Did Stricker make a mistake in returning to the JDC?

SILVIS, IL. – Did Steve Stricker make a bad decision in helping the John Deere Classic celebrate its 50th anniversary, albeit a year late?

Stricker is a legend in the PGA Tour stop played three hours from his Wisconsin home.  He won the John Deere Classic three straight times, from 2009 to 2011. He’s won more money in the tournament than anyone else, and he was 186 strokes under par in his first 17 appearances in the tournament.

In this his 18th visit, though, he is 54 years old. Nobody else in the field has reached his 50th birthday. The oldest previous winner on the PGA Tour was Sam Snead, who was 52 when he won the Greater Greensboro Open, and that was three years before Stricker was born.

If Stricker is to make a run at another win at TPC Deere Run he’ll have to shake off a lackluster first round. Stricker didn’t come ready to play Thursday, making two bogeys in the first four holes before notching his first birdie.  He made three more of those on his second nine, but a 1-under-par 70 is not a good score in any round at the John Deere Classic, an event noted for low scoring. He’s seven shots behind co-leaders Sebastian Munoz and Chesson Hadley after Round 1.

“It was an early wakeup call,’’ said Stricker.  “I’m not used to getting up at 5 in the morning anymore to play.  I played like I was still asleep for awhile. Hopefully I have to come back tomorrow and put up a good number.’’

In addition to being the U.S. Ryder Cup captain Stricker is a PGA Champions Tour mainstay now – and he’s been a good one.

Last year he won the U.S. Senior Open, perhaps the most significant major for the 50-and-over circuit.  He won another Champions’ major in his last start, taking the Bridgestone Senior Players at rugged Firestone two weeks ago by a whopping six strokes. After that he was looking at a return to the John Deere Classic, even though it conflicted with what would have been his title defense in the U.S. Senior Open.

“I wish they weren’t the exact same week, but I’m glad I’m here,’’ said Stricker. “It’s a special place for me and my family.’’

It’d be even more special if he won here for a record fourth time and became the oldest PGA Tour winner in the process. Phil Mickelson’s victory in the PGA Championship in May at age 50 was an incentive for Stricker to make a return to the PGA Tour. Mickelson was the oldest player to win a major and the sixth oldest to win a PGA Tour event. If Stricker came back to become the first four-time JDC champion that would be a similarly big deal.

“I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t think I could do something similar,’’ he said. “Obviously winning the John Deere is going to be a tall order, but I still think there’s some good play inside of me. Hopefully  I can get that out here this week.’’