SILVIS, IL. – Zach Johnson is not only on the board of directors for the John Deere Classic, he’s also the defending champion.
Those roles might seem a burden for the PGA Tour’s leading member from nearby Iowa, but so far Johnson’s kept his focus. He tacked a second round 66 to the 64 he posted in the first and his 12-under-par 130 has the 2007 Masters champion at the top of the leaderboard entering Saturday’s third round at TPC Deere Run.
There’s only one problem. Plenty of other players have gone low in this annual birdie-fest, too. Johnson shared the first round lead with Camilo Villegas and was tied for the top spot with Lucas Glover and Patrick Reed at the $4.8 million tourney’s halfway point on Friday.
Johnson’s presence, though, looms large with the huge galleries that turned out for the first two rounds. His driving wasn’t as good on Friday as it was on Thursday, but – in a critical part of his round – Johnson made par saves on holes 5-7 and then chipped in at No. 8.
“My short game was tremendous. I putted great,’’ said Johnson. “I know I can play well around here. I like the fact that I don’t have to be perfect.’’
Johnson has 18 straight rounds in the 60s at TPC Deere Run and Friday’s was his ninth bogey-free card, a record for the tourney that was first played in 1971 and has been a low-scoring affair ever since even when course changes were made.
Chev Reavie, who is three strokes off the lead, shot 61 on Friday. Glover had 62 and Reed 63.
“Having me at the top of the leaderboard is pretty irrelevant to them,’’ said Johnson who had a tie for second in 2009 and a tie for third in 2011 – years in which Steve Stricker was accomplishing a three-peat. Johnson ended Stricker’s run while beating Troy Matteson in a two-hole sudden death playoff for the title last year.
Stricker, playing with Johnson the first two rounds, uncharacteristically three-putted the last hole from 13 feet on Friday, the bogey dropping him three off the lead instead of the one it would have been had he rolled in his birdie putt. Still, with 36 holes to play, Stricker’s not out of it but he won’t be paired with Johnson for the first weekend round.
“He’s playing great,’’ said Stricker. “He’s obviously has a great feeling for this course, much like I do. It’s been fun playing with him and fun to feed off his energy and the crowd.’’
Also looming as a contender is Winfield’s Kevin Streelman, who shot his second straight 66 on Friday and is two off the lead. Four players scored better, but Streelman’s ball-striking has been almost flawless. He hit 14 of 14 fairways on Friday and 31 of 36 greens in regulation in the first two rounds.
Streelman spent several days with Cog Hill putting guru Kevin Weeks and claimed one of Weeks’s putters for the JDC. He’s in position to win for the second time this season if his two 5-under rounds carry over to the weekend.
“It’s where we need to be,’’ said Streelman. “I wanted to average 5-under each round. That would give us a chance at the end on Sunday.’’