SILVIS, IL. – The John Deere Classic isn’t Zach Johnson’s personal showcase. It just seems that way at times.
Johnson, from Cedar Rapids, has long been Iowa’s premier touring pro. He got his start thanks to sponsor exemptions offered by the JDC and he used them well at his closest hometown tournament .
Eventually Johnson won the 2007 Masters became a member of the JDC’s board of directors. This year he landed a sponsorship agreement with the event and, — oh, yes – he’s also playing well at TPC Deere Run again. Johnson won the JDC for the first time in 2012 when he snapped Steve Stricker’s three-year winning streak.
Last year he didn’t win the JDC (19-year old Jordan Spieth did), but Johnson did capture Illinois’ other PGA Tour stop of 2013 — the BMW Championship at Conway Farms in Lake Forest. The year’s it appears he could be back at the top of the JDC leaderboard when the $4.7 million tourney concludes on Sunday.
Johnson gained a share of the first-round lead after shooting a 63 on Thursday. He added a 67 in Friday’s second round to hit the midway point in the tourney in a tie for the lead with William McGirt. Both are at 12-under-par 130 and one stroke ahead of Johnson Wagner, Steven Bowditch and Brian Harman.
“Once again, a pretty solid day,’’ said Johnson. “There were a lot of positives all around. I’m just really comfortable here.’’
There’s an eerie similarity to Johnson’s effort this week and the year of his victory here. Two years ago his regular caddie, Damon Green, was given the week off so he could play in the U.S. Senior Open. Green qualified for the Senior Open again this year, so he’s competing in Tulsa, Okla., instead of being on Johnson’s bag.
So far, no problem. Two years ago Johnson used his swing coach, Mike Bender. This time he borrowed Matt Kuchar’s bag-toter, Lance Bennett. The results were still good, as Johnson enter the weekend three strokes ahead of Stricker and five in front of defending champion Spieth.
“It definitely feels different. An integral part of my team is not with me,’’ said Johnson. “But Lance has adapted to me. He could caddie for anybody. ‘’
The field was cut after Friday’s round, and among those failing to qualify for the weekend rounds was the tourney’s Cinderella story. Raymond Knoll, a Naperville North graduate who will begin his sophomore season at Iowa in the fall, earned a place in the field by shooting a 7-under-par 65 in Monday’s qualifying round at Pinnacle Country Club in nearby Milan.
Knoll, 18, couldn’t keep the good times going, shooting 74-71 to miss the cut in his first PGA Tour event. His Iowa teammate, Steven Ihm, did make it to the weekend, however. So did the other two amateurs in the field, Stanford’s NCAA champion Cameron Beckman and Oklahoma State’s Jordan Niebrugge, who will defend his Western Amateur title at Chicago’s Beverly Country Club later this month.
Due to the threat of severe weather in the Quad Cities, Saturday’s rounds will start off both the Nos. 1 and 10 tees.