SILVIS, IL:. — Steve Stricker had 10 previous wins on the PGA Tour, but none had quite the flair of Sunday’s three-peat at the John Deere Classic.
Stricker, now the 20th player to win a PGA Tour event three years in a row since World War II, had a five-stroke lead entering the back nine only to see Kyle Stanley, playing in the twosome in front of him, make five birdies in six holes. Coupled with two bogeys of his own, Stricker found himself two strokes down with two holes to play but still found a way to pull out a dramatic victory.
“An unbelievable week, and an unbelievably finish,” summed up Stricker. “I felt no momentum going my way most of the day. I just tried to hang in there, and I feel very fortunate to have won.”
A 12-foot birdie putt at the 17th hole pulled Stricker to within a shot. Stanley, who scrambled for par on the 17th after driving far right into deep rough, put his tee shot on the 18th in the right trees. When he lipped out a nine-foot par-saver it opened the door for Stricker to pull off his miracle.
His tee shot wasn’t much either, winding up in a bunker 184 yards from the green with trees and a pond affecting his next shot. He also had an awkward stance, with one foot in the bunker and one out. Making a last-minute club change, to a 6-iron, Stricker managed a great second to the back fringe 25 feet from the cup.
Two putts from there would have put him in a playoff but Stricker did better, rolling in the birdie putt and sending the standing-room-only gallery into a frenzy.
“I probably had a one- or two-out-of-10 chance of pulling off the shot from the bunker,” said Stricker, and then the putt — I don’t know what to say about that. I was trying to make it, but you don’t expected those to go in. I’m just glad that one did.”
His 69 in the final round gave him 22-under-par 262 total for the tournament and an $810,000 payday.
Stanley, a Clemson graduate who played on the Nationwide Tour last year, didn’t land his first pro victory but he did get a consolation prize — a berth in this week’s British Open as the highest-finishing non-qualifier among the JDC’s top five finishers. He heard the roar for Stricker’s final putt while sitting in the scorer’s trailer.
“That was a great birdie from where he was,” said Stanley. “I’m excited to go play (the British), but it’s difficult calming down from that round. I know I have the game to win out here. I just don’t know when it’ll be.”