The Stricker Slam. That's what's at stake this week.
Only five times in history has a golfer won the same tournament in four consecutive editions. Steve Stricker is gunning to join that exclusive club.
Young Tom Morris was the first member when he won the British Open from 1868-1872. (The tournament was not contested in 1871.) Walter Hagen joined him with four straight victories at the PGA Championship in 1924-27. Gene Sarazen strung together wins at the Miami Open in 1926 and 1928-30. (The gap was due to a schedule change.)
Most recently, Tiger Woods has added his name to the list twice. After four in a row at Bay Hill in 2000-03, he emerged victorious at the Buick Invitational from 2005-08. He won the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in four consecutive starts (2005-07, 2009), but missed the 2008 edition after having reconstructive surgery on his left knee.
Stricker's reign at TPC Deere Run since 2009 has included three eagles and 76 birdies. That equates to a par-breaker split of a staggering 36.57 percent. His actual scoring average over his last 12 rounds is 65.33.
Last year's triumph was punctuated with a birdie-birdie finish for a one-stroke margin over Kyle Stanley. After converting a birdie from just inside 15 feet at the par-4 17th hole to grab a share of the lead, Stricker found a fairway bunker off the tee at the par-4 18th hole. He then muscled an approach that dripped off the back edge of the green, 25 feet from the hole. From there he drilled the birdie to nip Stanley and set the table for potential history this week.
TPC Deere Run is a par 71. It's hosted this event since 2000 and serves as a haven for guys that love to go low. All of the 12 champions have scored 16-under 268 or deeper. Stricker's 26-under 258 in 2010 is the tournament record. That was the week when he opened with a 60 and sat one back of Paul Goydos' overnight lead following the fourth 59 ever on the PGA TOUR.
Last year's birdie average of 4.24 was a record high for the host track that measures 7,268 yards. Its scoring average of 69.608 was the fourth-easiest of 11 par 71s used in non-majors last year. The field averaged more than 70 percent in greens in regulation and recorded a putting average of 1.746, good for ninth-easiest on TOUR and very much in line with the course's profile over the years.
The weather is expected to cooperate throughout the week as the drought in the Midwest continues. Sunshine and high temperatures right around 90 degrees will serve as the norm. Winds are forecast to be light.
|Power Rankings: John Deere Classic|
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In 2012, our expert will be publishing his list of players who didn't quite make the top 10 for that particular week. Here are five other players Rob Bolton likes at TPC Deere Run:
11. John Senden ... TPC Deere Run is the site of his lone PGA TOUR title (2006). Most recently, he shared 12th place here in 2010. Took the last few weeks off following a T10 at the U.S. Open. The legendary ball-striker ranks 10th on the PGA TOUR in birdie average.
12. Brendon de Jonge ... Failed to recover following his Sunday fade at Congressional two weeks ago, settling for a T52 at The Greenbrier Classic. He sat two strokes off the lead at last year's John Deere before posting his second consecutive share of seventh place.
13. Tim Clark ... Sterling record at TPC Deere Run: solo second (2007), T18 (2008), T7 (2010). Shared fourth place in his last start at the Travelers Championship, his first top 15 since having surgery on his right elbow 11 months ago.
14. Ryan Palmer ... Relentless over his last six starts, posting four top 10s. Also logged a T15 in his last event (AT&T National). He's missed four of seven cuts at TPC Deere Run, but currently ranks T13 on the PGA TOUR in birdie average and 11th in adjusted scoring.
15. Daniel Summerhays ... Cracked seven figures in earnings this season with a solo fifth at The Greenbrier Classic, his fourth top 10 of the year, three of which are top fives. Played his final 49 holes last week in bogey-free 11-under. Sits 12th on TOUR in GIR.