TPC Deere Run’s closing stretch likely will tell Sunday’s tale
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Sebastian Munoz one clear at the 50th rendition of the John Deere Classic
Written by Craig DeVrieze @PGATOUR
SILVIS, Ill. — Before a single shot had been hit at TPC Deere Run, before a single flagstick had been planted, Chip Beck, a four-time PGA TOUR winner and author of the TOUR’S second competitive 59, took a spin around the developing golf course and returned to Player Design Consultant D.A. Weibring with a wide smile.
“He said ‘The golf course was just talking to me,’” Weibring remembered Saturday while watching the third round of the 50th rendition of the John Deere Classic take place on the canvas he created. “He said, ‘It was telling me where to go.’”
Some players have listened better than others through the years, particularly coming down the John Deere Classic stretch with a title on the line.
As it is on almost any given PGA TOUR Sunday, and as routinely occurs here at the Deere, the final round of this JDC is setting up to provide high (and possibly wet) drama. Should weather delays ensue and, if this Sunday follows suit of the previous two on TOUR, the Deere-chartered jet to Royal St. George’s GC may set down on the North Sea coast of England with minutes to spare ahead of the initial tee time at the 149th Open Championship.
If past form at TPC Deere Run holds, the back nine finishing stretch astride the Rock River here will tell the tale for 54-hole leader Sebastian Munoz and the vast pack of pursuers within shouting distance of his 16-under 197-total.
Starting with the drivable par-4 14th, that stretch run has produced a wealth of volatile multi-shot swings along with six playoffs and a parade of elite survivors since TPC Deere Run debuted in 2000.
Jordan Spieth staged huge backside rallies en route to playoff wins in 2013 and 2015. Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson produced 18th-hole fairway magic back-to-back in 2011 and 2012. The first of Bryson DeChambeau’s seven victories was borne of a backside 30 and a three-shot swing on the final two holes in 2017.
“I think it's the design of the golf course,” said Johnson, an veteran TPC Deere Run hand who has experienced both sides of the stretch-run drama through the years and who will start his final round as one of 27 players within six shots of Munoz’s lead. “Quality shots are rewarded, errant shots are penalized. Obviously, that's the case anywhere. But here, it's polarized. The moment you get off track on 14, 15 and obviously 18, you can go the other way.”
That’s what Weibring had in mind when he and fellow designer Chris Gray surveyed a property largely unchanged from the time the Hopewell native Americans who are buried in mounds hidden amidst the wooded acreage surrounding the layout first settled here 13,000 years before to hunt the mastodons and mammoths that roamed the river bottoms.
“It’s there to go get,” Weibring conceded of a public-fee course that has yielded more birdies than any other TOUR track since the turn of the century. “But if you put it in the wrong place, you’ve got a challenge on your hands.”
TPC Deere Run has no bigger fan than longtime Tournament Director Clair Peterson, who can recite virtually every deciding shot dating back to the course’s debut.
“History has proven that D.A.’s concept of having the last five holes sequenced the way they are pretty much guarantees drama as the tournament ends,” he said, noting elite talent, steely nerve and consummate shot-making has done the loudest stretch-run talking through the years.
“At some point over those final holes, you are going to have to prove whether you have nerves or not. You are going to have to pull off a shot or sink a putt at the right time. It demands excellence and it separates. History would tell you the guys who feel comfortable in that situation have found a way to pull it off. The higher-ranked or more experienced players seem to have a better track record over those final holes, especially in playoffs.”
Ryan Moore will be part of a fivesome who’ll start the day two shots off of Munoz’s pace. He managed the closing-stretch challenge to win here in 2016, and is eager to hit that closing stretch with an opportunity on Sunday.
“I like it because you have opportunities to make birdies and opportunities to make bogeys those last six holes,” he said. “There's an opportunity you could birdie all of them, but then you could get yourself in some tough positions off the tee and be scrambling for par every single one of them, too.
“I think that's what makes it so fun. You've got a short par-4. There's just so many things that can happen in that stretch, and you can definitely exchange five or six shots in a matter of a few holes.”
A multi-player race to the finish awaits on Sunday at TPC Deere Run. Who will prevail? Time — and Weibring’s talkative finishing stretch — will tell.
2011 — Bidding for his third straight Deere. Steve Stricker led by five at the turn but trailed by two on the 17th tee. Back-to-back birdies stole the win from Kyle Stanley and sealed the three-peat, highlighted by a walk-off birdie putt of 24 feet, 8 inches following a 189-yard shot — standing with one foot in and one foot out of a fairway bunker —to the back fringe at 18.
2012 — Zach Johnson was two down with six to play, and led by two after Troy Matteson doubled No. 15 while Johnson birdied 17. They finished tied when Matteson’s 59 foot putt for eagle at 17 circled the cup and fell. In the first playoff hole, both doubled 18, Johnson after hitting into the water from the fairway bunker. On the second trip up the closing hole, Johnson laced a 6-iron 196-yards to within a foot from that same bunker to win what he alls his fifth major.
2013 — Jordan Spieth birdied five of last six holes — including the last with 44 foot, 4-inch hole-out from the sand — to join a playoff he won over Zach Johnson and David Hearn in a five-hole sudden-death playoff.
2015 — Spieth rallied from four back on the final six holes to force a playoff with Tom Gillis. He won on the second hole of sudden death, then boarded the charter jet to St. Andrews with a chance to become the second player to bag the first three legs of the modern Grand Slam.
2017 — Bryson DeChambeau birdied seven of his last 11 holes, including with a back nine 30 finished by birdies on the last two holes, to track down Patrick Rodgers for his first win. Rodgers led DeChambeau by four at one point. Bogeys at the short 14th and the par-5 17th derailed his own bid for a maiden win at the Deere.