SILVIS, Ill. – All around him, players were making runs at the lead.
Steve Stricker didn’t flinch. He simply outlasted them.
Stricker followed the lowest round of his career with 36 solid holes Sunday to win the John Deere Classic by three strokes.
Stricker, who tied the course record Saturday, fired a 7-under 64 in the fourth round after starting the day with a third-round 68 to finish at 264 for the tournament. That was good enough to give him his second PGA Tour win this year and sixth in all, not to mention a heavy dose of momentum heading into the British Open to go with the $774,000 winnner’s check.
“I’ve just given myself a lot of chances to win,” said Stricker, now second behind Tiger Woods in the FedEx Cup standings. “Some didn’t go my way and some have.”
This one did because he showed the poise and buried enough shots to hold off a tight field.
Local favorite Zach Johnson (64, 66), Brandt Snedeker (68, 65) and Brett Quigley (62, 67) all tied for second at 17 under. Quigley also qualified for the British Open, but he won’t be making the trip to Turnberry.
Instead, he’s going to Milwaukee and will also attend a memorial in Indiana for golfer Chris Smith’s wife Beth, who was killed last month in an auto crash that critically injured their two children.
“My heart’s not into playing the British,” said Quigley, who did not bring his passport.
He was, however, locked in Sunday.
Stricker’s biggest challenge, though, came from Tim Petrovic, who was in his group and was two strokes off the lead heading into the 36th and final hole of the day. But he hit the pond on No. 18 and double-bogeyed the hole, leaving him at 16 under along with Matt Jones (63, 69) and J.J. Henry (66, 68). Second-round leader Darron Stiles (70, 71) finished at 14 under.
“Some of those scores, those guys had started on the back,” Stricker said. “And we kind of felt all week that you could maybe shoot a little lower on the back side. We just were trying to be patient, knowing that those guys were playing the back first and were going to have to come to the front and finish on some tougher holes.”
A Wisconsin native and Illinois graduate, Stricker began the day three shots off the lead after he leaped into second place Saturday with a 61 that tied 2002 champion J.P. Hayes’ course record and matched the lowest round of his career. Duplicating that would have been tough. He’ll take this, though.
His approach to the 13th green in the fourth round stopped three feet from the cup, setting up a birdie that put him at 19 under, but he just missed two birdie putts on the 15th and 16th holes. His 11-footer on No. 15 rolled around the rim, and his 12-footer on the par-3 16th stopped a few inches from the cup. Stricker finally went to 20 under on the par-5 17th, tapping in for birdie after his 50-footer hit the rim.
His best shot was when he holed out from the fairway for an eagle on the par-4 No. 6 in the fourth round, his 98-yard shot clearing a bunker and landing in the cup to put him at 17 under. That tied him for the lead with Johnson, who was off the course long before Petrovic and Stricker.
“I kind of felt like this could be my week,” Stricker said. “I did that twice this week, holing out from the fairway, and that kind of got my momentum going, kind of made me feel like if I continue playing the way I’ve been playing, I’d have a chance of winning. When that went in, it felt like this could be the day.”
Johnson, a tournament board director who grew up just over an hour away in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, hadn’t fared particularly well in seven previous appearances. His highest finish was a tie for 20th in 2004.
“This place has really done a lot for me,” he said. “John Deere gave me two sponsors exemptions. Now, I’m on the board of the tournament. I come here because I love the golf course for sure, family, friends.”
Thousands cheered every shot as he made his way up the leaderboard, even simple par putts. And when he was finally finished after 36 holes, he waved his white cap as he walked off the ninth green.
“Golf is a game of confidence,” Johnson said. “It’s a totally different golf course, but I’m hitting the ball solid and reading my lines.”