Don't Sleep on the John Deere Classic

 

Posted by: mike July 14th, 2017

By Jeff Shain

 

With Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and reigning Open Championship winner Henrik Stenson teeing it up in Scotland, there’s plenty of incentive to set the alarm a little earlier this week to catch some action from the Troon coastline.

(Makes it easier, too, to get into the early-riser habit next week when it counts.)

And it’s another two-major weekend elsewhere, with the U.S. Women’s Open and Senior Players Championship jostling for summer attention.

Don’t instinctively sleep on the John Deere Classic, though.John Deere Classic

Granted, it’s never easy holding the slot before or after a major – especially one on the other side of an ocean. Quad Cities lies six time zones from Royal Birkdale.

Check the JDC’s roster of recent champions, though, and it holds its own.

Major champions Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson have captured three of the previous five editions. (OK, Spieth hadn’t won anything when he made the 2013 Deere his maiden victory, but we figured it wouldn’t be long. By 2015, he had.)

Steve Stricker didn’t win a major, but his three-peat from 2009-11 made him still the most recent man to capture three straight in the same event. Kenny Perry’s 2008 victory preceded his Masters playoff loss nine months later.

For those who watched Brian Harman hang tough at Erin Hills, his introduction probably came by way of winning the 2014 Deere.

And while golf’s attention was rightly focused on the Rio Olympics last August, Ryan Moore made the JDC his springboard to a playoff run that almost found the FedExCup in his possession. The consolation prize: A spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, where he scored the clinching point at Hazeltine.

“A lot of great things happened,” Moore recalled earlier this week, “and a lot of it was because of my play here getting me going, getting me in right mindset for the end of the season.”

Recall, too, that a teenage Michelle Wie visited Quad Cities in 2004 and ’05 in her quest to become the first woman to make a PGA Tour cut in the post-World War II era.

In 2010, Paul Goydos went into the books as the fourth man to shoot 59 on the PGA Tour. The shine was short-lived, though – Stricker shot 60 that day and followed with rounds of 66-62-70 to break the JDC scoring record at 26-under.

“The greens are generally receptive so you can be a little bit more aggressive with 8-irons, 7-irons, 6-irons,” said Moore, who went 22-under last year.

“I think that's where the good scoring comes from. You can have a 6-iron in your hand here and actually feel like you can stop it around the hole and still have an 8- to 10-footer for birdie.”

This year’s Deere boasts just three of the top 30 players in the world rankings, with Daniel Berger topping the list at No.20. Berger already has repeated in Memphis and nearly picked up a second win at the Travelers Championship, until Spieth’s dramatic bunker holeout.

There’s also Johnson and Stricker, whose rankings slippage of late haven’t affected their “favorite son” status. Stricker was seventh at Colonial and 16th at the U.S. Open, by the way, and Johnson’s game has seen an uptick of late.

Or the winner could be another from this under-25 demographic that has been chalking up wins at an unprecedented rate. Sebastian Munoz, who led the first three days at the Greenbrier last week, will try to build on that. Recent U.S. Amateur champions Bryson DeChambeau are Curtis Luck are trending positively.

If you don’t already recognize the winner’s name come Sunday, chances are you will before long.

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Jeff Shain is a former Orlando Sentinel golf writer, part of nearly two decades covering the sport that includes other stops at The Miami Herald and The Island Packet in South Carolina. He's also a digital contributor to PGATour.com and Pro Golf Weekly, and co-hosts the Prime Sports Golf podcast at PrimeSportsNetwork.com.