10 Players to Watch: John Deere Classic

  1. Daniel Berger, United States — The 2015 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is having a breakthrough season, with his second PGA Tour victory in the FedEx St. Jude Classic last month and runner-up finishes in the Travelers Championship in his last outing and in the WGC-HSBC Champions among his five top-10 results. Berger, 24, is ninth in the FedEx Cup standings and has climbed to No. 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking, but would be even higher had he not lost to his buddy Jordan Spieth in a playoff at the Travelers. He is making his debut in the John Deere Classic and will be on the jet tournament officials hired on Sunday night to take those who stay and play to the United Kingdom for his second appearance in the Open Championship next week at Royal Birkdale in England. Berger figures to enjoy TPC Deere Run because both of his victories came on TPC courses in the St. Jude at TPC Southwind, and he has finished in the top five the last two years in the Travelers at TPC River Highlands.
  1. Danny Lee, New Zealand — Another younger player (26) enjoying a big season, Lee has been on a big run since late May with a tie for fifth in the AT&T Byron Nelson, solo sixth in the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, a tie for third in the Travelers Championship and a tie for ninth last week in the Greenbrier Classic. That surge came after he missed the cuts in four consecutive starts, in addition to withdrawing from the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. There was speculation that Lee might be suffering from an injury, but he claimed the only thing hurting was his game and he has finished in the top 25 eight times since. He is making his fifth start in the John Deere Classic, and after missing the cut in two of his first three appearances, he opened with 68-68 in 2015 before playing the weekend in 62-67 to finish in a tie for third, one stroke out of the playoff in which Jordan Spieth beat Tom Gillis.
  1. Brian Harman, United States — Playing perhaps the best golf in his career, having claimed his second PGA Tour victory in the Wells Fargo Championship and held the 54-hole lead in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills before finishing in a tie for second behind Brooks Koepka, Harman will try to keep it going in the John Deere Classic. And that might not be too difficult since he recorded his first win on the circuit at TPC Deere Run in 2014, when he opened with an 8-under-par 63 and led much of the way before holding off Zach Johnson by one stroke. Harman, who is 11th in the FedExCup rstandings and 26th in the world, is making his sixth appearance in the tournament and had a chance to win the first time in 2012, when he opened 65-65-69 before finishing with a 73 to slide from third to a tie for 19th. Harman tied for 24th in his title defense two years ago, but shot 71-70 — 141 to miss the cut for the second time in the tournament last year.
  1. Kyle Stanley, United States — Coming off a playoff victory over Charles Howell III in the Quicken Loans National in his last start two weeks ago, Stanley has risen to fifth in the FedExCup standings and 24th in the world. He has posted four other top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, including a tie for fourth in the Players Championship despite stumbling to a 3-over-par 75 in the final round, and a tie for sixth last month in the Memorial Tournament. Stanley, whose only other PGA Tour victory came in the 2012 Waste Management Phoenix Open, doesn’t figure to wait that long to find the winner’s circle again. He has nine results in the top 25 this season and ranks fifth on the circuit with a scoring average of 69.7, in part because of his ball-striking. Stanley is 17th in driving accuracy at 68.34 percent and second in hitting greens in regulation at 71.83 percent. His best result in seven appearances in the John Deere Classic was second in 2011, one stroke behind Steve Stricker.
  1. Ryan Moore, United States — Coming off a five-week rest because of a strained tendon in his left shoulder, Moore will defend the John Deere Classic title he won last year by two strokes over Ben Martin. He played the last 46 holes without a bogey at TPC Deere Run and held off Martin down the stretch with eight straight pars to close with a 4-under-par 67. This is Moore’s ninth start at TPC Deere Run, and he also tied for seventh in 2014 and tied for eighth two years earlier. His scoring average over the last 20 rounds in the tournament is a sterling 67.20. His victory in the tournament last year was his fifth on the PGA Tour, but he missed the cut in two of his last three starts this year while being slowed by the injury. Moore played well before that with seven results in the top 25, including a tie for third in the SBS Tournament of Champions and a tie for ninth in the Masters, where he was in the hunt before closing with a 74.
  1. Kevin Kisner, United States — Even though he has cooled off since claiming his second PGA Tour title in the Dean & DeLuca Invitational and tying for sixth in the Memorial Tournament the following week in April, Kisner has six top-10 finishes this season and is eighth in the FedExCup standings. He finished second six times on the PGA Tour since winning the 2015 RSM Classic, including the Arnold Palmer Invitational this year, and often puts his name high on the leaderboard, with 10 results in the top 25 in 19 tournaments this season. Kisner is making his fifth appearance in the John Deere Classic and after missing the cut in his first two starts in 2011 and 2012, he tied for 20th in 2014 and tied for 14th the following year before skipping the event last year. He was a cumulative 21-under-par over eight rounds in those last two events, but simply didn’t go low enough on TPC Deere Run.
  1. Charley Hoffman, United States — Even though he has been unable to nail down the fifth victory of his career on the PGA Tour this season, Hoffman has come close, tying for second in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, tying for third two weeks ago in the Travelers Championship and tying for fourth in the Genesis Open. He has finished in the top 10 in each of his last two outings, also finishing solo eighth in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills last month. Hoffman, whose last victory came in the 2016 Valero Texas Open, also led the Masters in April after opening with a 7-under-par 65, and was in the hunt most of the way at Augusta National before shooting 74 in the final round to finish in a tie for 22nd. He is making his seventh start in the John Deere Classic and recorded his only top-10 result in 2010, when he opened and closed with 6-under-par 65s, to wind up in a tie for seventh.
  1. Zach Johnson, United States — The John Deere Classic is one of Johnson’s favorite tournaments on the PGA Tour, as he claimed the title in 2012 for one of his 12 victories on the circuit, in addition to finishing second in 2009, 2013 and 2014, and third in 2011 and 2015. He closed with a 6-under-par 65 and then beat Troy Matteson with a birdie on the second playoff hole five years ago, but in his title defense Jordan Spieth beat him with a par on the fifth extra hole. Zach is making his 16th consecutive appearance at TPC Deere Run and is a total of 153-under in the tournament. However, he will need some of that old magic this week because he is laboring through a season in which he has only two top-10 results and four top-25 finishes in 16 tournaments, the best a tie for sixth in the Sony Open in Hawaii and a tie for ninth in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
  1. Steve Stricker, United States — The 50-year-old Stricker and Davis Love III, 53, have shown recently that the old guys still have enough to stick with the young guns, at least for a while. Stricker’s best result on the PGA Tour this season was a tie for seventh in the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, but he also tied for 16th in both the Masters and the U.S. Open last month at Erin Hills. Stricker, a Wisconsin native who grew up not far from TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill. and played golf at the University of Illinois, will be the crowd favorite as he plays in the John Deere Classic for the 19th time. He has 12 victories on the PGA Tour and three of them came in succession in this tournament, from 2009-11. He also tied for seventh in 1997, tied for fourth in 2004, tied for fifth in 2012 and tied for 10th the following year. Stricker made the cut every year but one, shooting 70-74 — 144 to miss by two strokes in 2003.
  1. Nick Taylor, Canada — Although he is not as well know as fellow Canadians Adam Hadwin and Graham DeLaet, Taylor is making at least as much noise these days on the PGA Tour. He tied for eighth in the Wells Fargo Championship, tied for ninth in the AT&T Byron Nelson, playing the weekend in 66-65, and also tied for ninth in the Greenbrier Classic last week, when he was among the leaders all the way after he opened with a 6-under-par 64. Taylor’s only pro victory came in the 2014 Sanderson Farms Championship on the PGA Tour, beating Boo Weekley and Jason Bohn by two strokes, and he had a stellar amateur career that included wins in the Canadian Amateur Championship and the Canadian Junior Championship. If he is going to keep his run going this week in the John Deere Classic, he will have to figure out TPC Deere Run, where he shot 75-72 — 147 to miss the cut in 2015 and also missed the weekend last year at 69-76 — 145.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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