Janzen, Stiles lead in John Deere Classic

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | JULY 10, 2009 7:10 AM

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SILVIS, Ill. — One hundred sixty golfers embarked on a quest Thursday at TPC Deere Run in the Quad Cities. The prize: $774,000 of the $4.3 million purse, 500 points in the FedEx Cup race, and a plane ride to Prestwick, Scotland.

The par-71 course looked breathtaking even though it was a little damp from a midnight rain, and fans showed up in packs to the John Deere Classic, cheering on their favorite golfers. However, most names at the top of the leaderboard weren’t quite who everyone expected.

Lee Janzen and Darron Stiles both shot 64 (7 under) to lead the field after day one. Janzen said the weather was a factor, as was something out of the players’ control.

“I personally like playing fast, hard courses, so I thought the way it was playing Tuesday was great,” Janzen said. “But this time of year, you’re going to get some change in weather, and a little bit of rain that softens the course up. But it’s the same for everybody, so you just have to deal with it.”

J.J. Henry, Matt Bettencourt, and Dean Wilson tied for third place at 65 to round out the top five.
Bettencourt, a PGA Tour rookie, said he was fond of the course, even though it presented a challenge.

“You know, I love this course,” he said. “I love the rolling hills on the front nine. I like how the back nine sets up for me. It’s not overly long, but you’ve got to hit fairways, and you’ve got trees that are overhanging everywhere, so your angles are important.”

Defending champion Kenny Perry came into the tournament as the heavy favorite at 8-1 odds. He’s also second this season on the PGA money leaders, behind Tiger Woods. Perry capped off the first day with a 68.

Cedar Rapids native Zach Johnson teed off at 7:57 a.m. on hole No. 10. The fan favorite among the gallery finished the day five strokes back at 69. Johnson, who is in third place in the FedEx Cup standings behind Perry and Woods, also found the course to be a tough test.

“It was like Sunday pins today,” the 2007 Masters winner said. “That and minimal roll, so it played pretty hard, pretty challenging for sure. But this course really recovered from the rain all night, and it’s starting to dry out, so it should be a great championship.”

Ricky Barnes, who finished last month’s U.S. Open tied for second, also shot a 69. The 28-year-old Californian was pleased with his performance.

“I hit the ball great,” the Arizona alum said. “I hit 16 greens. If it hit it like I did today, tomorrow, and the rest of the tournament, I think I can make a good run at it.”

Tournament officials regarded this year’s field to be the strongest since the event began in 1971, no doubt because of an enticing incentive. Last year, the tournament introduced the John Deere Classic Jet Experience, in which it offered a nonstop private charter plane flight from the Quad Cities to the site of the British Open, which will begin July 16.

“It’s made all the difference in the world for us,” tournament director Clair Peterson said. “What it’s done is allowed us to lock in our field much earlier and allow us to talk about the marquee guys in our field much earlier. They know they can do both — play in the John Deere and still get to the British. We’ll have them in Prestwick by 10 a.m. [July 13].”

The highest finisher at this weekend’s tournament automatically qualifies for the British Open. Currently, 23 of the John Deere Classic competitors have qualified to tee off at Turberry, and eight are scheduled to take advantage of the charter flight. By Sunday evening, a 24th golfer could be traveling over the Atlantic.

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