Rocket Mortgage Classic Predictions: Conservative/Aggressive Plays for Every Type of Bettor

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Min Woo Lee, of Australia, tees off on the third hole during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament, Friday, March 8, 2024, in Orlando, Fla.
(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Jason Sobel @JasonSobelGolf Jun 27, 2024, 8:43 AM

Three weeks ago, one of my outright plays listed here in the weekly preview — Collin Morikawa at the Memorial Tournament — lost to only Scottie Scheffler, finishing runner-up at that event. Last week, another one of my outrights — Tom Kim at the Travelers Championship — again beat everybody except for Scheffler, losing on the first playoff hole.

Between those two tournaments, I had Scheffler win the U.S. Open, which, of course, he finished in a share of 41st place.

So, please allow me the opportunity to use this space to wish the world’s No. 1 player well during his impending three-week absence.

It’s finally time to get a little more optimistic about some outrights.

As I’ve often outlined during the past few months of Scheffler dominance, his success has come at the expense of golf bettors, as it’s been difficult to play him at such short pre-tournament prices and perhaps even tougher to fade him and have any confidence that somebody else might win.

Without Scottie for a few weeks and no PGA Tour signature events, the outright fun should return, starting with this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic.

It didn’t quite play out on the leaderboard last year, but Detroit Golf Club, at 7,370 yards, might play into the hands of the elite drivers more than any course we’ll see during the year.

Going into the second edition of this event back in 2020, I remember asking one pro, based on the first one, what type of player is best suited for this course.

The answer was something to the effect of, “It’s the perfect place for Bryson [DeChambeau]. Hit driver as far as you can, which actually helps avoid any trouble. He might only need four clubs in his bag.”

Bryson did indeed win that week, and it can be stated that three of the five winners of this event — DeChambeau (2020), Cam Davis (2021) and Tony Finau (2022) — are among those who do much of their damage with the biggest weapon off the tee.

With that in mind, I’ll be targeting some other great drivers of the ball this week, starting with each of my favorite outright selections.

Rocket Mortgage Classic Outright Picks

Conservative: Min Woo Lee (+2000)

It might seem like this week’s picks are simply a rehashing of the SG: Off the Tee ranking, and the inclusion of Lee off the top shouldn’t do much to dissuade that notion, as he currently places seventh in this category. It’s been a bit of a strange journey for the Aussie so far this year, considering he’s largely been known to this point as a boom-or-bust type, with plenty of range between his ceiling and floor. 

A share of runner-up honors at the Cognizant Classic, when he wasn’t ever quite nipping at the heels of eventual winner Austin Eckroat down the stretch, remains his lone top-10, but he’s finished between 21st and 26th in each of his last five starts, which might be more impressive for being a statistical anomaly than the performances themselves. That type of consistency is reminiscent of another Woo, Si Woo Kim, who has greatly narrowed that spectrum in the past couple of years. 

We’ve been waiting for another peak week, and this could be the one, as a field lacking too many other big names should be ripe for the picking. The guy known as The Chef, with more potential star-power than many other more accomplished young players, should cook this week.

Aggressive: Keith Mitchell (+3300) and Davis Thompson (+3300)

Oftentimes, betting is about making difficult decisions with conviction. Hit your 13 with the dealer showing a 2? Press on the 17th tee when your swing hasn’t been great? In this instance, though, I’m clearly riding the fence and offering up two selections, because I hate the idea of having to choose between them. 

Mitchell is a guy who’s been on my radar for a few years as another player with star qualities and enough game to someday soon rank with the top-25 in the world. So, why is he currently 84th and never been higher than 44th? I don’t have a great answer to that, as nearly every time I watch him play, I think he’s going to contend for a title. That hasn’t really happened this year, but I’m pot-committed at this point, and the reality is that he hasn’t played poorly, with three top-10s and eight top-20s in 15 total starts. 

I still believe that it won’t be long before he wins his second career title, which will vault him into more high-profile events and lead to the domino effect that so many others have enjoyed. This feels like a great spot for that next victory to happen. 

The same could be said for Thompson’s first trip to the winner’s circle. Like Mitchell, he’s a former University of Georgia standout (and unlike most of his peers, a former No. 1-ranked amateur) who’s starting to show that he owns plenty of offensive firepower at the highest level. He’s finished 27th or better in six of his last nine starts, which includes a share of second place at the Myrtle Beach Classic and a very impressive T-9 at the U.S. Open. Even a few weeks past that performance, I expect him to be riding that momentum this week at a place where he was T-24 one year ago.

Rocket Mortgage Classic Top 5 Picks

Conservative: Cameron Young (+300)

There’s reason to believe the cream will rise to the top this week, as is usually the case in tournaments with non-elite fields and some legitimate separation between the top tier and everyone else.

This one should offer a viable opportunity for Young to finally capture his first career PGA Tour title, on the heels of a 59-66 weekend at the Travelers, which left him in a share of ninth place. I don’t mind the outright play, but I’d rather bank on yet another close call for a player whose first few years in the bigs have been littered with ‘em.

Aggressive: Nicolai Hojgaard (+850)

First things first: If I hadn’t already earmarked not two, but three players for outrights in the sections above, I would’ve jumped at Hojgaard’s 50/1 number in that market – and I still might, even though I’m suggesting him for “only” a top-five here. His form is certainly a concern, as he’s failed to finish better than 35th in his last half-dozen starts, missing the cut in half of those. 

When he’s good, though, the 23-year-old can be very good, as he displayed during a runner-up finish at Torrey Pines earlier this year. When we’re betting a player for top-five, it’s smart to understand whether such a ceiling has potential and this one certainly does.

Rocket Mortgage Classic Top 10 Picks

Maverick McNealy (+225) and Aaron Rai (+250)

Getting away from the regular theme of this weekly preview, I’m going to eschew conservative/aggressive plays in this category, instead offering a pair at similar prices with some definitive similarities and differences.

McNealy is the type who does most of his damage with power off the tee and a deft touch around and on the greens. He also happens to be trending in the right direction, going from T-41 to T-23 to T-17 to T-7 in his last four starts. For a guy with an uncommonly high floor at all times, I love how this one is setting up for him. Therein lies the similarity to Rai, as he’s another guy with both a massive floor and a nice record of trending, with top-40 results in each of his last five starts. That said, the two-gloved Englishman goes about his business much differently, peppering fairways off the tee and the middle of greens with his approach shots. Coming off a T-9 at this event last year, I like him to repeat that performance.

Rocket Mortgage Classic Top 20 Picks

Conservative: Mark Hubbard (+275)

Years ago, on a few separate occasions, I covered the season-opening festivities at Kapalua and as part of that coverage, asked many of the competitors to list their biggest goal for the upcoming season. I’d estimate that about 90% of those asked chose an intangible target, rather than a tangible one, and easily the most popular response from players was that they wanted to become more consistent.

I’ve always felt that was a strange juxtaposition, because even high-level consistency isn’t rewarded more than brief moments of brilliance — which is to say, every player should prefer two wins and a bevy of MCs over a season filled with 19th-place finishes. My guess is that Hubbard understands this notion better than most. He’s been among the most consistent players this season, making the cut in all 17 starts so far, though he’s still chasing that elusive first PGA Tour victory.

Granted, continuously playing the weekend is the best way to give himself chances to finally win. That said, I’d still rather play his floor than his ceiling this week, going with the known commodity in another consistent performance, rather than hoping this could be the week his consistency turns into victory. 

Aggressive: Chan Kim (+450)

The form hasn’t quite been there for Kim lately, but I’m using this spot to bank on a player whose game I like and has a decent price for a top-20. The 34-year-old is a PGA Tour rookie, but he’s hardly a newbie in every other sense, as he’s won a combined 10 times on the Japan Golf Tour and Korn Ferry Tour, and has already competed in a dozen major championships. With four top-20s in 15 starts this year, I like that percentage against his implied odds here.

Rocket Mortgage Classic First-Round Leader Picks

Conservative: Alex Noren (+4500)

I’ve written it many times before in these previews, but if there’s a wager you like that doesn’t hit, that shouldn’t mean you run in the other direction and never play it again, but perhaps continue to back it, since there was a reason you liked it in the first place. No player has been mentioned more for FRLs in my articles this year than Noren – and for good reason, as he’s broken 70 in eight of 15 openers and his 68.60 R1 scoring average ranks sixth on the PGA Tour. Until he gives us reason for a Thursday fade, the Swede is a guy we should continue to back in this market.

Aggressive: Callum Tarren (+20000)

First-round leaders (or co-leaders) of this event in recent years have included Doc Redman, Peter Kuest and a less-experienced Davis Thompson, all of which suggests we should fire a few darts from long range and hope to hit the target. 

I’ll list Tarren here, who’s had an admittedly disappointing season to date, as he’s got some offensive firepower, but guys like Harry Hall, Garrick Higgo and Kevin Dougherty make some sense, too. This is a nice spot to sprinkle on a few big numbers and hope one of ‘em pays off.

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About the Author

Jason Sobel

Read More @JasonSobelGolf

Jason Sobel is a Brand Ambassador for BetMGM. He joins after six years with Action Network. Prior to Action, Jason spent a total of 17 years in two stints at ESPN (1997-2011; 2015-18) and four years at Golf Channel (2011-15). He also currently works as a host for "Hitting the Green" on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio and contributes to the channel's on-site coverage during major championships. He's won four Sports Emmy awards, more than a dozen Golf Writers Association of America accolades and has earned an honorable mention in the Best of American Sportswriting series.

Jason Sobel is a Brand Ambassador for BetMGM. He joins after six years with Action Network. Prior to Action, Jason spent a total of 17 years in two stints at ESPN (1997-2011; 2015-18) and four years at Golf Channel (2011-15). He also currently works as a host for "Hitting the Green" on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio and contributes to the channel's on-site coverage during major championships. He's won four Sports Emmy awards, more than a dozen Golf Writers Association of America accolades and has earned an honorable mention in the Best of American Sportswriting series.