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Our expert likes Hideki Matsuyama’s chances this week.
Welcome to our weekly PGA Tour gambling-tips column, featuring picks from GOLF.com’s expert prognosticator, Brady Kannon. A seasoned golf bettor and commentator, Kannon is the host of the HeatStrokes podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @LasVegasGolfer, and you can read below to see his favorite plays for the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which starts Thursday at Detroit Golf Club. Keep scrolling past Kannon’s picks, and you’ll also see data from Chirp, a free-to-play mobile platform that features a range of games with enticing prizes, giving fans all kinds of ways to engage in the action without risking any money.
Is this the summer of Rickie? In recent weeks, we have seen Rickie Fowler head into the final round of the U.S. Open tied for the lead. We have seen him shoot 60 at the Travelers Championship. He has finished inside the Top 10 in his last three starts and, aside from missing the cut at the PGA Championship by one shot — his only missed cut of the season — he hasn’t finished worse than 31st in over six months.
It’s quite a turnaround from last September, when Fowler dipped to a career-low 185th in the Official World Golf Ranking. He now ranks 35th. It’s been remarkable to watch. And it feels like his sixth career Tour win is coming soon.
If it happens this week, it will be at Detroit Golf Club, the Donald Ross design that hosts the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Fowler is sponsored by Rocket Mortgage and has played in all four editions of the tournament. His best finish is 12th. Last year, he missed the cut. This year, he shares space at the top of the odds board, as a co-favorite with defending champion, Tony Finau. I have seen each at anywhere from 12 to 14-1 to win it this week.
Detroit Golf Club is one of the easier courses on the Tour schedule. It is flat, features just one water hazard, and though its fairways are tree-lined, they are wide and bordered by very little rough. In the four years of the event, the average winning score is 23 under par. We saw the soft conditions last week in Cromwell, Conn. produce a birdie-fest at the Travelers Championship. There have been storms this week in the Detroit area and the forecast is calling for scattered thundershowers on Saturday. At no time during the event is the wind expected to blow more than 10 mph. I have seen the 72-hole winning score proposition bet posted this week at 24.5, meaning you can go over or under 263.5 for a winning score. I like the under. I believe your winner is going to get to 25-under par or better and we’ll probably see some players flirt with 59, as we did last week. Last week’s course, TPC River Highlands, played as a par 70, measuring less than 6,900 yards. Detroit Golf Club is a par 72, measuring just under 7,400 yards.
The golf course is very susceptible to a bomb-and-gouge approach with the rough not being penal and we have seen bombers win every year; Finau, Cam Davis, Nate Lashley, and Bryson DeChambeau. However, shorter knockers have found themselves in the mix here, too, and are not to be cast aside in one’s handicap. Most importantly, like most birdie-fests, it will come down to approach play, wedge play, and putting. And in this case, putting on primarily poa annua greens with some bent grass in the blend.
While I looked at Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, Good Drives Gained, and Driving Distance, I emphasized approach play, Birdies or Better Gained, and Hole Proximity from 75-150 yards out, as the majority of the approach shots will come from this distance.
As for the correlated courses, I considered Port Royal, where they play the Bermuda Championship, Silverado, where they play the Fortinet, TPC Craig Ranch (home to the Byron Nelson), and Memorial Park, where for the last few years, they have played the Houston Open. We have Ross designs on Tour in East Lake and Sedgefield, and another in Oak Hill which hosted the PGA Championship in May. But I don’t feel those setups are especially similar to Detroit Golf Club. On and around the greens, there may be some kinship with the signature Ross run-off areas, but otherwise I don’t believe there’s enough overlap in the demands to find a parallel or an edge.
Matsuyama is maybe the very best in this field in short iron and wedge play from the distances on which we are focusing. Over the last 36 rounds, he ranks ninth in Hole Proximity from 75-100 yards, 12th from 100-125, and 14th from 125-150 yards. He ranks second in the field for SG Approach and 12th for Birdies or Better Gained. He’s finished 21st and 13th here in Detroit in the past and on the comp courses, he has a second in Houston, two third place finishes in Napa, and a third-place finish at TPC Craig Ranch.
Jaeger fits the bomber mold that we have seen have success here in the past and is very solid across the board in all of the stats I considered this week. He is 33rd in Driving Distance and 25th in SG Off the Tee over the last 36 rounds. He is also 36th in SG Approach and 28th in Birdies or Better Gained. He was 5th here in Detroit last year and also has a Top 10 finish in Houston, a Top 20 at the Bermuda Championship, and an 11th place finish at the Byron Nelson.
Smalley comes off of a Top 10 finish at the Travelers and also has three additional Top 25 finishes in his last six starts. Over the last 36 rounds, he is 17th in this field for SG Off the Tee and 14th for SG Approach. He seems to flourish on easy golf courses, ranking sixth in this field on such tracks over the last 36 rounds. He’s finished fourth and 15th in Houston and has an 11th and 12th place finishes in Bermuda.
Like Smalley, Rai, has also been in good form, finishing 12th, third, and 24th in three of his last four starts. He is very efficient tee to green, ranking fourth for Good Drives Gained, 14th for SG Off the Tee, and 6th in SG Approach over the last 36 rounds — and 17th for Birdies or Better Gained. He is also eighth in this field for Hole Proximity from 125-150 yards. In his young career on the PGA Tour, the Englishman has finished 7th and 19th in Houston.
After winning the Honda Classic back in February, Kirk only missed one cut in his next eight starts but has since missed the cut in his last three starts — so maybe we are getting a bit of an inflated number here given his recent form. Here in Detroit, Kirk has finished 17th, 12th, and 21st. He’s also finished eighth at Silverado in Napa. Despite the recent mishaps, he is still 38th in this field for SG Approach over the last 36 rounds — and I love what he does with the short irons and wedge play, ranking second in this field for Hole Proximity from 75-100 yards, third from 100-125, and No. 1 from 125-150 yards.
Palmer missed four straight cuts in March and in April but has since turned it around with two Top 35 finishes and a Top 10, which came at the Byron Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch in May — where he also took fifth in 2022. Over the last 36 rounds, he ranks 21st in this field for SG Off the Tee and 22nd for Good Drives Gained. He is also 11th for SG Approach, 21st for Birdies or Better Gained, and 16th in Hole Proximity from 75-100 yards. Over the last 36 rounds on easy courses, Palmer ranks 20th in this field.
Alex Smalley (-105) over Taylor Moore
Chris Kirk (+100) over Ludvig Aberg
Who Chirp users think will win
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