Sunday, July 17, 2011

Steve Stricker's Three-peat at the John Deere Classic

Steve Stricker got off to a hot start on Thursday in his bid for a three-peat at the John Deere Classic shooting a 66 (5-under par) thanks in large part to birding the last two holes, which put Stricker at 51-under for his last nine rounds at the TPC Deere Run.

Stricker, a University of Illinois alumni, played even better on Friday on "Illini Day" posting a 64 (7-under par). That put Sticker at 58-under par for his last 10 rounds (3 eagles, 62 birdies, and 10 bogeys) at the TPC Deere Run. It also meant that Stricker was 12-under par halfway through the 2011 John Deere Classic which put Stricker in a tie for second place with Steve Marino and two strokes behind Chez Reavie with 36 holes to play.

Stricker continued to improve his play on Saturday as he started off his third round with a bang by dropping a 75-foot putt on the first hole. Stricker posted a 63 (8-under par), which put Stricker at 66-under par for his last 11 rounds at the TPC Deere Run. Heading into Sunday, Stricker was 20-under (193 strokes) and lead Brendon de Jonge by two strokes.

Stricker started out with a birdie on the first hole on Sunday followed by three pars so it looked like he was going to cruise to victory until he approached the 5th hole (a Par-4). On the 5th hole Stricker dumped his approach shot in the green side bunker where he drew a horrible lie. It took Stricker two shots to get out of the bunker (not the only time it would happen to Stricker during his final round) and he missed the bogey putt to card a double bogey.

Stricker rebounded with three birdies capped with a 50-foot bomb for birdie on the 9th hole to go 22-under par and make the turn with a five stroke lead over Kyle Stanley. Stricker looked like he was going to coast to an easy victory till Stanley's putter got hot on the back nine (on the 13th hole he nailed a 26-foot birdie putt, on the 14th hole he nailed an 18-footer birdie putt, and on the 15th hole he nailed a 36-foot birdie putt). Stanley carded five birdies on his first six holes of the back nine to take the lead.

Stricker carded consecutive bogeys on the 15th and 16th holes to put him two strokes behind Stanley with two holes to play. Stricker won the PGA Tour comeback player of the year award twice so he does not give up no matter how dire the situation looks but down two strokes with two holes to play seemed to put the three-peat out of reach. Stricker rebounded on the 17th hole carding a birdie to put him one stroke behind Stanley with one hole to go. Stanley bogeyed the 18th hole to post a round of 64 on Sunday and finish with a four-day total of 263 strokes.

That left Stricker tied with Stanley so a par on the 18th hole by Stricker would send the tournament into extra holes. Unfortunately Stricker pulled his drive into the fairway bunker on the left side of the fairway on the 18th hole. Stricker could have played conservative but he decided to go for broke despite having an awkward stance in the fairway bunker with one foot in the bunker and one foot out of the bunker as well as water lining the left side of the green. Long story short Stricker needed to hit a perfect shot from an awkward stance out of a bunker and over water to even stay alive in the tournament.

Stricker hit what can only be described as a miraculous shot over the water and through the green to set up a 25-foot putt to win the 2011 John Deere Classic. I would guess that 99 times out of 100 a player chooses the conservative route and two putts to send the tournament to extra holes. Stricker is arguably the best putter on the PGA Tour so all he was thinking about was making the putt. True to form Stricker canned the putt in dramatic fashion to three-peat at the John Deere Classic. PGA Tour analyst David Feherty summed it up the best when he said "that is the most spectacular up and down I have ever seen" as he interviewed Stricker on the 18th green.

Stricker finished at 22-under, four strokes worse than his 2010 victory but two strokes better than his 2009 victory. Stricker joined an exclusive list of three-peat winners at the same PGA Tour event since 1940*. Thanks to winning the Memorial earlier this year, Stricker's victory at the 2011 John Deere Classic put him in a very select group of golfers that won multiple PGA Tour events for three years in a row**. What is even more impressive is that Stricker is becoming the cougar of the PGA Tour because 8 of his 11 PGA Tour wins*** came after he turned 40 years old.

As you can tell by now Steve Stricker is my favorite golfer despite the fact that Stricker is a Chicago Bears fan. Not only is he the best current Cheesehead golfer but he is possibly the nicest guy on the PGA Tour. Stricker can not only pull off amazing shots but watch him fist bump the crowd on the way to one of the biggest putts of his career.

Two Cheesehead were in the the top 6 of the FedEx Cup standing before the start of the 2011 British Open with Steve Stricker in 2nd place and Mark Wilson in 6th place. Enjoy the final round of the 2011 British Open at Royal St. George's Golf Club. Unfortunately barring a miracle, Stricker will not win his first Major and hoist the Claret Jug.

* = Tiger Woods (6), Arnold Palmer (2), Ben Hogan (1), Gene Littler (1), Billy Casper (1), Jack Nicklaus (1), Johnny Miller (1), Tom Watson (1), and Stuart Appleby (1).

** = Steve Stricker (2009-11), Phil Mickelson (1996-98, 2000-02, and 2004-09), Tiger Woods (1999-03 and 2005-09), Vijay Singh (2002-05), Ernie Els (2002-04), David Duval (1997-99), Mark O'Mera (1995-98), and Nick Price (1991-94).

*** = Stricker won twice in 1996 and won a WGC golf event in 2001 before he went on a long drought. After turning 40, Vijay Singh won 22 tournaments and Sam Snead won 17.

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