This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
ROCKET MORTGAGE CLASSIC
Winner's Share: $1.35M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Course: Detroit Golf Club (North course)
2020 Champion: Bryson DeChambeau
The first two editions of the Rocket Mortgage Classic have been big, fat birdie-fests. In fact, the course played among the 10 easiest each of the past two seasons. Nate Lashley won the inaugural event in 2019 at 25-under-par and Bryson DeChambeau won at 23-under last year. The cut both years was 5-under, the lowest on Tour since 2016. The tournament had the second-most birdies on Tour in 2019 and third-most last year.
Big-time birdie-fests bring lesser golfers into the mix, and what complicates things for gamers this week is that there are lots of lesser golfers.
The 156-man field for the third edition of the Detroit Tour stop has just two top-10 golfers: DeChambeau and Patrick Reed. And just three more in the top 25: Webb Simpson, Hideki Matsuyama and Jason Kokrak. And just 14 of the top 50. After that, the strength of the field quickly falls off a cliff.
To be sure, there's still some star power, notably Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Will Zalatoris and 22-year-old South African sensation Garrick Higgo, who continues to take full advantage of his new-found PGA Tour status. But about a quarter of the field comes from Category 27. What is Category 27, you ask? It's "The 2018-19 Top 125 FedExCup Points List / 2019 Top Finishers Korn Ferry Tour Category." Oy.
If there is a dead spot anywhere on the PGA Tour calendar – we're not talking the fall season, just January through the Tour Championship – this is it, in between the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. Generally, it's hard to find even back-to-back clunkers these days, a testament to the Tour's determination and its scheduling acumen, though we doubt the top players would see it that way. Anyway, we now have the Rocket Mortgage Classic followed by the John Deere Classic. "Classics," not so much.
Detroit Golf Club has been around since 1899. Its two 18-hole courses were completed in 1916, both built by famed architect Donald Ross. The North, the longer of the two courses, is used for the tournament, save for one hole from the South. They also jumbled the usual order of the North, turning the eighth hole into No. 1. Interestingly, that's the hole Ross had made No. 1 when he drew it up more than 100 years ago. The club's website describes the North this way: "It features narrow, tree-lined fairways, which make club selection an important part of the round. The undulating greens and treacherous bunkering ensures you bring your a-game all the way up to the pin." Gosh, they actually make it sound hard.
The fairways are narrow but not that narrow. There are a lot of trees and there are some holes with strategically-placed fairway bunkers. There are many bunkers guarding the holes and severe undulations on the greens. But none of it has affected the scores all that much. The greens are on the small side, averaging 5,150 square feet, and are a combination of bentgrass and poa annua – the same as last week at TPC River Highlands. There's water on just one hole, the par-5, 555-yard 14th. That's one of two par-5s under 560; there are also four par-4s under 400 and two par-3s under 170. On the other hand, there's a 233-yard par-3 (the 11th) and a 635-yard par-5 (the 4th).
There are a few more names of note in the field: Recent college grads Austin Eckroat and John Pak are in on sponsor exemptions, as is Willie Mack III. And golf fans will also get a look at Mito Pereira, who will be making his first PGA Tour start since earning a battlefield promotion with his third Korn Ferry win of the season. The 26-year-old Chilean is ranked 147th in the world. He's played one PGA Tour event in his career and missed the cut at the Puerto Rico Open earlier this year.
Weather-wise, rain is in the forecast for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. So, who knows how low scores can go with soft conditions? Temperatures will mostly top out in the 70s, with moderate humidity and moderate wind. Check back on the weather before lineup lock to see whether it makes sense to avoid certain tee times.
Key Stats to Winning at Detroit Golf Club
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Strokes Gained: Putting/Three-putt Avoidance
• Birdie average/Birdie-or-Better Percentage
• Strokes Gained: Approach/SG: Tee-to-Green/Greens in Regulation
• Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling
Here's this little nugget from the PGA Tour's Media Guide: "DeChambeau became the first winner in the ShotLink era (since 2003) to lead the field in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Strokes Gained: Putting. He also led the field in Driving Distance (350.6 yards) and Par-4 Scoring Average (3.68)." That seems like a good way to win – do something no one has ever done before. Seriously, DeChambeau blasted it off the tee, ranked 58th in fairways, but it didn't matter. His worst score all week was 67. Runner-up Matthew Wolff took a similar tack, ranking fifth and driving distance and putting. Lashley, however, ranked only 44th in driving distance. But he was 11th in fairways hit, tied for fourth in greens in regulation, third in scrambling and second in putting. That's the perfect recipe to win just about any week, and it's easy to see why Lashley ran away by six strokes. He had two rounds of 63. There were only two guys within seven shots of DeChambeau: Wolff was three back and Kevin Kisner was five back. So not only have these tournaments been birdie-fests, there's been little drama. Yawn. Some guys just have the game to go super low; others don't. The over/under on the winning score per golfodds.com is 264.5, which is 23.5 below par.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Bryson DeChambeau - $11,400 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 8-1)
In this field, a $12,000 price would not have surprised us one bit. $11,400 is a bargain.
Webb Simpson - $10,600 (18-1)
It has not been a great season for Simpson. But he has the ability to go as low as anyone else in the field. He won at Harbour Town last year at 22-under. He's gone 19-under three times in the past two years. He was 15-under here last year. He's 19th on Tour in birdie average.
Joaquin Niemann - $9,800 (25-1)
Niemann has shown he can go super low. He was 20-under or better at both Hawaii stops at the beginning of the year. He's ranked 16th in birdie average, 17th in birdie or better.
Jason Kokrak - $9,500 (25-1)
With his new-found putting ability, he has the complete game to go super low. He's second on Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting, 12th in birdie average and 15th in birdie or better. He reached 20-under last fall at The CJ Cup.
Tier 2 Values
Matthew Wolff - $9,100 (35-1)
After his first two tournaments back, it's apparent Wolff can go in two completely different directions in Detroit. But there's no denying he's a birdie machine, and he was even a birdie machine at the U.S. Open – while at the same time being a bogey machine.
Kevin Kisner - $8,500 (35-1)
It's far from a slam dunk to go with Kisner, not after one good week in months. But he showed how good he can be when the putter gets hot, and he was scorching at River Highlands, shooting a pair of 63s. He finished third here a year ago.
Emiliano Grillo - $8,200 (50-1)
Candidly, it's not that we like Grillo as much as we don't really like the other remaining guys in the low $9,000s and $8,000s. On the other hand, he does some of his best work in weak fields (don't we all?). Grillo remains a ball-striking machine, ranking second on Tour in greens in regulation, while his putting has improved to mediocre. He's ranked 27th in birdie average.
Cameron Tringale - $8,100 (40-1)
Tringale has cooled a bit of late, but he's still amid a great season. He's ranked in the top-50 in every strokes-gained category but Off-the-Tee. He's ranked 18th in birdie average. He tied for fifth here two years ago and tied for 30th last year.
Tier 3 Values
Doc Redman - $7,900 (40-1)
The season-long stats don't look good, but Redman has strung together five straight cashes. He was runner-up here in 2019 and tied for 21st last year.
Sepp Straka - $7,700 (80-1)
When a guy finishes tied for 11th and then tied for eighth at a tournament, and the tournament is only two years old, that's hard to overlook. Straka surely has more than his share of clunkers, but does throw in a top-10 from time to time, such as last week at the Travelers. He's ranked 53rd on Tour in birdie or better.
Chez Reavie - $7,600 (80-1)
The Chez Man has come alive since qualifying for the U.S. Open. He had missed six straight cuts before that, but he has made three in a row since – two of them being top-25s, including last week at the Travelers. We're going to ride the hot hand in a really weak field.
Patton Kizzire - $7,400 (80-1)
Kizzire is among the best putters on Tour – ranked 17th – to go along with a top-25 ranking in birdie average. He's also 36th in greens in regulation. He has five top-10s and seven top-25s this season, and has missed only six cuts. This is the point where we should point out that three of those MCs came in his past three starts.
Troy Merritt - $7,100 (80-1)
After a horrible start to the season, Merritt has stabilized, making eight of his past 10 cuts. That includes five straight, beginning the streak with a pair of top-10s. He tied for eighth here a year ago.
Joel Dahmen - $7,000 (100-1)
Dahmen opened 2021 by missing six of seven cuts. Since winning in Puerto Rico, he's made four of five. So he should be able to make it to the weekend. And with a ranking of 75th in the world, you'd expect a lot more in this field.
Austin Eckroat - $6,700 (200-1)
Following a top-10 and a top-15 on the Korn Ferry Tour in which he putted lights-out in his first two pro tournaments, the former Oklahoma State all-American turned in a tie for 47th at the Travelers. His stats were good-not-great across the board. At this price, a made cut is the main objective. But Eckroat does offer some upside.
Kris Ventura - $6,200 (400-1)
Another former Oklahoma State Cowboy, only Ventura is pretty bad. He's made only four of 14 cuts in 2021. But at least one of them was last week. The thing with Ventura is, he's a great putter. So he tends to get more DraftKings points that many other guys of his caliber. He's ranked fourth on Tour in eagles. And he even tied for 21st here a year ago.