Stricker wins John Deere Classic

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | JULY 13, 2009 7:15 AM

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SILVIS, Ill. — Spectators at the John Deere Classic got what they came to see and then some. Fans cheered the condensed field of 65 players as they watched golf’s equivalent of a double-header.

In the end, as the sun was setting behind the 18th green, Steve Stricker marched up the fairway with a comfortable two-stroke lead to thunderous applause, eventually sealing the victory to become the tourney’s 39th champion. But he admitted it wasn’t easy, saying he just “survived.”

“Obviously, it was a very long day,” he said. “I’m ecstatic to be sitting here as the champion. I just tried to keep patient today and go about my game plan, as I’ve been doing every other day.”

Tournament officials elected to play a 36-hole swing fest on Sunday after rain suspended the July 10 second round at TPC Deere Run. That was plenty of time for players to juggle for position on the leaderboard, but the steady Stricker shot a five-under 66 in the afternoon’s final round and fended off a red-hot Zach Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, and Brett Quigley. For the tournament, Stricker finished with a 264 (20 under), while Johnson, Snedeker and Quigley were three strokes off the lead at 267.

“I thought I could make a charge,” Johnson said. “I mean, I’m never gonna say I can’t. I certainly had a lot of opportunities, and that’s really all you can ask for.”

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Stricker was sparked by an eagle on hole No. 6, in which he drained a wedge from 93 yards away.

The 42-year-old also cupped a wedge in the July 11 second round on hole No. 15 from 117 yards away that initially propelled him to the top of the leaderboard after a so-so first round on Thursday, where he ended tied for 80th place.

“You know, I just kind of felt like this could be my week,” Stricker said. “I did that twice this week, holing out from the fairway. That kind of got my momentum going, I should say.”

The Edgerton, Wis., native and Illinois alum stole the status of hometown hero from the original fan favorite, Johnson. Chants of “ILL-INI” even arose from the crowd after Stricker sealed the victory. He was emotional after accepting the bronze trophy.

“Whenever I get a trophy in my hands, I cry,” he said. “No doubt coming down the last hole was pretty cool knowing that I had a few shots in hand to play with. Getting that type of response from the fans was really pretty cool. Just felt like a home tournament basically.”

With the British Open looming on Thursday, several players voiced their displeasure about the back-to-back rounds. Darron Stiles was the leader heading into Sunday at 13-under, and he said after his second round that he wasn’t worried about what he couldn’t control.

“It’s the nature of the beast,” he said. “We’ve all done it before, and we’re gonna do it again at some point. What’s one more time?”

The double-header also forced fans and officials to race back and forth from holes 9 and 18, not knowing which green the winner would finish on. But the officials and fans both had their dream ending when Stricker’s threesome teed off at 18. He was paired with Snedeker and Tim Petrovic, who shot a 268 to tie for fifth.

Stiles and Lee Janzen both slipped after leading early on in the tournament. Stiles finished tied for ninth shooting a 270, and Janzen scored a four-round total of 273. Defending champion Kenny Perry began the tournament as favorite, but shot a 280. Stricker earned 500 points in the FedEx Cup standings to jump from fifth to second, behind Tiger Woods.

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