(CBS Chicago) -- The PGA Tour skipped the John Deere Classic last summer due to COVID. The event returns to TPC Deere Run this week for its 50th anniversary, with the Open Championship on the horizon. While many players will play in both, someone could secure a potentially career-changing invite with a win this week. One player who isn't qualified for the season's last major, but finishes in the top five at the John Deere, will be able to make the trip across the pond.
Daniel Berger is the highest-ranked player in the field at 16, as many of the Tour's top-ranked players are taking the week off ahead of the Open Championship. But that could provide an opportunity for the PGA Tour's next success story. Jordan Spieth won the John Deere as an unknown 19-year-old back in 2013, his first win on Tour. Bryson DeChambeau won his first at TPC Deere Run four years later.
"Over the years, it's produced some first-time winners, and I think that's where some of the excitement is," according to Andrew Catalon, who will be calling the action from the 18th tower this weekend for CBS Sports. "It's really served as a tournament that gives an opportunity to people in search of that first win. In fact, since 1970, it's produced 23 first-time PGA Tour winners, which is the most of any event on Tour in that time frame. So it's a great opportunity for what is a young field, looking for that first win."
Dylan Frittelli is the defending champion and will be looking to become the first repeat winner since Steve Stricker three-peated a decade ago. (Spieth has also won the event twice, but not consecutively.) Stricker is back again too, forgoing the U.S. Senior Open for the chance at a fourth title. Michael Kim, who torched the course at 27-under in 2018, also returns. Joining them will be Ryan Moore, Bryan Harman, and Zach Johnson, who won in 2016, 2014, and 2012 respectively. The field includes nine former winners overall.
"I think it's shown, based on some of the previous champions, that there's a really good mix [of players who can do well here]," Catalon said. "You have the big hitters, you have the guys who don't have the biggest driver. I think the key will always come down to putting, and if you roll in your putts, I think there's opportunities out there at this place. Whoever heats up on the green is going to have a really good chance to win."
The par-71 layout, measuring 7,268 yards, was designed by former PGA Tour player D.A. Weibring and Chris Gray of PGA Tour Design Services. All the holes have names, and the par-3 16, called "Mother Earth," is the signature hole. It plays up to 158 yards and is set along the Rock River and guarded by a large bunker in front and another on the right. It is a tough and picturesque hole, exactly what TPC Deere Run is all about.
The easiest hole tends to be the par-5 second. Measuring 561 yards, it plays downhill and doglegs slightly right as it flanks the Rock River. The small two-tiered green can be reach in two shots, though accuracy is a must with wetlands on the left and a bunker and trees on the right. The hardest hole usually is No. 9, a long par 4 of 485 yards, which features an uphill approach through the trees to an elevated green guarded by bunkers on both sides.
"I think there's trouble, if you don't find the fairways and especially around the greens," says Catalon. "There's a lot of bunkers and some drop offs around the greens. In most cases, you need to have a hot putter win a tournament, but tee to green it's important to steer clear of the trouble here at TPC Deere Run."
That hasn't been an issue for players in recent events. No course has more birdies than TPC Deere Run since 2000. "Five of the last six champions have been at least 20-under par," Catalon notes. "So it's certainly a course that lends itself to a lot of birdies. The weather, typically it's hot out there. And also there's some rain in the forecast, which can soften up the greens and make the greens more receptive to people trying to attack, whatever hole locations the tournament decides upon. We saw 59 here 11 years ago with Paul Goydos. I would expect some more of low scores again this year at the John Deere."
Here are the favorites:
Daniel Berger (9-1)
Berger is the highest-ranked player in the field, at 16th. He's had some success in 2020, with six top-10 finishes so far. That includes a win at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am back in February and a tie for seventh at the U.S. Open last month. He placed fifth at the John Deere back in 2017.
Brian Harman (14-1)
Harman, ranked 46th in the world, started the year ranked 91st. That climb has been helped along by four top 10s since the start of the year. A third place at the Players Championship in March and a fifth place at the Travelers Championship in June are among them. Harman won the John Deere in 2014 and placed 10th three years later.
Sung-jae Im (16-1)
Im is ranked 27th in the world. Coming off a tie for eighth at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, he's had a busy year. Im has played in 21 events, but only has three top 10s to show for it. He placed 26th in his only appearance at TPC Deere Run.
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