Previewing the Top Storylines Ahead of the Rocket Mortgage Classic

A year ago, Nate Lashley turned Detroit Golf Club into his own personal playground, putting together a six-stroke victory at 25 under par. Will the Rocket Mortgage Classic see scores that low again this weekend?
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After a week on the east coast in Connecticut, the PGA Tour heads to Detroit this week for the second annual Rocket Mortgage Classic. The event, played for the first time at Detroit Golf Club a year ago, was originally scheduled for Memorial Day weekend but was postponed due to the shuffling of the Tour’s schedule.

After three consecutive weeks that saw the top players in the world race back to the golf course, many of the biggest names in the game will take this week off. Three of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Rankings are registered this week, compared to seven of the top 10 last week at The Travelers.

In all, the 156-player field will feature five of the top 20 players in the world as well as defending champion Nate Lashley, who lapped the field a year ago for a wire-to-wire, six-stroke victory. Current Fed Ex Cup points leader Webb Simpson returns to the course a week after withdrawing from The Travelers Championship after a member of Simpson’s family tested positive for COVID-19. World No. 10 Bryson Dechambeau will also tee it up, looking to build off a sixth consecutive top-10 finish, a streak that dates back to February.

Here’s a look at what to keep an eye on this week at Detroit Golf Club.

The Tour Bubble Tightens

As the Tour continues to generate positive coronavirus tests, commissioner Jay Monahan & Co. has been forced to adjust protocol on the fly. Last week in Connecticut saw withdrawals from Cameron Champ and Denny McCarthy (positive test results), Brooks Koepka (caddy positive test), Graeme McDowell (caddy positive test), Webb Simpson (family member positive), Chase Koepka (brother’s caddy positive test).

Prior to leaving Connecticut for Michigan, Dylan Frittelli tested positive and promptly withdrew from the Rocket Mortgage Classic, while Harris English, who did not play last week, tested positive Monday in Detroit and also dropped out. Under the latest guidelines, Tour players, caddies and others inside “the bubble” will not be allowed on the property of the golf course until their test results come back negative. Previously, players were allowed to practice on site while awaiting their test results.

In all, more than 3,000 tests have been administered by the Tour over the last four weeks with five players testing positive. In comparison, the NBA has already produced 16 positive tests from players.

How Low Can You Go?

A year ago, Nate Lashley turned Detroit Golf Club into his own personal playground. The then 36-year-old raced out in front with an opening-round 63, and bookended his second round with another 63 on Saturday en route to a dominating six-stroke victory at 25 under par. Even with the best players in the world teeing it up, 25 under par is a number the Tour would likely prefer to stay away from.

With the Rocket Mortgage Classic having spent 12 years in the Washington, D.C., area when it was the Quicken Loans National, 2019 was an unknown when it came to Detroit Golf Club. DGC is a more than 100-year-old Donald Ross gem, but with technology and player’s sheer skill and strength having changed over the years, tournament organizers may have been caught off guard by the close to 1,900 birdies that were made.

Not this year, as changes will be made to defend the golf course. The main defense will be the rough, as tournament officials plan on lengthening it to give the golf course some teeth. We could also see a few more difficult hole locations to enhance the Donald Ross greens even more. Expect scores to be low, but come up short of 25 under par.

Where’s Rickie?

Many of the game’s most high-profile players have come out of the coronavirus layoff playing some spectacular golf. Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson have found the winner's circle. Rory McIlroy surged to a T-11 finish in Connecticut, Justin Thomas reeled off back-to-back top-10s in Fort Worth and Hilton Head. Then there’s Rickie Fowler.

One of the most popular players in the game, Fowler has been spinning his wheels out of the gate. After a missed cut at Colonial, Fowler went to Harbour Town and missed another cut, marking the first time since June 2016 that Fowler had missed the weekend in back-to-back events. Fowler is clearly searching for his game, as evidenced by his putting grip change at the RBC Heritage. He’s long been regarded as one of the best putters on the PGA Tour.

Fowler’s winless streak dates back to the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open, but more concerning is Fowler's inability to contend on a regular basis like he used to. Over his last 20 Tour starts, Fowler has two top-five finishes.

Now at 31 years old, it’s time for Fowler to get moving if he wants to cement his place as one of the all-time greats. This week marks the perfect week to do so. A proud ambassador of the Rocket Mortgage brand (you’ve seen those commercials), Fowler would be the perfect champion to give the new event a big boost.

Fowler has been one of the game’s great ambassadors for over a decade now. I have a feeling there’s a run of success coming up this summer.

Picks:

Win: Viktor Hovland 

The 22-year-old Norwegian rookie has been solid since the restart (T-23, T-21, T-11). He ranks 12th in SG Approach, which will be rewarded at a toughened-up Detroit Golf Club.

Value: Rory Sabbatini

Sabbatini traditionally plays well at Donald Ross designs and finished T-3 in Detroit last year. He finished T-14 and T-21 in Fort Worth and Harbour Town.

Sleeper: Brian Stuard 

The Michigan native finished T-5 in the return to his home state. He's made three consecutive cuts out of the break, including a T-20 at The Travelers.