The tractor race otherwise known as the PGA Tour stops this week in Silvis, Ill., for the John Deere Classic, and the number of birdies expected on TPC Deere Run's large greens should be high enough to get local meteorologists to institute a Birdie Warning.
Here are a few guys to watch this week while cooling off from your
• Steve Stricker. The defending champion (pictured above) and Titleist Brand Ambassador (Pro V1, 909D3 driver, 906F2 fairway metals, 909H hybrid, 710 CB irons, Vokey Spin Milled Wedges) tied the course record last year with a second-round 10-under 61, the lowest round of his career. Stricker, a Wisconsin native and graduate of the University of Illinois, closed in 64 to finish at 20-under 264 and win by three shots.
"It's always exciting to come back to a place where you've had
some success, and just driving in the gates and remembering some of the
shots that happened down the stretch and the way the whole week played
out last year is always fun to look back at and reflect on a little bit," Stricker said. "Coming off a couple of weeks off, and I feel refreshed and excited to
play, and looking forward to this next run that I have here starting
this week, and then heading over to the British."
So far this year, Stricker has one win (Northern Trust Open), three top-10s and has not missed a cut in 11 starts, despite missing over a month of action after the Masters due to a clavicle injury. He is currently ranked No. 4 in the world.
• Bubba Watson. The Pro V1x loyalist is making his first start since winning the Travelers Championship in a sudden-death playoff, a victory that helped him qualify for next week's Open Championship.
Following a week off from Tour that included an appearance at the CVS Caremark Charity Classic (Monday-Tuesday), hosting duties at his junior golf tournament (Wednesday-Thursday), a full day in bed (Friday) and a weekend full of water sports, Watson Tweeted on Tuesday that "Maybe I should practice golf sometime today, I am a little rusty!! :-)"
Later in the day, Watson told reporters he was ready to repeat the cycle.
"Another golf tournament I'm trying to win, trying to prove that I'm a good player, trying to win," Watson said. "You know, I want to win. That's why I play on the PGA Tour. I love golf, and I want to win. And you know, it's fun."
• Zach Johnson. The Titleist Brand Ambassador (Pro V1x, 909D3 driver, 909F2 fairways, 909H hybrid, AP1 and AP2 irons, Vokey Spin Milled Wedges) finished second here in 2009 and has already gone deep this season to win on Tour. Johnson closed with consecutive 64s at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial to finish at 21 under, a tournament record.
Johnson, who you might remember after his 2007 Masters victory famously pronouncing that "I'm just a Midwest boy from Iowa," also feels right at home this week.
Johnson twice received sponsor's exemption to the Deere when he had no status, and he has recently called the Deere his "fifth major." He now serves on the tournament board.
"Yeah, as I always say, it's always great to be back. It's like going to a nice restaurant," said Johnson, currently 19th in the world ranking. "You just never get a bad bite. That's kind of the way I feel about this place. I've never had a bad experience."
• Matt Jones. The Titleist equipment player (Pro V1x, 910D2 Prototype Driver, 909F2 fairway metals, 710 MB irons, Vokey Spin Milled Wedges, Scotty Cameron Newport putter) has six top-15 finishes this season, including two 13th-place finishes in his last four starts, and is looking to become the Deere's seventh first-time winner since 2000.
Earlier this year, Jones finished tied for eighth at the Bob Hope Classic and tied for seventh at the Quail Hollow Championship. Last year, he closed in 69 at the Deere to finish tied for fifth.
• Rickie Fowler. Also looking for Tour victory No. 1, the Titleist Brand Ambassador (Pro V1x, 910D2 Prototype Driver, 909F2 fairway metals, 710 MB irons,
Vokey Spin Milled Wedges, Scotty Cameron Prototype putter) only found out Monday that he had gotten into next week's Open Championship, his first major as a professional.
How then to handle this week at the Deere?
"Figure out the best way to play the course and try and get the ball in the hole as quick as you can. Doesn't matter what happened last week or what's going on next week," said Fowler, currently 15th on the PGA Tour money list after a pair of runner-up finishes at the Phoenix Open and The Memorial.
"Obviously we want to save some energy for next week, but I grew up playing pretty much every day. I didn't sit on the range and hit balls. I was used to playing golf every day, and that's what we're going to do this week, and I think that's the best way that I can prepare for the British Open."