By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
There are players who are successful at certain courses, and then there are players who own a place. Think of Tiger Woods at Bay Hill and Phil Mickelson at TPC Scottsdale, adopted or native sons who rewarded already-adoring fans with dominating efforts on multiple occasions.
Now think of Steve Stricker at TPC Deere Run.
Already a fan favorite with his Wisconsin background, Stricker has moved to another level thanks to his two consecutive wins at the John Deere Classic. A third could be in store tomorrow, should he hold on to the two-shot lead he’ll take into the final round after a Saturday 63, his finest round of the week.
Midwesterners love Stricker for his great play – arguably the loudest roars at TPC Deere Run have been his, such as when a 75-foot birdie putt on the first hole Saturday was said to have had players backing off their putts on other holes.
They also love his modest acknowledgment of it all.
“I don't feel like a rock star. It's not a distraction by any means, no,” he said. “You know, I get a lot of support here, a lot of well wishes. You know, I see a lot of familiar faces, a lot of people I've gotten a lot of tickets for people to come down this week.”
It’s his people, his course, and with one more strong round, his place in history. Only nine players have won the same PGA TOUR event three years running since World War II (Woods won four straight years at Bay Hill and Jack Nicklaus three straight years at Disney World, just to name two), an elite list that Stricker can crack Sunday evening.
At his place.
“You know, it's fun. It's fun to play. I feel pretty relaxed out there to tell you the truth, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow,” Stricker said. “It's going to be tough. You know, there's going to be guys that will come out of the blocks shooting probably lights out right away, and I'm going to have to continue to do what I've been doing the first three days.”
That’s true. Brendon de Jonge fired his own 63 to keep Stricker in sight and will get to look directly at him in the final group Sunday. In the second-to-last group will be Chez Reavie, a TOUR winner who showed a lot of poise in turning a mediocre round into a 3 under round in the closing holes Saturday, and a rookie in Kyle Stanley who has shot steady rounds of 65-67-65.
Should Stricker fend them off and anyone else who might drop an ultra-low round at a course that has seen a 59, he’ll have the three-peat. He’s just not thinking that way.
“Like I said, I haven't really given it much thought, but it would mean a lot. You know, like I told some other reporters, it's hard enough to win an event three times let alone three in a row,” Stricker said. “It'll be tough tomorrow, and you gotta fight through those nerves and everything, but it would mean a lot. It would be pretty special to be a part of that list.”
And pretty special to do it at TPC Deere Run.