(CBS Detroit/CBS Local) — The Rocket Mortgage Classic debuts this week at Detroit Golf Club. It will be the first of two consecutive PGA Tour debuts (the 3M Open starts next week). The Detroit area is no stranger to Tour events; the Buick Open called nearby Grand Blanc, Michigan home for over 50 years, ending back in 2009. Quicken Loans, which runs Rocket Mortgage, is also a familiar name, having recently sponsored the Quicken Loans National, the Tour’s former stop in the nation’s capital.
Still, a new event in a new location brings with it some uncertainty. Will the game’s best be drawn to Detroit in the weeks between the season’s third and fourth major? How will the course compare to that of other PGA Tour events?
Some of the game’s bigger names were intrigued enough to at least take a flyer. The field this week includes seven of world’s top 30 players. Among them are the second-ranked Dustin Johnson, who finished second at this season’s Masters and PGA Championship, and 12th-ranked Gary Woodland, who won the U.S. Open. Rickie Fowler, the Rocket Mortgage spokesperson and world number 14, will tee it up as well.
The list continues, with Chez Reavie riding a hot streak after capturing the Travelers Championship last week and logging a T3 at the U.S. Open the week before. Hideki Matsuyama and Smylie Kaufman will also be on hand, along with rising names like Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff. However, Xander Schauffele, the world’s ninth-ranked player, pulled out of the Rocket Mortgage Classic last week for undisclosed reasons.
“All the players… are always excited any time we go to an old classic-designed golf course,” noted Peter Kostis, on-course reporter for CBS Sports. “People have not seen this one before. It’s going to be interesting how this plays out with the players and how quickly they can adjust.”
A $7.3 million purse and the usual allotment of FedExCup points are on the line at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, along with a couple of Open Championship berths. What will the field make of this unique yet somehow familiar Donald Ross track?
The Detroit Golf Club originated 1899, and the courses opened in 1916. Donald Ross, known for creating Pinehurst No. 2, Plainfield Country Club and East Lake Golf Club, among many others, is credited with the design. Each of his courses offers a playable yet challenging test of golf within its natural surroundings. But, as Kostis points out, “each one is unique.”
The event will be played on the North Course, while borrowing the third hole, a 393-yard par-4, from the South Course. Lengthened for the event, the track will play as a par-72 at 7,309 yards, with the par-5 fourth hole (the course’s longest) now stretched to 625 yards, and the par-4 18th expanded to 460 yards.
The opening hole, a 397-yard par-4, is original to the course, and tees off near the base of a bent oak that marked a Native American trail between Detroit and Saginaw.
The 14th, 15th and 16th holes come together at ‘Area 313,’ where birdies could fly. The series starts with a 555-yard, risk-reward par-5, depending on how it’s approached. The 15th hole is a par-3 that plays longer than its 160 yards. The 16th hole, a 446-yard par-4, offers scoring opportunities for those who can navigate the green.
Given that tournament history at Detroit Golf Club is sparse, how the course will hold up in PGA Tour play is pure speculation. Who are the favorites going into the Rocket Mortgage Classic?
Dustin Johnson (6-1)
Johnson is the highest-ranked player in the field. He’s also one of the game’s better drivers, who’s second-best in strokes gained: tee-to-green. DJ will be playing a course that seems like it will reward distance off the tee, so he certainly deserves to be a favorite this week. Johnson’s two wins this year came at the Saudi International in early February (another inaugural event) and the WGC-Mexico Championship later that month. But he hasn’t yet missed a cut in 2019 and made the top 10 in eight of his 13 events. Two of those top 10s were second-place finishes at majors.
Rickie Fowler (10-1)
Fowler is another of this field’s more talented players. He last won at the Phoenix Open, the same weekend Johnson was hoisting a trophy halfway around the world. His performance hasn’t measured up to DJ’s since. Fowler put up a T2 at the Honda Classic, but has only managed four top-10 finishes in his 13 tournaments this year. Still, expect his name somewhere on the leaderboard come Sunday.
Gary Woodland (12-1)
Woodland should still be riding high after his three-stroke win at the U.S. Open two weeks ago. But he’s put up other top 10s in 2019, including a T8 at the PGA Championship and a T7 at the Phoenix Open. Woodland is third best in the field at strokes gained: tee-to-green. So if he can hit greens and make birdies, he’ll be in the running as well.
Zack Sucher, though not a favorite this week, provides another interesting storyline going into the Rocket Mortgage Classic. The journeyman golfer, who missed much of 2017 due to injury, played in the Travelers on an exemption. He finished T2, keeping hope alive. As Kostis mentioned, “it will be really cool to watch him, because he’s fighting like crazy. He’s only got two events left to earn enough FedExCup points to get his card back.”