Canada's David Hearn can challenge for a first PGA Tour title in the John Deere Classic this week, says David John.
Rookies, non-winners, the never-hads and probably-never-will-bes should all be on high alert this week at the John Deere Classic.
When not being carved up by Steve Stricker or Zach Johnson, TPC Deere Run has proven a profitable venue for players to break their duck on the PGA Tour and a lack of real depth at the top of the betting could well open the door once again for a maiden success.
Newbie Xander Shauffele delivered the blueprint too as recently as last week as he held his nerve down the stretch to get off the mark at the Greenbrier Classic so a large proportion of the field have every right to feel their turn has arrived and may be a little bit more inspired to achieve a career goal.
One precious place remains at the Open Championship too for the highest finisher inside the top five not currently exempt to board the charter flight ready to depart Illinois once the formalities are concluded.
With all the above firmly taken into account, I am quite sweet on the chances of Canada’s David Hearn at last getting over the line after more than a decade of trying.
Hearn is never going to thrill like a Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm or Phil Mickelson but he has built up a solid body of consistent work without quite being able to put his hands on a trophy at this level.
He came agonisingly close in his national championship a couple of years ago behind an inspired Jason Day at the very peak of his powers while he finished T2 at the Greenbrier in the same year, just lacking that little bit of additional oomph over the closing stages which would have made the difference.
He was also T2 here four years ago when a relative unknown called Jordan Spieth holed from a bunker on the 72nd hole before going on to win in sudden death so Hearn has twice had the misfortune to bump into a couple of modern greats of the game.
The Ontario native has kept plugging away though as the bank account continues to swell so I still feel at 38 he still has plenty to offer and his time will arrive eventually if he continues to keep the faith.
He has had to adapt on the greens following the putting anchor ban and the form he has shown in his last few events is extremely encouraging on the back of a rather slow start to 2017.
“I changed coaches and made a few swing changes, nothing too dramatic,” Hearn explained recently.
“The last month I have been playing some really good golf though and really got some traction.
“My game is trending in the right direction, I enjoy this place, that is why I keep coming back and I grew up playing on a tree-lined, hilly course."
Since a missed cut at The Memorial, Hearn has gone 10-8-73-14 and clearly has the profile of a player coming very nicely to the boil so I am prepared to take a chance on him finding that final few additional percentage points of self-belief with a quote of 66/1 on offer.
Daniel Berger is tournament favourite and might be a dual winner already in 2017 but for Spieth performing his party trick again from a bunker at the Travelers Championship last month.
Kevin Kisner and Kyle Stanley are also recent winners who figure prominently but I am going to delve a little deeper and go for Hilton Head hero Wesley Bryan, who is quite an attractive 80/1 chance.
It was a pretty tense old finish at the RBC Heritage but Bryan displayed plenty of bottle over the closing holes to pip course specialist Luke Donald by a shot and get off the mark on the PGA Tour.
“I got really nervous. I'm not going to lie,” he said in his post-round interview in South Carolina.
“But I was able to keep it together and was hitting quality shots coming down the stretch.”
That is exactly the sort of thing you need to hear from a young pro and it certainly bodes well going forward in terms of the next time he faces a bunched leaderboard in contention with holes running out on a Sunday afternoon.
His debut here in 2016 yielded an excellent top-10 finish after firing 66-64 heading into the weekend but the real selling point for me is Bryan’s ability when it comes to the second shot with a short iron in his hand, so important around here.
Stick Bryan in the fairway in the region of 150 yards or closer and you have a player who can dial it in on a regular basis, a fact backed up this season with a very high ranking in all the relevant statistics in that department - to be honest, he is verging on deadly.
His form has been inconsistent since that victory in mid-April but I expect an upturn returning to a course that plays to his strengths and could well give him a decent chance of quickly doubling his PGA Tour win tally.
Some really big prices have already been hoovered up on amateur Maverick McNealy but he still looks of interest at 200/1 to make an impact.
The Stanford University standout is in the midst of the final few months of his amateur career which will include an appearance next week at Royal Birkdale and culminate in the Walker Cup in Los Angeles in September.
He plays in this event on sponsor’s invite as he actually decides whether to pursue a career in the game or go down the business route instead now he has graduated.
“This will give me a little more info on how my game stacks up out here,” he revealed.
“It is a pretty special place to come and a dream come true to be out here and I feel like I am knocking on the door.”
McNealy is in enviable position - his father is a Silicon Valley billionaire so it won’t really matter which career path McNealy the younger does eventual land on.
There is a little or no pressure on him at the moment with an exciting summer ahead and he does not look out of his depth in the slightest here in a very beatable field if some of the bigger names fail to fire.
Posted at 1630 BST on 11/07/17.
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