Stricker Off to a Good Start in Quest for Four

The start of his first round was less than ideal. But by the time it was over Steve Stricker was still in the hunt for his fourth straight victory at the John Deere Classic.  

After shooting an even par 35 on the front nine, Stricker blitzed the back nine with a 6-under par 30 to finish with a 65, his second-best of the 10 first-round scores he has posted in the event.  The 45-year-old Wisconsin native and Illinois alumnus trails first-round leader Troy Matteson (10-under 61) by four strokes, Ricky Barnes (64) by one, and sits in a seven-way tie for third place.

"Just a little unsettled, I guess you would say, to start with," said Stricker, who made one birdie and one bogey on his uneventful front nine.  

But birdies on the par 5 10th and the par 4 12th got Stricker in position to make a real run on the back nine.  He made an unlikely eagle 2 from the fairway on the short-par-4 14th, pitching in from 78 yards - and he didn't get to see the ball go in the hole, as his view was blocked by a high mound in front of the green.  That put him at 4-under.  

"You don't expect it to go in, but that was really a big momentum boost for me on the back side," Stricker said.  "When you can go from 2-(under) to-4-under in one shot, that provides a lot of momentum and it got me going."

He followed with a birdie 3 on the difficult par 4 15th and went on to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker for birdie the par 5 17th, which always plays as one of the easier holes on the course.

"I  guess the birdie at 10 and then the one at 12 really helped," Stricker said.  "Then just had a really good back side...I was just thinking if I could get it to 3-or-4-under for the day...I did a couple better than what I was thinking."

Among those tied for third with Stricker at 6-under is sponsor-exemption Luke Guthrie of downstate Quincy.  Guthrie was first Illinois player since Stricker to capture consecutive Big Ten player-of-the-year awards (in 2010, 2011).  Also tied for third at 6-under are Robert Garrigus, Scott Piercy, K.J. Choi, Brian Harman, and Gary Christian.

Meanwhile, Zach Johnson of Cedar Rapids, Ia. shot a 3-under par 68 in Thursday's first round.  The Drake graduate and Iowa Hawkeye enthusiast had a different caddie on his bag Thursday, as he will all week.  Mike Bender, Zach's coach, will fill in for his regular caddie, Damon Green.  Green is playing in the U.S. Senior Open this week, where he opened with a 2-under 68 and is tied for ninth after one round.

Hawkeye football coach Kirk Ferentz walked all 18 holes with Zach, who was appreciative the coach made the effort.

"I was born in Iowa City, so it's in my blood," Zach said.  "Having a quality guy like that, a coach like that, that the state really rallies behind, it's not hard to be a fan of the team.  It's certainly no hard to be a fan of him and how he goes about his business.  For hime to come out here and watch my business is pretty special.  Wish I could have had a few more birdies..."



JULY 10 - 16