2021 John Deere Classic First-Round Leader Bets & Picks: Brian Harman, Russell Henley Headline Top Choices

2021 John Deere Classic First-Round Leader Bets & Picks: Brian Harman, Russell Henley Headline Top Choices article feature image
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Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images. Pictured: Brian Harman.

I’ll never forget all of the iconic bunker shots that have won players the John Deere Classic over the years. From Zach Johnson’s 18th fairway sand shot to Jordan Spieth’s 18th hole green-side hole out to get into a playoff, there’s something exciting about the PGA TOUR’s annual stop at TPC Deere Run.

Despite past thrills, the event often boasts a lackluster field. It’s not easy getting players to play the week before a major, especially when it’s across the Atlantic Ocean on a links course.

TPC Deere Run’s par 71 layout stretches to about 7,300 yards and features (oxymoronically) wide, tree-lined fairways and, of course, many bunkers. With that in mind, here’s a look at my favorite First-Round Leader bets for the event.

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Brian Harman +3300

Harman has been on an absolute tear the last few months. He’s racked up nine top-15 finishes since August 2020, including a T-5 at the Travelers. He’s gaining significant strokes in every category and has very few (if any) weaknesses in his game.

Harman is a past winner of this event, edging out Johnson by one shot in 2014.  The year Harman took home the hardware, he opened with 63 to share the first-round lead with Johnson.

Russell Henley +4000

Back in October, it seemed like Henley was sure to get a win. Fast forward a few months and he hasn’t added any wins to his record, but he does have three top-5s and a few top-15s since the CJ Cup.

Henley, who had a solid tournament last week in Detroit, is showing some signs of great play again.

Zach Johnson +5000

It’s basically a hometown event for the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native as he tees it up in his 19th appearance at the John Deere Classic. Johnson hasn’t missed the cut here since 2007, including an aforementioned 2012 win. After that win, he finished T-2, 2nd and T-3 in the three subsequent years.

Unsurprisingly, Johnson leads the field in Strokes Gained: Total during the first round at this event. Starting with the most recent, here are Zach Johnson’s opening round scores at TPCDR from 2019 and ending with 2010: 72, 69, 65, 65, 66, 63, 64, 68, 66, 67. I’m not big on doing math, but that’s an opening round average of 66.5. (I feel like I’ve made my point, right?)

Dylan Frittelli +6600

The South African, who won this event in 2019 for his maiden TOUR victory, is finally set to defend after two long years. Like Henley, he played some great golf back in the fall and is looking to regain that form.

He’s known to get off to hot starts, including the Masters in November. You always get a good value on him, even a weaker field like this.

Steve Stricker +7000

Rather than defend his U.S. Senior Open title, Stricker is in this field.

If Johnson isn’t enough of a course horse for you, then let me bring in Stricker. The 2020 Ryder Cup captain managed to capture the three-peat, starting in 2009. And despite being a full-time PGA TOUR Champions member, he still shows up to his flagship events on the Big Tour just to throw in a Top-20 finish out of (what feel like) nowhere.

Stricker opened with a 60 in the middle of his three consecutive wins more than a decade ago. He’s another guy who rarely opens at TPC Deere Run with anything over 68 for a score.

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