Rocket Mortgage Classic 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis
The PGA Tour season has many segments. Some, such as the swings through the West Coast or Florida are obvious, for geographic reasons.
Summer’s here and the time is right for the touring professionals to enter a portion of the schedule that’s less obvious and more important. The regular season is expiring. Some careers are teetering.
Only six tournaments remain and two of those are the opposite field / reduced points variety. While 99 percent of the golf observing world salivates over the year’s final major championship in Sandwich, the gentlemen hovering on the Top 125 bubble have a less appealing matter to face back home.
Their play in the next month or so will determine whether they’ll spend next season dining fine in Ponte Vedra or hunting for ham and cheese in Wichita. For some, the question may come down to the final putt next month in steamy Greensboro.
Call this the Summer Sweat.
A smattering of stars will tee off at soggy Detroit Golf Club this week for the Rocket Mortgage Classic. The spotlight should instead shine on the rest of the 156-man field, who may lack points but not motivation.
After months of intermittent starts, opportunities abound in the upcoming weeks. There’s a string of tournament tee times ahead. A chance to gain rhythm and build confidence, earn precious FedEx points and perhaps guarantee a full schedule in 2021-22.
If the putts drop, there are miles to ride in courtesy cars and drivers to burn. If they lip out, there are more miles to ride in a rented sedan, few drivers.
They’ve seen the last man in the field win the Rocket Mortgage and a Monday qualifier finish as runner up. They watched Kramer Hickok vault up the standings with inspired play last Sunday. They are possibly four rounds from changing their life.
What will it take to accomplish this at Detroit GC, a 7,370-yard par-72 Donald Ross layout featuring wall-to-wall bentgrass with a dash of poa annua sprinkled on the greens?
Birdies, baby. Lots and lots and lots of birdies. The over / under total in Vegas is 23.5 under par and the buckets of rain that fell on Michigan in recent days will only allow the players to be more aggressive. We’ve seen a fairway finder and a bomber win and two years of data reveals only a glimpse, however, SG: Tee-to-Green has been a good indicator of success. And, putting obviously, which is tricky to predict. But a successful week demands prowess on the greens, creating scoring chances with the short clubs and dropping in the critical 10-15 foot putts.
The Bargain Bin
- Joseph Bramlett, Kevin Chappell, Austin Eckroat, James Hahn, Hank Lebioda
Everything about Detroit GC – hitting fairways, hitting greens, scrambling – is easier than the average Tour event. The field even bombed drives 13 yards longer than the Tour standard the last two years. It’s another week when digging deep isn’t a bad strategy in building a fantasy roster. There’s value in the lower price range and also some close to the top. We valued recent performance and gave serious consideration to golfers who can open the throttle when the course is tame.
As always, good luck.
Golfer power rankings
25. Henrik Norlander – After a couple of months of subpar ballstriking has recorded positive Tee-to-Green numbers in the last three events. Faded on the weekend in Cromwell but has enjoyed his trips to the Motor City, finishing T-12 last year.
24. Brian Stuard – Enters the week 121st in the FedEx Cup standings and the time to secure a playoff spot and full status for next season is running short. He’s enjoyed his trips around Detroit Golf Club, going 29 under the last two outings. Strong fairway finder excels on short par 4s.
23. Cam Davis – He’s back. A favorite of the Power Rankings reappears because he’s built to bomb the Detroit GC and capitalizes on frequent opportunities when birdie streaks are required. Was quite crooked when we saw him last at Memorial but has had two weeks to sort things out.
22. Gary Woodland – The results haven’t matched the ballstriking progress. And I’m not sure I trust the 2019 U.S. Open champion to win again anytime soon, which is strange. But he’s a solid selection this week because he’s top 20 in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last eight rounds and the driver has been an asset more often than not over the last two months.
21. Beau Hossler – Finished T-19 at Congaree and T-10 in Cromwell in his last two starts. Consistent ballstriking has eluded him in his pro career – until the last two weeks when he gained an average of six shots Tee-to-Green. Can roll his ball on bentgrass. Confidence is valuable.
20. Sepp Straka – Certain to be a popular selection in fantasyland this week because he’s 31 under with two top-11 finishes at the Rocket Mortgage and because he finished 10th at the Travelers, gaining 5.7 strokes Tee-to-Green.
19. Sungjae Im – He’s turned into a Bermuda specialist, which is no help this week but his ballstriking has been rock solid, gaining shots Tee-to-Green and on Approach the last three starts. Has made the cut in both Rocket Mortgage appearances with a T-21 in 2019.
18. Chez Reavie – In the top 3 in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green on easy courses and Opportunities Gained. The putter has been troublesome (110th in the field) yet he’s still finished in the top 40 in his last three tournaments.
17. Si Woo Kim – Irons went awry in Connecticut but gained six strokes Tee-to-Green at both Memorial and the U.S. Open. He’s 13th in the field in scoring on 450-500 yard par 4s and there are four in that range at Detroit Golf Club. Also top 10 in the field in Opportunities Gained and Strokes Gained: Total on easy courses.
16. Matthew Wolff – The runner-up last year (20 under). But if you take him – at a hefty price – you’re gonna have to ignore last week’s stats. He lost strokes in every category. Has as much firepower as anyone in the field and the bentgrass and poa annua combination should suit the West Coast native.
15. Will Zalatoris – Making only his third start since the PGA Championship. Should be fresh and ready to start attacking flags again.
14. Hideki Matsuyama – Gained 10.3 strokes Tee-to-Green at the PGA, 5.6 at Memorial and 5.5 at the U.S. Open and finished no better than 23rd in each event. Can he make enough putts to hang around in a shootout?
13. Lanto Griffin – It’s a mild surprise that Griffin’s last top 10 was way back in January at the Farmers. This could be a good week for the former VCU star to return to the first page. He’s better than the field average in the significant categories, including seventh in Opportunities Gained in easy scoring conditions. Tied for 21st here last year.
12. Vaughn Taylor – He gained three strokes Tee to Green last week, but unfortunately suffered a rare off week with the putter. It happens. He’s capable of running blue hot with the blade, gaining 5.8 shots or more on the greens in three of the last eight tournaments. Leads the field in Opportunities Gained over the last 24 rounds in easy scoring conditions. 139th in the FedEx Cup standings.
11. Webb Simpson – Played his share of Donald Ross courses growing up in North Carolina, has a top 10 in this event and blasts every model we constructed this week. Unafraid of shooting low numbers and creating opportunities with his short irons and wedges. Only his second non-major start since the Masters.
10. Lucas Glover – He’s not easy to back (see Keegan Bradley, Hideki, etc.) but it’s also shortsighted to undervalue his efficient ballstriking. His missed cut at Congaree can be dismissed. Probably a result of excessive self-applied pressure to play well at a course he represents. Prior to that he’d gained strokes Tee-to-Green in 10 consecutive tournaments.
9. Maverick McNealy – Finished 30th last week despite losing 2.6 shots on approach, a sign that he’s becoming comfortable on the PGA Tour and figuring out how to score when he doesn’t have his best stuff. Top 10 in the models because he putts well on this week’s surface, takes advantage of shorter courses and has been solid Tee-to-Green in the last 12 rounds.
8. Cameron Tringale – Putted poorly and missed the cut last week but this combination is too sweet to ignore: Over the last 24 rounds he’s third in the field in SG: Approach and seventh in SG: Putting, making him the only player in Detroit in the top 10 in both. Also ranks 16th in SG: Tee-to-Green.
7. Kevin Kisner – Shot a pair of 63s last week, gained two shots Tee-to-Green and seven shots on the greens. Bemoaned his putter earlier this season but looks like those troubles have subsided. He’s second in the field in SG: Total in the last 24 rounds on easy courses and top 3 in scoring on both 350-400-yard par 4s and 450-500 yard par 4s.
6. Troy Merritt – Some players rank high in the models each week but can’t crack the Sunday leaderboard. Others lack the sparkling stats, just collect fat paychecks. Merritt falls in the latter category, posting three top 10s in his last seven starts and making all but one cut. Seems like a fantasy steal considering he finished T-8 in last year’s Rocket Mortgage.
5. Joaquin Niemann – Bombers can thrive at Detroit Golf Club and Niemann is ninth in the field in driving distance when the fairways are generous. He’s also third in SG: Total in the last 24 rounds on easy courses. Shot 17 under and tied for fifth in 2019. Cut making machine looking for first top 10 since the Valspar in early May.
4. Doc Redman – The runner-up here in 2019. Struggled off the tee at the Travelers but his irons remained sharp (3.9 strokes gained). Has made five consecutive cuts, landing in the top 10 twice. Another native of the Tar Heel state who should feel at home on a Ross layout.
3. Jason Kokrak – Love the way he’s trending on poa annua and bentgrass greens. Will write off his missed cut at the U.S. Open to a post-victory letdown. On a short list of players who are top 20 in driving distance and putting. Should be able to take advantage of the three reachable par 5s at Detroit GC.
2. Bryson DeChambeau – The defending champion. Put on a show with his driver last year en route to firing 23 under. Crushes the 350-yard par 4s (there are four at Detroit GC) because he’s flipping wedges to the greens. Also fifth in the field in putting on bentgrass and poa annua.
1. Patrick Reed – In his last 18 starts on the PGA Tour, Reed has finished in the top 25 on 14 occasions and missed four cuts. Everyone knows what he can do with the putter but how about these SG: Tee-to-Green numbers last three times out: 11.5, 4.5, 7.8. Feels like he’s certain to join the two-time victors club in the 2020-21 season.