The Upshot: Big birdie gets Stricker into final pairing
July 12, 2014
By Craig DeVrieze, special to PGATOUR.COM
- Three-time John Deere classic champ Steve Stricker birdied No. 18 yet again to finish Saturday one back. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
SILVIS, Ill. – Steve Stricker’s post-round Saturday session with the media started badly when he referred to the birdie putt that completed a 7-under round of 64 and vaulted him into the familiar last pairing in Sunday’s final John Deere Classic round as “one you don’t think about making.”
Come on, now. Honestly? Could there be a putt at TPC Deere Run Stricker wouldn’t think about making?
“I have good feelings when I step up to putts here,” Stricker sheepishly conceded after pushing his under-par total over his last 23 JDC rounds to 116 largely thanks to one of the silkiest strokes in the game. “I don’t know what it is. I see the line very well here. I think the greens are good greens to putt. They’re smooth.”
Stricker’s 27-foot, 5-inch, downhill curler of a birdie putt, his 27th of the day, left him a shot back of leader Brian Harman, who will play in a final Sunday pairing for the first time in his career.
Stricker, meanwhile, is in the final Sunday grouping at TPC Deere Run for the fourth time in six years.
“I thought if I could sneak that in, I’d be in the last group for sure,” he said. “You don’t expect to make a putt like that. But it tracked nicely and dove right in there, so it was good. I got a little closer to Brian and he played good today.”
Indeed, Harman, who could move into the FedExCup top 30 with a win, secured the lead with a 6-under 65 that put him at 17-under 196, but he stalled the momentum of an eagle at 17 when he found the left fairway bunker off the tee at 18, then layed up short of the green and two-putted the last.
“Just really looking forward to tomorrow, and to keep hitting good shots and see what happens,” said the third-year pro whose best finishes in 88 TOUR starts to date are third-place shares at this year’s Northern Trust Open and Wyndham Championship.
Of that unfamiliar position of being in the final group: “It should be fun. It’s better than not playing in the last group.”
Any intimidation factor of playing alongside Stricker, whose 12 career wins include a string of three straight at TPC Deere Run from 2009-2011?
“Obviously, he knows how to win here, so the worst I can do is learn a lesson, I guess,” Harman said.
For the record, Stricker isn’t feeling invincible. For starters, he is a part-time TOUR-ist, playing just his eighth event this season and seeking a second top 10. Secondly, he and Harman hardly are clear of a field that blistered Deere Run for 60 sub-par rounds playing lift, clean and place after an early Saturday storm.
The best score of the day – and week – was Scott Brown’s 10-under 61. He is alone in third, two off the pace. Another seven players are within four shots, including Zach Johnson, another Midwest product whose success at TPC Deere Run is as almost as impressive as Stricker’s. He’s in a quartet at 14-under 199 after a Saturday 69 that pushed his run of rounds in the 60s at the Deere to 23 straight.
“I’m not going to go to that first tee and think that I have won here three times and this tournament is mine,” Stricker said. “I’m not in that final group a lot out here (on TOUR), especially now that I haven’t been playing that much.
“To get back to the winner’s circle would mean a lot,” said the 47-year-old Wisconsin native who can vault from 125th in the FedExCup points race into the top 40 with a win. “To get back into that winner’s circle would win a lot, so there will be some pressure on me.”
CALL OF THE DAY: John Maginnes of PGA TOUR Radio on SiriusXM and PGATOUR.COM calls Steve Stricker's closing birdie Saturday at the John Deere Classic.
Tune in for live streaming coverage of the John Deere Classic on PGATOUR.COM Sunday at noon ET.
SATURDAY'S TOP TWEETS: Here are some of the most notable 140-character-or-less tidbits from Saturday of the John Deere Classic.
In his last 22 rounds at TPC Deere Run, Steve Stricker is 116 under. Zach Johnson? He's -98 in his last 23 rounds here. #TheseGuysAreGood— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 12, 2014
JOHN DEERE GREEN COULD BE KELLY GREEN: Stricker isn’t the only Wisconsin product who is a threat to be saying “Cheese” late Sunday afternoon while gripping the leaping deer trophy.
Madison’s Jerry Kelly, a close Stricker chum with three PGA TOUR victories to his credit, has a track record at TPC Deere Run that would suggest he can be a threat starting from three shots back on Sunday. Kelly has four top 25 finishes and a pair of top 10s in seven starts at TPC Deere Run. That includes a share of fourth last year.
Kelly’s round of 65 on Saturday put him in a position, perhaps, to join Stricker and Zach Johnson in the JDC’s favorite son family.
“Definitely the step-child, though,” he said, chuckling.
VEGAS MAKES PUSH TO COMPLETE COMEBACK: Jhonattan Vegas began the week with three events left to the Major Medical Extension he was granted after undergoing shoulder surgery in February of 2013. He needs to earn $281,287 to retain his playing privileges through the end of the year.
Tied for eighth, four shots back Vegas said he will be thinking harder about winning a two-year exemption and the $846,000 check that would result from a second career TOUR title.
“I’m going to try to win a golf tournament tomorrow,” he said after climbing the leaderboard with an 8-under 63. “That is going to be my mentality tomorrow.”
Brian Harman pulls ahead at John Deere
DON'T FORGET JORDAN: Defending champion Jordan Spieth will tee off with 1997 John Deere winner David Toms more than an hour before the final twosome hits the tee. Spieth is part of a foursome tied for 14th after fighting his way to 4-under 67 in the third round.
But for the record, he was six back, albeit with fewer golfers ahead of him, when rallied a year ago to become the first teen to win on TOUR in more than 80 years.
“It will take a special round,” the 20-year-old Texan said. “I will have to go out and set the pace early.”
DEERE TEE MARKERS A MARK OF DISTINCTION: An unofficial ranking of having the No. 1 tee markers on TOUR is a mark of distinction that John Deere Classic leaders gladly will accept. Tournament director Clair Peterson wholeheartedly concurs with a top 10 list at PGATOUR.COM that puts those distinctive John Deere blocks on top.
“We’ve been proud of our markers since 1999,” he said of the replica John Deere tractors and heavy equipment pieces the pros set their tees between at the Deere. “We use them for charity auctions afterwards and there is a tremendous demand for them. With a company that has a dimensional product like a tractor it makes it a bit easier for us, I guess. But we sure love the way they look.”
Tourney sponsor John Deere provides the die-cast pieces, which are the hand-mounted by Jim Griffin, a former John Deere employee with a wood-working shop in Hillsdale, Ill. Peterson and the JDC folks also claim to being No. 1 in per capita giving. Last year’s event raised more than $6.3 million for nearly 500 participating regional charities. Peterson estimated auctions of tee blocks used at the event have raised additional tens of thousands of dollars for local groups.
ODDS AND ENDS
Brad Fritsch arrived in the Quad-Cities long before his golf clubs did. But the temporarily lost luggage hasn’t stopped him from playing well. His career-best round of 8-under 63 on Saturday pushed him to 12-under for the tournament. ...
Tim Clark, a hard-luck runner-up to Jonathan Byrd in 2007, hit 14 of 14 fairways and 18 of 18 greens en route to a bogey-free 64 that leaves him three shots back of the lead starting Sunday. ...
Leader Brian Harman is among 10 players in the lead 13 who could book the final berth into the Open Championship, That prize will go to the John Deere’s highest finisher in the top five not already qualified. In that group, only Zach Johnson and Ryan Moore have booked seats on the JDC charter to London. Steve Stricker is eligible but won’t make the trip. ...
Zach Johnson hit a 351-yard drive with the aid of a sprinkler head on No. 10.
SATURDAY PHOTOS: Click below for our favorite images from Saturday play at the John Deere Classic
Category Leader Statistic Driving distance Zach Johnson 320.0 Driving accuracy Tim Clark, Trevor Immelman
Scrambling Scott Brown, Chad Campbell, Brad Fritsch, Retief Gosen, Paul Goydos, Charles Howell III, Jerry Kelly, Bryce Molder, Joran Niebrugge, Jordan Spieth, Daniel Summerhays, David Toms, Bo Van Pelt 100 percent Greens in
Tim Clark 18 of 18
Total birdies 345 Bogey-free rounds Scott Brown (61), Chad Campbell (62) Brad Fritsch (63), Tim Clark (64), Jerry Kelly (65), David Toms (66), Paul Goydos (66), Retief Goosen (69) Best round Scott Brown (61) Hardest hole Par-4 No. 18: 4.065 Easiest hole Par-5 No. 17: 4.234