Sepp Straka enters new strata with John Deere title
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Flirts with 59, captures second TOUR title with final-round 62
Written by Craig DeVrieze @PGATOUR
SILVIS, Ill. — A good old boy from Georgia by way of Austria, Sepp Straka endured a shag bag of Sunday emotions that even an accomplished country music star like Blake Shelton would be hard-pressed to put in song.
If Shelton dared to try, “Ol’ Sepp” would be a ballad with a happy ending, but not before a stunning penultimate stanza literally dripping with potential heartbreak.
With likely the biggest gallery in the John Deere Classic’s 53-year history filling the luxury boxes and amphitheater hillside surrounding the finishing hole — many of those patrons gearing up for a post-round concert featuring Shelton — Straka stood in the 18th fairway, 181 yards and two strokes away from becoming the 13th PGA TOUR player to record a sub-60 round, and just the fifth to secure a TOUR victory in the process. (Just two have won with a sub-60 final round: David Duval, 1999 The American Express; Stuart Appleby; 2010 Greenbrier Classic.)
He promptly pumped his approach into the 18th-hole pond, leading to a double-bogey 6 that put victory in peril.
Thankfully for ol’ Sepp, that’s not how the song ended.
Sepp Straka's career-low round paves way for win at John Deere
Straka, 30, secured his second TOUR win in as many years when 54-hole leader and fellow Georgia Bulldog Brendon Todd, his closest pursuer after the calamity at 18, saw his typically trusty putter fail him coming down the stretch.
In the end, Straka’s mostly brilliant, career-low 9-under 62 at TPC Deere Run was good for a two-shot win over Todd and Alex Smalley, who played together in Sunday’s final pairing.
The victory lifted Straka to 18th in the FedExCup standings and 27th in the Official World Golf Ranking, and it may have enhanced his chances of joining the European Ryder Cup side in the upcoming competition in Italy.
“September is a few months away, and I'm glad my game is in good shape,” he said. “Hopefully, I can make a push for that.”
Sepp Straka’s news conference after winning John Deere
More than anything, Straka’s second career win solidified his standing as a late-blooming TOUR standout, a dream he said he never envisioned after moving to Valdosta, Georgia, from his native Vienna, Austria, at the age of 14.
Now he’s a savvy veteran of five TOUR seasons.
“I never really had a whole lot of confidence in myself growing up,” he said. “My brother (Sam) was a little better than me. My class in high school was full of really good players, so I never really had a lot of success early on.”
He was good enough, though, to make the roster of a powerhouse Georgia program, and steady progress as a pro has brought success that instills confidence he can hang with the best in the game.
“I think one thing I've tried to work on a lot and have done a better job of is being more consistent in my practice and that translating into tournaments,” he said. “But at my best, I do feel like I can compete with anybody. Obviously the last three days I could have competed with just about anybody in the world, but growing up I never would have thought I would have a chance to even play on the PGA TOUR. This is all just a big dream come true.”
Straka’s final round certainly was world-class. Although it ultimately didn’t join the historic sub-60 strata, it did eclipse a 63 by the late, great Payne Stewart in 1982 to become the lowest winning Sunday round in John Deere Classic history. It also included a front-nine, 7-under 28 that shares the TPC Deere Run nine-hole record.
He got to 11-under for the day with a run of four straight birdies from the 11th through 14th holes, and the golf world couldn’t help but ponder not just a 59 that would have matched Paul Goydos’ course record in 2011, but perhaps a TOUR-record 58 scored by Jim Furyk in the final round of the 2016 Travelers Championship – or lower.
The latter was all but lost when he failed to birdie the par-5 17th, and, of course, the former swam away when he pulled his 8-iron approach from 181 yards in front of the huge gallery engulfing 18.
“I just pulled it way left,” he conceded. “I was just trying to hit my target about 7, 8 yards right of the pin and let it feed in there. Once it started going left with the wind off the right, it was never going to come back.”
Although the 59 was a thought coming down 18, Straka said he primarily was seeking a final birdie to hold off Todd and others behind him.
“It popped in my mind, for sure, yeah, but I wasn't going to change my game plan or strategy for the 59,” he said. “The goal was still to keep the same game plan and try to finish and win a golf tournament. As fun as the 59 would be, I think winning the golf tournament is always more fun.”
Known for his steady putter, Todd basically missed a chance for a fourth career win when he three-putted for the first time in 131 holes at the par-3 16th. It was his first bogey in 46 holes.
Interestingly, Todd had mentioned Goydos’ 59 in predicting a likely Sunday shootout on the previous afternoon. And he certainly noticed Straka had that number in sight on the TPC Deere Run back nine.
“I was like, ‘He is about to do it, and I said it yesterday.’ It didn’t work out that way, but he still played a heck of a round,” said Todd. “He is a heck of ball striker, and he has worked on his short game the last few years. It is really starting to show with the level of golf he has played the last two years. When he gets into contention, he is lights out and he’s not scared to win.”
Straka didn’t just rally on Sunday. He opened Thursday with a 2-over 73, the first over-par round for a John Deere Classic winner since the tournament moved to TPC Deere Run in 2000.. But he rectified an issue with the putter overnight, and he fired his way into contention with a Friday 63.
Sepp Straka’s Round 4 highlights from John Deere
He followed that with a bogey-free 65 on Saturday that left him three off the pace set by Todd.
Straka couldn’t help but notice the huge crowd coming down the stretch.
“Is that what they're all here for?” he said when told Shelton was his closing act. “I didn't even know he was playing, to be honest with you. I knew there was a concert. I didn't know it was Blake Shelton, so yeah, might have to hang around for a little bit.”
The country star’s performance closed a festive week at TPC Deere Run, but for the record, “Ol’ Sepp” wasn’t on the playlist.
If that song ever is written, it will end on a sad yet interesting note. Straka’s victory came with the caveat that he cover the cost of the Airbnb rental home shared this week with 2022 John Deere champ J.T. Poston and four fellow pros.
“Oh, yeah. They're not letting me off the hook there,” he said.
Considering he pocketed the winner’s share of a $7.4 million purse, that’s not too sad a note. But the rental cost could skyrocket next year, now that the joint now has housed back-to-back winners.
“I hope J.T. went ahead and renewed before this,” Straka said.