The challenge for three-time defending champion Steve Stricker increased a bit more Friday, as the John Deere Classic officially added two more major champions to an already formidable field.
Stricker's quest to become only the fifth man in the history of championship golf to win a tournament four consecutive times will be complicated by the additions of 2009 British Open champion Stewart Cink and 2009 PGA Championship victor Y.E. Yang. Also jumping into the field just prior to the 5 p.m. Friday deadline were the always competitive Rory Sabbatini of South Africa and Texan Jeff Maggert, who finished third at TPC Deere Run in 2010.
The field features 31 tournament winners over the last two years, including several from this year, including Zach Johnson, Kyle Stanley, Carl Petterson, rookie John Huh, and Mark Wilson. Nick Watney, Ben Crane, Camilo Villegas, and John Deere Classic past champions Sean O'Hair (2005) and Jonathan Byrd (2007) also were winners over the last two years.
Movement in the field also created the opportunity for John Deere Classic tournament director Clair Peterson to award sponsor exemptions to two recently-turned-pro players with outstanding amateur and collegiate records: John Peterson (no relation) of LSU and Patrick Reed of Augusta State.
This adds to a bumper crop of "future-of-golf" types playing this year, including top American amateur Jordan Spieth, a sophomore at Texas; Patrick Rodgers, a sophomore at Stanford, and former Illini Luke Guthrie, a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year who recently recorded a top 20 finish at Memphis, his first event as a pro.
John Peterson recently finished fourth at the U.S. Open, where he made a hole in one. Reed has made the cut in four of his six PGA Tour starts this year. Reed has most often earned his way into events through grueling Monday qualifying tournaments, which see more than 100 players competing for four spots. Reed had planned to Monday-qualify for the John Deere Classic, but Peterson issued a much-appreciated reprieve.
The field boasts several players currently in the top 20 in FedEx Cup points: Johnson, the former Masters champion, Cedar Rapids native, and John Deere Classic board member ( No. 6); Petterson(10); last year's JDC runner-up Stanley (15); rookie and 2012 Mayakoba champion Huh (16), and 2012 Humana Challenge champion (formerly Bob Hope) Wilson (19). Stricker, who has played a somewhat limited schedule this year, currently is ranked 25th in FedEx Cup points.
"The John Deere Classic is excited and proud to welcome such an outstanding group of players to compete on one of golf's most memorable courses and for a community that truly appreciates them," Clair Peterson said Friday. "By Steve Stricker winning here three straight times, he already has made history. Now, it will be fun to watch him try to make some more."
Only Young Tom Morris, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, and Tiger Woods have won the same tournament four straight times. Woods did it twice at different events. Only 17 players in history have won the same even three straight times.
The field boasts some 40 U.S. Open contestants and about 25 British Open contestants, most or all of whom will be on the John Deere Classic charter to Manchester on Sunday night. In addition to Cink, former British Open champions in the field include John Daly, Todd Hamilton, and David Duval.
In addition, Tim Clark and K.J. Choi, who won the 2010 and 2011 Players Championships in 2010 and 2011, respectively, will play at Deere Run this year and are contestants in this year's British Open.
The John Deere Classic also will welcome back other recent past champions, including O'Hair (2005), John Senden (2006), and Byrd (2007). 2008 champion Kenny Perry now plays the over-50 Champions Tour and Stricker has prevailed from 2009-2011.
Stricker and Johnson also will continue to pursue berths on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, which faces off against Europe Sept. 28-30 at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago. Johnson currently is ranked eighth on the points list. With No. 1 through 8 automatically making the team, Johnson would be in good shape were the deadline today. Stricker currently stands 14th on the points list and would like to improve his standing. A member of two Ryder Cup and three Presidents Cup teams, Stricker has paired well with Tiger Woods and could be a captain's pick.
In addition to Johnson - always a fan favorite - among the "local" players in the field are former Illini Stricker and D.A. Points, the Pekin, Ill. native who won at Pebble Beach in 2011; Kevin Streelman, a native of Chicago's western suburbs, and Wilson of Elmhurst, Ill.