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John Deere Classic Preview: Dethroning the Champ

Greg Vara

Vara is the lead golf writer at RotoWire. He was named the 2013 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. In addition to producing the weekly preview and the bulk of the draft kit content, Vara participates in Yahoo!'s "Experts Picks" where he routinely dominates. He also picks college football games against the spread in his "College Capper" article.

During a normal week on the PGA TOUR, the questions are generally the same. Who will win? Who will play well? Who might miss the cut? After the tournament starts Thursday, however, the answers begin to appear and the questions start to dissipate. That wasn't the case last weekend, though. Instead of the questions going away, they kept coming back, along with some new ones that you don't hear too often on the PGA TOUR such as, who are these guys and how are they playing so well? It's not out of the norm to see a formerly unknown player sneak into contention on a given Sunday, but normally that player is the exception, not the rule like last Sunday. With such names as Ted Potter Jr. and Troy Kelly atop the leaderoard Sunday, there were more questions than answers, not the least of which was, how is Webb Simpson, the only player with any sort of track record of success on the PGA TOUR, letting these guys take over? When it was all said and done, however, the question left of everybody's mind was, where have these guys been all along? In the span of five hours Sunday afternoon, Ted Potter Jr. and Troy Kelly not only earned a couple of huge checks but also earned the respect of their peers and the golf viewing public. Alas, one question remains: are these guys for real?

This week:
John Deere Classic

Last Year:
Steve Stricker shot a final-round 69 on his way to a one-stroke victory over Kyle Stanley.

Players to Consider:

1. Steve Stricker

Stricker is the three-time defending champion, and there's little reason to think he can't win his fourth consecutive John Deere championship this week. Sticker is not having a great year, at least by his standards, but he's coming off four consecutive sub-par rounds at the Greenbrier, and he always turns it up a notch here.

2. Zach Johnson

Johnson's hit a bit of a lull lately, but perhaps that will lessen expectations this week, which always helps when you play in front of the hometown crowd. After a bit of a rough start at this event, Johnson has really turned it around here. He's finished top-3 two of the last three years.

3. Brendon de Jonge

How often do you see it? A golfer fails to live up to expectations on a course where he has a great track record, only to follow that up with a solid effort in his next start. Well, De Jonge has a great opportunity to pull that off this week as his track record here is also pretty solid. De Jonge has recorded consecutive top-10s at the John Deere.

4. Daniel Summerhays

Summerhays missed the cut here in his only start last season, but he's simply playing too well to ignore. Summerhays has recorded three top-20s in his last four starts, including two top-5 finishes.

5. Kyle Stanley

After an outstanding start to the 2012 season, Stanley hit quite a rough patch that included four consecutive missed cuts, but it looks like he's starting to pull out of it, and his runner-up showing here last year should help his confidence as he continues in this process.

Players to Avoid:

1. Brian Davis

Davis is having a pretty solid season, and normally a player of his caliber would be a good pick this week, but for some reason he's never figured out this course. In four starts here, his best finish was T34 in 2008.

2. Steve Marino

Marino likely sees a good opportunity to get back on track this week against a weaker field, but if history is any indication, Marino may have trouble finding his groove here. Marino's best finish here was a T41 in 2008.

3. James Driscoll

Driscoll has had his moments this season, but it looks like he won't have any such moments this week. He's missed the cut here in three of his five tries at the John Deere and is coming off a missed cut last week.

4. John Daly

Daly is coming off a solid performance last week at the Greenbrier, but before we get too excited it should be noted that Daly has never made the cut here. That's 0-7 if you are keeping track.

5. Camilo Villegas

Villegas is really struggling. He enters this week having missed three cuts in his last four starts, and his track record here indicates he might make it four of five come Friday evening.


This week: John Deere Classic

Group A

1. Steve Stricker
2. Zach Johnson

Even with Kyle Stanley in Group A this week, the pair of Stricker and Johnson is a must. This isn't the week to get fancy. Stricker's history here is too strong, and Johnson has really turned up his game here the past three years.

Group B

1. Ken Duke
2. Charley Hoffman
3. Brendon de Jonge
4. Tim Clark

Slim pickings in Group B this week, but there are a handful of promising players from which to choose. Duke doesn't have the track record here, but he's coming off a good performance last week at the Greenbrier. Hoffman didn't play here last year, but he did post consecutive top-15s in his two most recent starts. Clark has struggled to regain his old form this season, but he's moving in the right direction, and his track record here is solid.

Group C

1. Daniel Summerhays
2. Jonathan Byrd

As expected, there isn't much to choose from in Group C this week either, but there are a couple solid picks in Summerhays and Byrd. Summerhays is on a roll, and Byrd has a couple high-end finishes here, including a runner-up in 2003 and a win in 2007.

Starters Round One

1. Steve Stricker
2. Brendon de Jonge
3. Ken Duke
4. Daniel Summerhays

Stricker gets the nod in Group A on Thursday, there's really no reason to go with anyone else until Sticker shows any sign of weakness. Group B was tough, and it will likely be difficult all week. I am starting with de Jonge and Duke, however, because they both posted solid rounds last week at the Greenbrier even though both faded toward the end. A very tough call in Group C as Byrd has the history, but Summerhays has played better lately. I went with Summerhays and his momentum, though, because it looks like he's about to do something special soon.

Round Two and Going Forward:

If ever there was a week you needed to pay attention early, this is the week. With the Open Championship next week, some players in the field could be looking ahead. Then again, most players in the field this week aren't heading across the pond, so you only need to concern yourself with a handful of players. The problem is those players are likely to be on your roster this week. Two of those are Johnson and Stricker. Fortunately, both players are fully committed to this event, so no worries there. Group B should be the most difficult this week with no clear frontrunners. Duke appears to be in the best form coming in, but he's not exactly the most reliable golfer on the PGA TOUR. De Jonge has back-to -back top-10s here, so odds are he'll play well most of the week. If not, Clark could fill that spot, but again, I'll have to see how he starts. Group C should be interesting as well as you have Summerhays who's hot and Byrd who's a past champion. I'll stick with Summerhays as long as he's playing well, but if Byrd starts well, it could make the round-two decision difficult.

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