|Stricker let out some rare emotion after pulling out an amazing victory last year. (Getty Images)|
Everything you need to know about the John Deere Classic:
|Nuts and bolts|
|Defending the throne|
Sometimes, context gets lost in the brilliance of the moment.
That was surely the case last year with popular Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic, wherein he excecuted the hero shots at the end that had everybody gasping for fast superlatives.
A year later, it's a bit easier to frame in terms of the big picture, too.
Continuing the most amazing run on the PGA Tour, the American veteran has won the Deere three times running, the longest active streak in the game, and being one of the most conscientious people in the sport, Stricker has returned to Deere Run to defend the title each time, making him the biggest star in the field by far.
Last year, seemingly dead in the water after nine holes at five off the lead -- and two back with two holes remaining -- the University of Illinois product pulled off what many believe was the most memorable finish of 2011.
He birdied the 17th from 15 feet to get within a stroke, and after driving into a fairway bunker on the last, needed an incredible effort just to give himself a look at a birdie. After Kyle Stanley bogeyed the 18th, Stricker faced an awful lie in a fairway bunker on the 18th, and addressed the ball with one foot on the kip of the trap and the other in the sand, the ball well below his feet.
Somehow, he caught the ball cleanly enough from 182 yards to get it to the back fringe, 25 feet from the flag. When he rolled in the putt to win, the typically reserved Wisconsin native erupted in the most spontaneous outburst of his career.
A couple of days later, at the British Open in England, caddie Jimmy Johnson was asked to describe the particulars of the bunker shot on the last and said, "He was practically standing on his head."
Standing with his left foot in the bunker and his right foot on the lip, Stricker hit the ball solidly and left it on the fringe of the green behind the pin.
Stricker became only the 10th golfer since World War II – generally considered the modern era -- to win a tournament three straight times.
"It's weird," Stricker said afterward. "When I get into a situation where I have to make a putt, I feel like my nerves kind of go away and I focus extremely hard on trying to make that putt. And that's kind of like the little zone I got into on 17 and 18, I guess."
In case you haven't already guessed, Stricker is back this week in search of No. 4. He's the top-ranked player at TPC Deere Run at No. 13 in the world.
|Venue and you|
All year long, we've been the bearer of bad news as it relates to green fees at PGA Tour venues across the land, but this week is different. The rates at TPC Deere Run won't actually make folks run to the ATM, if not a loan officer, before playing. In fact, Deere Run might be the best bargain around as far as civilians hoping to play a public-access tour track. In peak summer months, rates run between $40 and $89, with car included.
|Track and field|
Good news, bad news. The number of players from the world top 15 entered in the field this week at the Deere has dropped to one, which is down from two last year. However, the tally of players ranked in the top 50 has climbed considerably from six to nine since last year. So we'll call that a pretty fair gain, all in all.
|Three whacks from short range|
• Has anybody noticed John Daly's play lately? The guy has been grinding out some decent golf, keeping his nose clean, and actually piling up some quality paychecks. In his last two PGA Tour appearances, he finished T19 in Memphis and T12 last week at the Greenbrier. Daly is in the field this week in Silvis and as a past champion, will play next week at the British Open. Pssst, for you U.K. folks, he might be worth a few quid as a long shot pick because a top-10 finish sounds ... feasible? Be interesting to see how he plays this week. He shot 72-81 at the Deere last year.
• We have all heard the PGA Tour toot its horn incessantly about what it does for charity. Realistically, it's the tournaments, veritable franchisees that are independently run in most cases that do the work. How do you want to measure success, with world-ranking points or community impact? Last year, the renowned Wells Fargo tournament, which draws a top field and spends plenty to lavish special treatment on players who annually attend, donated $1.1 million to charity. The largely unsung John Deere Classic gave away $5.3 million. To me, that's absolutely worth noting.
• The Deere makes a habit of extending a hand to up-and-coming pros, with the hopes that they'll continue to play down the road if they make it to the top of the player charts. Sponsor exemptions were granted to amateurs Jordan Spieth (Texas), Patrick Rodgers (Stanford) and former Illinois star Luke Guthrie, a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year who recently turned pro. First-year pros John Peterson (2011 NCAA champion who finished fourth at the U.S. Open) and Patrick Reed (has made four of six PGA Tour cuts this year) also are in the field. In fishing, this is called chumming the hole. Make the fish hit the bait and then hopefully hook 'em later on.
|Odds and evens|
Odds on winning, via Golfodds.com and the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino:
Steve Stricker (13/2)
Zach Johnson (12/1)
Nick Watney (20/1)
Ryan Palmer (20/1)
Jonathan Byrd (25/1)
Jeff Overton (30/1)
Brendon De Jonge (30/1)
John Senden (30/1)
Seung-Yul Noh (30/1)
Tim Clark (30/1)
Carl Pettersson (40/1)
Robert Garrigus (40/1)
Charles Howell III (40/1)
Sean O'Hair (40/1)
Charley Hoffman (40/1)
Ryan Moore (40/1)
K.J. Choi (40/1).