SILVIS, IL. – Finally, after two days of stormy weather that resulted in over three inches of rain pelting the TPC Deere Run course, the John Deere Classic is back on track and — conditions being what they are now – today’s final round is going to be a birdie-filled shootout.
The JDC has always been one of the lowest-scoring events on the PGA Tour and Saturday’s dawn to dusk session showed just how vulnerable TPC Deere Run can be under mild conditions. Saturday produced a race to finish. None of the players wanted to return early today to finish Round 3.
Ryan Moore, who lipped out his birdie putt on the final green at 8:25 p.m. in near darkness, posted his third straight 65. He’s 18 under par for the 54 holes, but that great scoring is good for only a one-stroke lead over Ben Martin and Morgan Hoffmann. They both shot 62 in Saturday’s third round.
The lift, clean and place rule was in effect on the fairways on Saturday, and the 73 players who made the cut after the second round ended at mid-day took full advantage once the third round began in the afternoon. Martin made birdie on the first five holes and on four of his last five. Hoffman strung six birds in his back nine blitz.
Moore, though, wasn’t fazed.
“That’s just how I play golf,’’ he said. “I’m a position guy – just put it out there and keep giving myself opportunities. My putting has felt better than it’s felt in a while, which is very encouraging.’’
The spectacular play wasn’t just by the front-runners on Saturday. Aaron Wise, the NCAA champion from Oregon, shot 63 and Charlie Danielson – like Wise in the field on a sponsor’s exemption – had the shot of the day. The former University of Illinois star holed out from 146 yards for eagle at No. 18.
Today’s cast of finalists includes the tourney’s two most popular stars, Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker, but neither took advantage of the good scoring conditions and are far back in the standings. In fact, a changing of the guard looms for today’s final round as the champions from the last seven years are either far off the pace or — in the case of two-time winner Jordan Spieth — not here.
Concerns over the Zika virus led to Spieth dropping out of the Olympics’ golf competition, and he decided to take the week off altogether rather than defend his title here.
Johnson, Stricker and 2014 JDC champion Brian Harman formed the featured threesome in the first two rounds, both of which were spread over 2 ½ days and played in less than desirable weather. They had to play their entire second round on Saturday morning and Johnson and Stricker returned for another 18 holes in the afternoon.
Harman didn’t survive the 36-hole cut, made after the second round was completed on Saturday morning. Johnson, the 2012 champion and perennial contender, saw his string of 29 straight rounds in the 60s at TPC Deere Run come to an end with a par-71 showing in Round 2 and he shot the same score in the afternoon. Stricker, who won the title three straight times from 2009-11, needed two late birdies just to survive the cut. He shot 68 in both his Saturday rounds and is tied for 37th place. Johnson is tied for 50th.
“I’m happy to be around,’’ said Stricker. “The course is wet. It’s tough to control your ball out of the fairway and if you hit it in the rough, it’s thick and lush. We’re lucky to be playing. The course took a lot of rain. It’s still in great shape, but it’s tough.’’
“Today is the hardest I’ve seen this course since the time we played in September (in 2003), said Johnson. “The course is significantly different. It was one of those gusty days where you’re in between clubs a lot.’’
Obviously, many of their rivals didn’t agree.
Hot streaks also were provided by Argentina’s Miguel Angel Carballo, who posted four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the front nine, and South Korea’s Wee Kim, who birdied his last five holes to climb into a tie for fifth, one shot behind fourth place Johnson Wagner.