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Len Ziehm On Golf

JOHN DEERE CLASSIC: Stricker’s still within striking distance after Round 2

SILVIS, IL. – Steve Stricker is still very much in contention for an historic fourth straight win midway through the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic, but the battle lines were more clearly drawn on Friday.

Stricker, hoping to become only the fifth player in professional golf’s last 140 years to win a major tournament four straight times, posted a 4-under-par 67 in the second round to close within three strokes of leader Troy Matteson. Matteson followed his 61 on Thursday with a 68.

So, entering the weekend rounds, Matteson is at 13-under-par 129, with Jeff Maggert and Brian Harman one stroke back. J.J. Henry, Gary Christian, Ricky Barnes and Robert Garrigus are another shot back and then comes Stricker, in a tie for eighth place. And Stricker’s satisfied to be that close.

“I’m three back; yesterday I was four back. I picked up a shot on the lead,’’ said Stricker, and there’s a long ways to go. I just have to keep doing my thing. One of those two rounds on Saturday or Sunday I’m going to have to put up a real low one and get right in there.’’

His predecessors with four straight wins in a tournament were Tom Morris Jr., Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods. Only Woods, who did it twice, compiled such a winning streak in the last 90 years. Morris strung British Open titles in the late 1800s. Both the Hagen and Sarazen streaks came in the 1920s.

Stricker started 71-61 when he won his first JDC in 2009. He opened 60-66 in 2010 and 66-64 last year.

In 2009 he was three shots off the lead after 36 holes. In 2010 he had a one-shot deficit and last year he was two-back entering the final 18. He’ll likely need to go a bit lower on the weekend rounds if he’s to four-peat.

Stricker finished 20-under-par for the 72 holes in 2009, 26-under in 2010 and 22-under last year. Though only 10-under for 36 now, and the players in front know he’s lurking.

“We expect big things out of him,’’ said Matteson. “Steve’s not a guy you want to see two or three shots behind you because out here he can shoot 60. And he probably will shoot 60 sometime this week. We’ll see how right I am on that, but Steve is an unbelievable player. It’s just a matter of time before a bunch of birdies come reeling off for him.’’

Matteson had his career-low round on Thursday and has an interesting connection to TPC Deere Run. His college roommate at Georgia Tech was Matt Weibring, the son of D.A. Webring who designed TPC Deere Run.

“He would always talk to us about how he designed the course and how he meant for it to play,’’ said Matteson. “I do have a little advantage in that sense.’’

Matteson hasn’t had a top-25 finish this season but he has two wins on the PGA Tour , at the Frys.com Open in 2006 and 2009, and he has two top-10s in six JDC appearances, the most recent in 2010.