One & Done: John Deere Classic
July 10, 2019
By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM
- Young star Collin Morikawa will be one to watch at TPC Deere Run. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Expecting a career regression in an individual sport is commonplace, but it's harder to let go when it concerns one golfer who has flourished time and again at a specific tournament.
The phenomenon struck Mark O'Meara at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and it got to Davis Love III at the RBC Heritage. And now, it's happening to Zach Johnson at the John Deere Classic.
Both O'Meara and Love III won their respective events five times. O'Meara's last title at Pebble Beach was in 1997. DL3's last win at Harbour Town was in 2003. Naturally, because of their fits, each remained favorites for some time after victory No. 5 on those courses, but the parties ended like they always do.
Love III came closest with a co-runner-up finish (two strokes back) in 2005, but it was his only top 20 in a dozen appearances after the fifth win. After his final trophy presentation on the Monterey Peninsula, O'Meara went just 5-for-10 with one top 50 – a T15 in 2003. Hope and expectations ultimately settled into ceremonial gratitude for legends of each event.
Oh, lest it go overlooked that during their fifth wins, O'Meara was 40 years old; Love III was 39. Those ages meant a little more at the time, but in the context of capturing any title, they'd still mean something today what with the fearless youth and deeper pool of talent challenging.
ZJ is 43. He hasn't hoisted hardware since winning the 2015 Open Championship as a 39-year-old and his only victory at TPC Deere Run occurred when he was 36 in 2012. He followed his hometown win with three straight podium finishes, but since turning 40, he's gone T34-T5-T16. It's hardly unimpressive, but it's an indication that there's momentum on the wrong side of the bell curve.
That boomerangs us back to the kids in the Quad Cities.
With Johnson scuffling upon arrival, he's evolved into a better swing for the fence for chasers than his customary call as a front-runner's frontman to sing for an invaluable stymie this deep into the season. Because superiority doesn't live forever, it's smarter to stay out ahead of it. The heart can go along for the ride, but just make sure at your head is at the wheel.
If the 3M Open's breakthrough champion, Matthew Wolff, connects victories, it wouldn't surprise anyone paying attention, but it's understandable if you abstain in its wake. Of course, it means that you probably have no trouble pivoting to Collin Morikawa even though he came within literally a couple of inches from stealing the show at TPC Twin Cities. In fact, both are tremendous options again this week because everything they achieve is a bonus right now. Their focus is singular. They're building careers just a few weeks after turning professional, and they already have zero to lose. It's a dangerous reality when you consider their ability is the foundation.
Wolff's college teammate at Oklahoma State University, Viktor Hovland, also is off and running, but someone has to sit in the backseat to start the trip that should last decades. Even better to latch on before the reign.
Because it's my job to acknowledge the philosophically conservative, waste no time in selecting Sungjae Im. I'm feeling the heat in the Rookie Ranking that he's not No. 1. Unless Wolff snares a second title, even he would have a tough time stealing votes from the consistently strong body of work logged by still-winless Im.
Another rookie, Wyndham Clark, can smell it. After consecutive top 20s, he recorded a career-best T5 in Minnesota. He enjoyed a decorated career at the University of Oregon, so there's a comp to be made to Morikawa (who played collegiately at Pac-12 foe, Cal), but Clark brings successful forays on the Korn Ferry Tour (in 2018) and the PGA TOUR this season. That assessment of his experience as a pro feeds more into long-term ownership than our game, but the advice it to strike while his irons are hot.
Of course, all of the above are even more suitable for two-man gamers. Mix and match all you want and toss Joaquin Niemann in there – although I cooled a bit when he was granted an exemption into The Open Championship earlier this week – but if you're inclined to invest in at least one veteran, 2014 JDC champ Brian Harman is on the rise again, Lucas Glover angles in strongest among those longest in the tooth, and Charles Howell III made noise through 54 holes last week before finishing T23. All are recommended.
Others including Troy Merritt, Mackenzie Hughes and Johnson Wagner normally would vie to a spot in two-man rosters, but when the present stars of tomorrow, er, the future stars of today, er – you get the point –already are contending and winning, have fun hopping aboard.
Rank Expert Pick Comment 37th
Matthew Wolff When a guy presents both offense and defense, you don't hesitate. And because of his palpable inner conceit that all high-performing athletes possess, you're not discouraged because he's fresh off his maiden title. 54th
He's finished tied for 21st or better in his last four starts, including a T15 last week at the 3M Open. 71st
He had a front-row seat of what it takes to get it over the finish line last week and I believe this will help greatly this week. Plus, everyone else is on Wolff so I'm zagging!
On the Mark
I believe that he sees what his college teammate (Wolff) just did and follows suit. 223rd
Not expecting another win but also not expecting much of a come down. 628th
I might be late, but I’m not going to make a mistake by not picking him this season.
NOTE: Select golfers committed to the tournament are listed alphabetically. Future tournaments are sorted chronologically and reflect previous success on the courses on which the tournaments will be held in 2018-19. The numerical values in parentheses represent the order of relative confidence of where to use each golfer if multiple sites are listed (e.g. 1 for strongest, 2 for next-strongest and so on). To present weighted confidence in real time, numerical values will not change all season no matter how many tournaments remain listed for each golfer. All are pending golfer commitment.
Jason Dufner … Wyndham (8); TOUR Championship (10)
Bill Haas … Wyndham (6)
Brian Harman … John Deere (4)
Zach Johnson … John Deere (1); Open Championship (2); TOUR Championship (8)
Martin Laird … Barracuda (2)
Ryan Moore … John Deere (8); Wyndham (2); TOUR Championship (9)