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Len Ziehm On Golf

Stricker finds JDC a rare `home game’ with 4 other Illini alums in the field

SILVIS, IL. – The John Deere Classic doesn’t draw one of the best fields on the PGA Tour, and this week’s 46th playing of the tournament has to contend with the first Olympic Games golf competition since 1904.

The JDC does have Steve Stricker, however – and that counts for a lot.

Stricker has won the tournament at TPC Deere Run three times and shot 60 in one memorable round there. He’ll in the featured pairing off the No. 10 tee, along with past champions Zach Johnson and Brian Harman, at 8:20 a.m. today. Play begins off both Nos. 1 and 10 at 7:20.

“It’s always special coming back here. It’s a special place for me and my family,’’ said Stricker, one of five former University of Illinois golfers in the 156-man field. “There’s a great hometown feel here. This is the way the PGA Tour used to be week in and week out, and we don’t get this feel very often anymore.’’

At 49, Stricker is embroiled in an unusual season as his PGA Tour career is winding down. It all started with a second-place finish at Memphis.

“That got me thinking about getting in majors,’’ he said. “I had tried qualifying for the U.S. Open but missed out on a playoff by a shot. I was trying to gain some Ryder Cup points and some FedEx Cup points and Memphis got me into the British Open.’’

Not only did Stricker get into the Open, he finished a strong fourth after going to Europe a week early to play in the Scottish Open the week before.

“I played well a couple times and that got me into a tournament or two that I wasn’t expecting to get into,’’ he said. “It’s been fun getting back into the swing of things.’’

Stricker is feeling so good about his game that he even envisions making the Ryder Cup team again. How he plays this week will have an impact on his chances, but Stricker will be at the team competition against the Europeans regardless. U.S. captain Davis Love III already named him as one of his assistant captains.

“I’m trying to play my way on,’’ he said. “I don’t know if I can make it on points, but I can get the attention of Davis and the other (assistant captains). I’ve got to play a couple good tournaments to show that I’m worthy.’’

One big thing that he’ll have going this week is his familiarity with TPC Deere Run. He’s making his 15th appearance in the tournament and has found the course better than ever.

“It’s the best I’ve ever seen it. The course is in unbelievable shape,’’ said Stricker. “It’s going to be a great week for everybody here.’’