John Deere Classic: Can Steve Stricker 4-peat?

If you can get through three rounds on the PGA Tour with just three bogeys, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be somewhere near the lead. As it turns out, Troy Matteson’s three bogey’s netted him 18-under par for the three days and a 3-shot lead.

He’s won the twice, so he knows what it takes to win on the PGA Tour and he also won twice on the Tour which graduated him to the big tour in 2006. He’s also a smart guy, graduating from Georgia Tech with a degree in Civil Engineering. So he knows that he basically has to minimize his mistakes in the final round and make as many birdies as he can to stave off Sunday’s onslaught from down the leaderboard.

His closest competitor is none other than Steve Stricker who has won the John Deere three times…in a row. He has a strong incentive to go for the 4-peat; that puts him in the league with Tiger who has two 4-peats, Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill and the Farmers Insurance in La Jolla.

At first Stricker came into the week trying not to think about it. But he saw quickly that wouldn’t work because everybody wanted to know how he felt about the opportunity. So instead he embraced it. But there is the matter of the math: if Matteson shoots 4-under on the very scoreable TPC Deere Run, that means that Stricker has to shoot 7-under 64 to tie. And did I mention that Matteson shot 10-under 61 the first day?

Now there will be a bit of a crowd dynamic Sunday because Stricker has been adopted as one of their own. The other guy who is one of their own is Zach Johnson who’s from Iowa and sits on the tournament board. Stricker said in his interview Saturday that he could hear exactly where Johnson was on the course from the raucous crowd reactions. Johnson is T3, 4 strokes back and will be playing right behind Matteson and Stricker.

So here’s the deal: Zach Johnson says that he enjoys playing in Tiger Wood’s group:

Those galleries are huge.  Any week, any day.  I played with Tiger for four straight days one week.  I like it because you almost get like a tunnel vision going.

So the question is, can Matteson get “a tunnel vision” going and just play? Or will he be seduced into the frenzy of the crowd?

Playing with Johnson will be lefty Brian Harman. He gained some notoriety at the Players Championship where he was first alternate, but D.A. Points got all the way to the first tee before he decided that he couldn’t play. Harman had no way to get to the tee in a timely manner, so the Tour put him out by himself in the afternoon. (He shot 73, 68 to make the cut and finished T51). So he’s a good example of someone who can play with the distraction of uncertainty.

Billy Hurley III, the Naval Academy graduate and former lieutenant, shared the low round of the day with a 7-under 64. That got him to 13-under and T5. He’s getting more and more comfortable out there in his first year. He just had a T4 at Tiger’s AT&T National at Congressional. Big tournament on a tough course. But a week later he missed the cut at the Greenbriar, a fledgling tournament on an easy course. Go figure.

Hurley will be joined by another T5, John Senden. You may recall that Senden is the guy I interviewed at the Accenture Match Play Championship back in February and the thing he was most working on was playing with freedom. He took note of how swashbuckling Phil plays, clearly unconcerned about his swing. I’ve been watching him since then. His next tournament at Doral, he finished T6 and he’s already over $1 million for the year.

But there are two other things that make Senden an interesting player to watch on Sunday: he’s already won the John Deere once, but as important, he’s only had one bogey all week long.

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