ROCKET MORTGAGE CLASSIC: While much of the golf world is looking ahead to the year’s final major in a couple of weeks, there’s still money to be made and FedEx Cup points to earn in the meantime, and many players who are badly in need of both are set to tee it up at this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic.
The field isn’t strictly comprised of mid-tier grinders and partial status guys– there’s a sprinkling of big names as well– but this tournament is merely a warm-up for players like Bryson DeChambeau, while for many it’s a tremendously important opportunity. DeChambeau took home the trophy last year, but in 2019 we saw Monday qualifier Nate Lashley change his life with his first PGA Tour victory here, and there are more Lashley types than millionaires teeing it up this week.
One thing’s for sure: regardless of who wins we know we’re going to see plenty of low numbers, as it’s taken 25 and 23-under win this tournament in the first two editions, and with no major changes to the course and heavy rains softening things up all week, a birdie-fest is surely in the offing once again. The course, Detroit Golf Club, is an old Donald Ross design that simply isn’t penal enough to worry the Tour stars of today. The cut was 5-under last year, and statistically the course was easier than Tour average in almost every area– fairways hit, greens hit, scrambling, birdies, eagles, strokes gained tee-to-green… you get the idea. Ross courses have never been known for their severity off the tee, but this one is oddly straightforward around the greens, with very few of the run-off areas and tricky undulation that Ross designs have become known for. And at only 7,340 yards (par 72), it’s not long enough to trouble anybody, either. We’ve seen both bombers and short-knockers succeed here over the past couple of years.
Defending champ DeChambeau sits atop BETDAQ’s Win Market at a frightfully short 9.0, and there are a handful of well-known contenders behind him, guys like Patrick Reed (18.5), Webb Simpson (23.0), and Hideki Matsuyama (23.0). But this might be a good time to seek value a bit further down the board, as most players simply don’t have to beat as many top-20 guys as usual this week, giving the tournament a wide-open feel that is somewhat similar to an alternate field event. It’s tough to pick a Nate Lashley out of a haystack, but there are several interesting options and “live longshots” for us to choose from. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Jason Kokrak (30.0)- Prior to this season, Kokrak had never won in over a decade on Tour. He’s now won twice, with his victory at the Charles Schwab Challenge a few weeks ago capping off a nine-tournament stretch that featured five top-15 finishes and zero missed cuts. While he did miss the weekend at the U.S. Open– his first start since his triumph at Colonial– I’m more than happy to chalk that up to a post-victory hangover and see no reason to be concerned about the state of Kokrak’s game. With his length off the tee and brilliance on the greens (2nd on Tour in strokes gained putting), he should be able to take it deep at Detroit Golf Club, and we’ve seen glimpses of it already– he shot 12-under in this tournament in 2019, his only appearance. His game and confidence has reached new heights since then, and I fully expect him to give it a run this week. Kokrak is a first-tier option with a second-tier price, making this an easy decision for me.
Kevin Kisner (47.0)- Kisner endured the worst slump of his professional career this spring, missing five consecutive cuts at one point and going over five months without a top-25 finish in a stroke play event. He seems to have come out of it, though, as his ball-striking stats have improved tremendously over the past month and the results are starting to follow, with his 5th-place finish at the Travelers last week a reminder that he can really take it low when he’s right. Kisner has always loved a birdie-fest so this week should be right up his alley, and he’ll simply be looking to pick up where he left off last year, when he opened with a 65 and closed with a 66 to finish the week at 18-under and take home solo 3rd. The price just seems a bit long here for a guy like Kisner– a world-class player coming off a top-5 finish and heading to a place he tore apart last year. I’ll take my chances at nearly 50/1.
Sepp Straka (80.0)- While Straka has yet to win on Tour, he’s trending in the right direction, having played the best golf of his career this season, and this is certainly the type of tournament where a guy like him can and should break through. He’s coming off a nice week at the Travelers, where bookend 66s left him in a tie for 10th, and he’s been a birdie-making machine this year, ranking 8th on Tour in total birdies. Most importantly, he’s shown a great affinity for this tournament, finishing 8th last year and 11th in 2019. In eight competitive rounds at Detroit Golf Club he’s 31-under par. Show me a guy who’s coming off a top-10 the previous week, playing a course he’s 31-under on in eight career rounds, and priced at 80.0, and I’ll show you a guy I’m betting on. Every. Single. Time. We’re Straka fans in my household this week…