PGA Tour young guns like Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa hope to take next step as they tee off at the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run.
(CBS Chicago/CBS Local) — The PGA Tour rolls into TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois for the 2019 John Deere Classic. It’s the last stop before The Open Championship, the season’s fourth and final major. While many of the Tour’s biggest names chose to rest this week (or play in the Scottish Open), some of the game’s rising stars will tee it up. This is, after all, a PGA Tour event, with a $6 million purse and the usual allotment of FedExCup points. Also up for grabs is a berth in the upcoming major. As 2013 winner Jordan Spieth can attest to, a major invite can change the course of a career.
While Spieth didn’t make the trip to Silvis, Illinois, the field does feature multiple past winners. Among them are 2018 champion Michael Kim, who set a tournament record of 257 en route to his first ever PGA Tour win. He’ll look to defend his title against past champions — and current contenders — like Ryan Moore (2016), Brian Harman (2014) and Zach Johnson (2012). Jonathan Byrd (2007) and John Senden (2006) will also attempt to relive past glories.
The stage is also set for the new generation of rising stars, including Michael Wolff, Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland. Wolff secured his first PGA Tour win at the 3M Open last week with a long eagle putt on the final hole. Morikawa, who lipped out on his eagle putt, had to settle for birdie and a second-place tie. Hovland has been sniffing around the top 10 since the U.S. Open a month ago, but is still hasn’t found it.
“They’re favorites and they’re dark horses, because of their current stature in the game,” as CBS Sports golf analyst Mark Immelman recently observed of the young trio. “These guys showed their skill over the last few weeks,” he went on. “I feel like they’re fresh. I feel like they’re energetic. I feel like they’re full of confidence.”
That enthusiasm, combined with efficient shot-making, can lead to low scores at TPC Deere Run. Kim showed that last year with his course record 257 (an astounding 27-under par), beating Steve Stricker’s 2010 score by one stroke. Bryson DeChambeau’s 266 (18-under) finish in 2017 was the course’s highest winning mark in over a decade, so it will take a low score to win again this week.
TPC Deere Run confers certain advantages upon players. “A number of the holes bend from left to right,” Immelman notes. “It favors a golfer who can move the ball in that direction.” The greens are generally soft and receptive, and the rough isn’t overly punitive. “It’s a really good design,” even if it tends to yield lots of birdies.
TPC Deere Run offers a few challenges as well, with elevation changes and demanding fairways. The par-4 15th, named ‘Coaltown’ (every hole has a name), is one of the courses more challenging. It measures a tight 456 yards to a thin green flanked by sand and trees. Following that is the par-3 16th hole (‘Mother Earth’) at a comparatively short 153 yards. But it’s green is situated on a rocky bluff, guarded by large bunkers and a 40-foot drop to the Rock River.
Still, as Immelman sums up, “if you can hit the ball a long way and peel it from left to right, you can take advantage.” TPC Deere Run is full of birdie opportunities. “You have to get out there with the mindset of putting the ball in play off the tee, going ahead and attacking some of the get-able hole locations. And then you have to make putts, it’s a simple as that.”
In the week before The Open Championship, with many of the game’s top-ranked players already over in Europe, the John Deere Classic sports a field led by hungry unknowns. And the list of favorites reflect that.
Viktor Hovland (18-1)
Hovland has yet to finish in the top 10 in any of his PGA Tour events, but it’s only a matter of time before that changes. The 21-year-old turned pro just after his T12 finish at the U.S. Open (as the low amateur), and has since managed a T54 at the Travelers Championship and a T13 at both the Rocket Mortgage Classic and 3M Open. Hovland has shown the ability to hit fairways and greens in his limited Tour history. His accuracy and distance will help keep him on the leaderboard at the John Deere.
Collin Morikawa (20-1)
The 22-year-old is coming off a T2 finish at the 3M Open — earning him a special temporary PGA Tour membership though the end of the season — and had a chance to win it at the end. Morikawa has a slightly longer history than Hovland, with a T14 at the Canadian Open his best prior finish. He’s a solid ball-striker, with a maturity and comfort level beyond his years.
Sungjae Im (20-1)
At 62nd in the world, Sungjae Im is among the more highly ranked players in the tournament. He continues a busy season, which has seen just three weeks off since January. The results are starting to show, with a seventh place at the Canadian Open, T4 at the Valspar Championship, T3 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and T7 at the Phoenix Open. He’s already shown flashes of his dominance on the Web.com Tour last year, and this could be the week he gets that first PGA Tour win.