt or two drops, Hoag’s first trip to the heartland should be fruitful. He sizzled on approach in Detroit, gaining 6.2 shots and ranks 25th in SG: Ballstriking over the last 24 rounds. Top 20 in the field in par-5 scoring also.

17. Doc Redman – Can’t hold grudges in the handicapping game and a short memory is a road map through fantasyland. Redman floundered last week losing strokes on approach after five consecutive outstanding efforts with the irons. He bounces back in Illinois.

16. Cameron Davis – He was coming, not all at once but slow and steady. Incredible talent delivered on the promise last week in Detroit with a remarkable eagle-birdie finish in regulation and a string of well struck shots in the playoff.

15. Hank Lebioda – Other than a 3-putt par on the 71st green, the former Florida State star looked comfortable in contention in the Motor City. His second consecutive top 5 pushed him into the playoffs and also earned Lebioda a promotion from the Bargain Bin to the Power Rankings, fulfilling a childhood dream for certain. Hits good drives, putts well on bentgrass and leads the field in SG: Total over the last eight, 12 and 24 rounds.

14. Harold Varner III – Backing the ECU Pirate has been frustrating this season because his model ranks have outpaced his tournament finishes. We’re banking on a turnaround in the Quad Cities, where he finished sixth in 2018. He’s top 25 in SG: Short Game and all the major ballstriking categories over the last 24 rounds.

13. Sungjae Im – Was dialed in with the irons in Detroit, gaining at least two strokes on approach for the third consecutive week and landed in the top 10 for the first time since the Honda. Tied for 26th in his lone John Deere effort in 2019.

12. Kyle Stanley – Consistent ballstriking has produced six consecutive made cuts and poor putting (worse than field average in the last five events) has kept him from rising on Sundays. Has five top 25s in his last nine trips to the John Deere though, including a runner-up. Third in the field in SG: Approach over the last 24 rounds.

11. Pat Perez – A month ago his playing privileges for 2021-22 were in jeopardy. But the wily veteran just keeps plowing and has climbed to 107th in the FedEx Cup standings, essentially securing playoff status with a T-14 in Detroit. Love his combination of solid iron play and hot putting.

10. Daniel Berger – The Vegas favorite and clear leader on any model, however, this feels like a week when it’s better to spread the salary cash around and dig deeper in the field. Would surprise no one if he won but could also be using the week to tune up for next week’s Open Championship. T-5 in 2017 John Deere.

9. Alex Noren – Closed with a career-low 64 in Detroit, tying for fourth, one shot of the playoff. Will take massive divots on the lush Deere Run fairways. He’s second in the field in SG: Total over the last 36 rounds in prime scoring conditions and 11th in putting on bentgrass.

8. Beau Hossler – At 144th in the FedEx Cup standings with time running out, a lucrative week could secure a shot at the weekly bounty available in the season to come. Seeking a fourth consecutive top-25 finish thanks to rejuvenated ballstriking, gaining at least four strokes Tee-to-Green in each of the last three outings. Tied for 26th in the 2019 John Deere.

7. Patton Kizzire – Over the last 36 rounds, he’s ninth in the field in SG: Approach and fourth in SG: Putting. That’s a recipe for a healthy week. Finished T-25 at the Rocket Mortgage despite losing four shots off the tee. The generous fairways at Deere Run should allow him to improve with the driver.

6. Jhonnatan Vegas – Making his first start since he made the cut at the U.S. Open. Has a pair of runner-up finishes in weaker field events this season (Puerto Rico, Congaree). Ballstriking stats are impeccable – gained 5.1 strokes Tee-to-Green in last five tournaments. Putting stats are not – lost 1.8 strokes in the same span.

5. Aaron Wise – Has a T-16 and missed cut in two John Deere appearances. Finished top 20 in strong fields (Wells Fargo, PGA, Memorial) in his last four starts. He’s seventh in the field in SG: Ballstriking over the last 24 rounds and seventh in SG: Approach over the last 12.

4. Maverick McNealy – He’s quietly climbed to 54th in the FedEx Cup standings in a breakout season. Fired a 67 on Sunday to finish T-21 at the Rocket Mortgage. Drives it straight, flourishes on short, easier courses and enjoys putting on bentgrass. Just needs to tidy up the short game, where he’s lost strokes in his last three tournaments.

3. Brian Harman – Won here in 2014 and has finished 24th, 10th and 26th in three of four starts since. Having an outstanding season in every aspect and worthy of the short odds and high fantasy price he’s earned this week. He’s 36th or better in each of the eight categories in the primary model, including top 10 in scoring on short and easy courses.

2. Kevin Streelman – Has three top 10s in the John Deere since 2009 but has also missed the cut twice. Checks all the boxes for success at Deere Run, though and is clearly eager to rebound from a surprising missed cut at the Travelers. Prior to that hiccup, was one of the Tour’s best tee-to-green for two months running.

1. Russell Henley – The John Deere runner-up in 2019 finished top 20 at the U.S. Open and Travelers and is top 5 in six of the eight areas that are essential for success at Deere Run. Just needs one hot week with the putter but the two-time Tour winner is ready to handle the field once again. Gained an average of 2.5 strokes on approach over the last five events.

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