PGA Tour

Stricker backed at John Deere

2013-07-11 10:25
Steve Stricker (Gallo)
Silvis - Steve Stricker might be the only golfer on the US/ PGA Tour who isn't peeking ahead to Muirfield and next week's Open Championship.

Stricker's single-minded focus on TPC Deere Run, combined with his recent dominance of the course, makes him the man to beat at this week's John Deere Classic.

Stricker, 46, is playing a reduced schedule this season - and he's skipping the British Open to celebrate his wedding anniversary with his wife Nicki.

But Stricker won the John Deere Classic three times from 2009-11. He's not about to pass on a shot at a fourth title.

"I owe a lot to this place. It's a special place for me," Stricker said.

Stricker and Zach Johnson, who grew up about 150km across the Mississippi River in nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa, are the unquestioned headliners this week.

That's largely because most of the world's top golfers are already concentrating in Scotland.

There's no Tiger, Rory or Phil in this field. In fact, the only golfer ranked in the top 10 is Louis Oosthuizen - and he's 10th.

Just eight of the world's top 50, including Stricker, Keegan Bradley, Nick Watney and Johnson, have committed to the tournament. But what the field lacks in star power it should make up for somewhat in depth, as nearly half of the top 100 on the FedEx Cup points list will tee off on Thursday.

Johnson broke Stricker's three-year winning streak here in 2012. But he enters his hometown event in a bit of a slump.

Johnson followed up a third-place finish at the Crowne Plaza Invitational in late May by shooting 13-over par at the Memorial and missing the cut at the US Open.

Johnson said that although his putting remains "up and down" - a worrisome sign because of how many birdie chances Deere Run presents -he's feeling more and more confident in his driver.

Johnson also notched top-5 finishes at Deere Run in 2009 and 2011 before beating Troy Matteson on the second hole of a playoff last year.

"My golf game is in a much better form than it was at the beginning of the year," Johnson said.

Stricker's reduced schedule also appears to be doing wonders for his game in 2013.

Stricker has four top-10s in seven events - including a memorable eighth at the US Open.

"My attitude is fresher," Stricker said. "Just getting it right in my mind at the start of the year that this is what I wanted to do was a big step in my own mind, knowing that I am doing the right thing. And I feel good about what I'm doing. That helps me play the way I've been playing."

Jonas Blixt initially said he intended to return to Sweden after winning last week's Greenbrier Classic. But Blixt remains scheduled to tee off on Thursday with Watney and Oosthuizen.

Perhaps no one in the field will have more fun this weekend than Oosthuizen.

The South African is a self-described "farm boy" with an affinity for John Deere equipment. Oosthuizen celebrated his 2010 British Open by buying a John Deere tractor, and he even brought family and friends to the Quad Cities this week so they could tour the company's facilities.

"I've still got quite a bit of passion for golf. But John Deere and farming is not far off," Oosthuizen said.

Read more on:    steve stricker  |  golf

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