Rocket Mortgage Classic Tips: Five plays for this week's PGA Tour event
Harris English claimed his second win of 2021 last week after a mammoth 8-hole playoff victory over Kramer Hickok in the Travelers Championship. Both making excellent birdies to get into the playoff, it was fitting that English finished off the event in the same style. Onto this week with the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club.
Designed by Donald Ross, Detroit Golf Club is a 7370 yard par 72. Though the course is tree-lined, it feels wide open throughout and along with being one of the flattest courses on tour, it’s no surprise we have seen winning scores of -25 from Nate Lashley in 2019 and -23 from Bryson DeChambeau in 2020, the two times this event has been staged.
Due to the lack of real defence at the course, which lies almost entirely with some characteristically small greens, it’s no surprise to see all types of players playing well here the last two years. You have to think there’s a big advantage for bigger hitters on a course where they’ll hit more fairways than usual. Shown by the top two last year being big hitting duo, DeChambeau and Matthew Wolff.
Though the greens aren’t huge, they’re easy enough to hit, due to the lack of difficulty in the position of the second shot. Events this easy typically turn into putting contests, shown by the two winners ranking in the top 2 in putting for the week, with both runners-up in 5th and 11th.
Once again there’s plenty of rain in the forecast before the event which will soften the course up. Aiding that typical low scoring and enabling the very best iron players to get their darts at the flags to stick.
Last year’s winner, DeChambeau is the standout entry. Along with last year’s runner-up, Wolff. They’re joined by perennial birdie-fest and Donald Ross lover, Webb Simpson, as well as Masters champion, Hideki Matsuyama.
Rocket Mortgage Classic Tips
- Jason Kokrak 28/1 – 1/5 8 places (Williamhill) – 1.75 pts ew (NAP)
- Sungjae Im 33/1 – 1/5 8 places (Betfred) – 1.5 pts ew (NB)
- Garrick Higgo 45/1 – 1/5 8 places (Betfred) – 1 pt ew
- Doug Ghim 100/1 – 1/5 7 places (Boylesports) – 0.75 pts ew (Longshot)
- Davis Thompson 300/1 – 1/5 8 places (Williamhill) – 0.5 pts ew (Longshot)
Bryson DeChambeau is a worthy favourite as last year’s winner and the highest ranked player in the field but doesn’t appeal at single figures.
Patrick Reed played well tee-to-green last week but the usually excellent putter was off again, so he is left alone at a shorter price here. Webb Simpson the most appealing of the shorter prices but with only a couple of starts to his name in the last few months, it is not easy to gauge where his game is. Instead, I’ll start this week’s picks with a man who’s already a two-time winner on tour this season, Jason Kokrak.
After finally getting his breakthrough PGA Tour win at the CJ Cup last year, Kokrak doubled up on that success with a victory in the Charles Schwab challenge just 7 months later. He missed the cut last time out in the US Open but I believe he has a game perfectly suited to this week.
He’s an excellent, long hitting driver of the ball, ranking 22nd off the tee and 23rd in driving distance. He backs this up by being an excellent putter, ranking 2nd on tour this season and 20th in birdie conversion. Combined with hitting plenty of greens, where he ranks 32nd in greens in regulation, it’s easy to see why he’s one of the most prolific birdie makers on tour, ranking 12th in birdie average.
He’s played here once in the two years the event has taken place, finishing a respectable 29th in 2019. Added to that he’s got a good record at another Donald Ross design, Sedgefield Country Club, which hosts the Wyndham Championship, finishing 6th and 15th there in the last two years.
With the way players typically carry over form from one Donald Ross course to another, I expect Kokrak to go well again this week and improve on that 29th place finish on debut, with a game tailor made for the test.
Whilst not quite replicating the stellar performances of last year, particularly at the start of the year, where he picked up his first PGA Tour title in the Honda Classic, Sungjae has still been a model of consistency this year. He’s only missed four cuts, had a couple of top 10s and a further six top 25s.
Though his most recent form looks a little underwhelming, with figures of MC-MC-35-35, he’s started to put a few positive performances together with his irons, particularly at the Palmetto Championship two starts ago, where he ranked 7th in the field in approach play and I feel this return to an easier, birdie-fest type event will be a welcome change to the more demanding courses which he’s been playing recently.
He’s a good putter, ranking 39th for the year, as well as 42nd in birdie conversion. He hits plenty of greens, ranking 37th in GIR and also ranks high in birdie average, 34th for the year. Like Kokrak, he has a game that makes it no surprise he’s gone well at Donald Ross courses before.
He’s played both times here, making the cut each time with a best of 21st last year. He’s also got a great record in the Wyndham Championship, where he’s finished top 10 in both of his two attempts, finishing 6th and 9th.
A classy player, who’s form isn’t as poor as you would be led to believe. I don’t think he’s far away from a good week and this feels a perfect opportunity for him to contend.
After the withdrawal of Charley Hoffman from the original selections, I’ve decided to replace him with Garrick Higgo. Who was one of two players, along with Brendon Todd, that I mentioned originally as the last guys off the shortlist before backing Hoffman.
This event really should suit Higgo down to the ground and ultimately, his length off the tee, along with his current blistering form meant I favoured him over Todd.
All three of his European Tour wins have come with winning scores of -19 or better. The two in The Canaries a couple of months ago particularly eye watering, as he won twice in three weeks with scores of -25 and -27. He’s stepped up on that even further since, with an incredible win at the Palmetto Championship on his first start in a regular PGA Tour event just three weeks ago.
He ranks 8th in birdie average on the European Tour this year and his success predominantly comes from being an excellent putter, where he’s ranked 1st on tour and off the tee, where he ranks 42nd and is amongst the longest drivers, ranking 18th in driving distance. He should be able to let the driver loose on these easy to hit fairways.
I originally questioned whether he was due a bit of a down period after a whirlwind few months, which has seen him rise to 39th in the world rankings but he only missed the cut by one last week and has taken everything in his stride so far. There’s no real reason to doubt the likeable (and mega talented) South African will continue to perform.
I’m going double-pronged with the longshots this week, with one at a huge price but firstly I fancy birdie machine, Doug Ghim to go well this week.
Consistency has been the name of the game for the former #1 amateur since he stepped up to the PGA Tour. After a tricky start to 2020, he really found his feet in the latter part of last year, picking up a number of top 20s and has continued in the same form this year, where he’s missed just six cuts and picked up his best finish to date, with a 5th in the American Express. Another event, like this week, in which making plenty of birdies is an absolute must.
He finished 54th last week after a good start but just three starts ago finished a very good 14th in the Charles Schwab Challenge, with a MC in the Memorial Tournament sandwiched in between.
The undoubted biggest asset in his game is his iron play. Where he ranks 11th in GIR and 17th in approach. He’s also solid off the tee and around the greens, with the putter being the only real worry with him, though he does rank a respectable 88th for birdie conversion.
He missed the cut here last year but didn’t play too bad with two rounds of 71. He does, however, have a 20th place finish in the Wyndham Championship to show his suitability for this type of test and if he can continue his stellar iron play, he should improve considerably on last year’s missed cut.
On to the second of the longshots, where I’m going to throw a dart at a huge priced player with huge potential, in the form of former #1 amateur, Davis Thompson.
He’s only four weeks a pro but as we’ve learned in recent years with the trio of Morikawa, Hovland and Wolff, these young guys are often primed and ready to compete the moment they leave their amateur status behind and should not be ignored. He’ll have a higher ceiling than the majority of players in this field and if he takes to the pro ranks quickly, it won’t take him long to reach a level plenty here can’t or haven’t played at.
Thompson showed his instant promise with a rock solid 35th on his pro debut in the Palmetto Championship three weeks ago. He was good in most aspects of his game that week, particularly in approach, where he ranked 8th. Also putting up positive numbers in putting and off the tee, with his performance around the greens the only thing stopping him from achieving a loftier position on the leaderboard.
He missed the cut last week in the Travelers Championship but is forgiven that performance due to the difficulties of playing that course for the first time and did improve on his first round performance by five shots as he got more used to his surroundings.
A much easier test awaits him this week and on a course where aggressive golf will be rewarded, something which is the nature of younger players, I can really see him going well. Particularly if he keeps up the quality approach play.