SILVIS, IL. – As far as the multitudes of fans pouring into the John Deere Classic are concerned the leaderboard couldn’t be any better than this for today’s final round.
Steve Stricker, going for an historic fourth straight title, is in the final twosome. Iowa resident Zach Johnson, a long-time tournament board member who has spurred the JDC’s popularity among PGA Tour players, will be playing just in front of him.
The only trouble is, Troy Matteson owns a three\-stroke lead and shows no signs of giving it up in the lone PGA Tour stop in Illinois in 2012. He’ll be trying to become the 41-year old tourney’s first wire-to-wire winner since D.A. Webring in 1995, when the event was held at Oakwood Country Club instead of TPC Deere Run – a Weibring design that has been the home course since 2000.
Matteson, Stricker and Johnson all shot 66s on Saturday. Matteson is at 18-under-par 195 for 54 holes. Stricker is three shots behind and Johnson, tied with Brian Harman for third, is four back. Matteson won twice on the PGA Tour, both at the Frys.com Open, but that won’t help his popularity today.
“I’m not going to be the guy people are rooting for,’’ said Matteson. “I’m in a different position in life. (Stricker and Johnson) are Ryder Cuppers. People buy tickets to watch them. If Steve or Zach play good it does so much for the tournament. If Steve wins it’ll be a real big story, but I’ll be trying as hard as I can.’’
Stricker hopes to join four golf legends – Tom Morris Jr., Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods – as the only players able to win a major professional tournament four years in a row over the last 140 years. Being the pursuer rather than the leader might work in his advantage.
“I’ve been in the position Troy is in,’’ said Stricker. “The bigger the lead you have, the more you expect to win and there’s lots of guys chasing you. It’s hard to put it away sometimes. That what he’s got to deal with.’’
The Stricker mystique could also be a factor for Matteson.
“But I wouldn’t be intimidated by me,’’ said Stricker. “Troy’s been around long enough. He’ll go about his business. It’s in his hands, really.’’
Well, ITAL not END ITAL really. Stricker must play the front nine better. He’s 3-under-par on the front nine this week and 12-under on the back.
“It’s good to play with the leader and see what happens,’’ said Stricker. “I’ve got to get off to a strong start, though, and put some pressure on him.’’
Johnson has done wonders behind the scenes to help the tournament grow, but the former Masters champion has never won here. He was second to Stricker in 2009 and tied for third last year. Johnson has called the JDC “my fifth major’’ and has played in it 11 times – more than he has played in any other PGA Tour event.
“It’d be very special for me to win because I sit on the board and for what this tournament has done for me in the past,’’ said Johnson, who’s performed well this week without his regular caddie. Damon Green earned a spot in the U.S. Senior Open in Michigan, so Mike Bender – Johnson’s swing coach – is on his bag.