It’s a congested leaderboard at the John Deere Classic.
It feels like there are more contenders for Sunday’s $1,080,000 first-place check than there are Democratic candidates for president.
A long list of players have thrown their hats into the ring after three trips around TPC Deere Run. Andrew Landry and Cameron Tringale are tied for the lead at 16-under-par 197. It’s the first time this tournament has had co-leaders heading into the final round since 2009.
Bill Haas and Adam Schenk are one shot back at 15 under. Four more players – Ryan Moore, Nick Watney, Dylan Frittelli and Vaughn Taylor - are at 14 under. Eleven players are within three shots of the lead.
“Some golf courses you can leaderboard watch,” said Landry, who birdied two of the closing three holes to shoot 67 and grab a share of the lead. “This is not one of them. You’ve just got to go out there and play golf and try to make as many birdies as you can. There’s a lot of changing. You don’t want to steer from your game plan and start playing a little too aggressive or vice-versa.”
In addition to a coveted PGA Tour victory, a berth in next week’s British Open is also on the line Sunday. The highest finisher in the top five at the Deere not already qualified for the season’s final major will punch his ticket to Northern Ireland and Royal Portrush.
Only two of the top 11 players on the Deere leaderboard – Moore and Lucas Glover – are already qualified for the British Open. Moore won’t make the trip because his wife is expecting the couple’s third child.
The Top 11 is an eclectic mix of players. Seven of them have won at least once on the PGA Tour.
Haas has won six times on the PGA Tour, but not since the 2015 Humana Challenge. He was also the FedEx Cup champion in 2011. This season has been a struggle, but Haas hopes the season-low 64 he shot Saturday is a sign of better days ahead.
“I’ve been working hard but certainly not seeing many mid-60 rounds in the last year or even the last two years,” Haas said. “The game is not easy. It’s been beating me most weeks. And hopefully, if I keep working hard and keep trying, days like this will happen.”
Watney, who also shot 64 and has played bogey-free golf the last 41 holes, has won five times on the PGA Tour. But his last victory came at the Barclays in 2012.
“I hope it’s like riding a bike, and I don’t completely forget,” Watney said of being in the title chase again. “It all boils down to playing each individual shot. I’m just going to kind of hang in there, do what I do and see if I have a chance.”
Landry’s lone PGA Tour victory came at the 2018 Valero Texas Open, where he shared the lead with former Deere champion Zach Johnson heading into the final round.
“I had to take down Zach Johnson and Ryan Moore and Trey Mullinax, and those are guys I’ve looked up to for a very long time,” Landry said. “Especially Zach.”
Now Landry’s back in an identical position, and hoping for the same result.
“I don’t ever take these moments for granted,” Landry said. “It’s very hard to get into these situations, and it’s extremely hard to win on the tour. I’m just very blessed to be here.”
The 2016 Deere is one of Moore’s five tour victories, one that catapulted him onto the Ryder Cup team that year. After missing a short birdie putt on No. 14 and making a bogey at No. 15, Moore finished birdie-eagle-birdie for a 65.
“I had to give myself a little pep talk like, “All right, let’s just go and try to have a strong finish, let’s try to birdie these last three holes,’” Moore said. “Fortunately, I did one better than that, so that was a little bonus.”
Tringale, playing in his 262nd career PGA Tour event, shot 65 Saturday to move to the top of the leaderboard. He’s looking for his first victory. Tringale has three runner-up finishes and 21 Top 10 finishes in his career.
“I’ve had a couple of really good seasons, making the Tour Championship, and have finished high in some big events,” Tringale said. “So I think there’s been some of that but not the consistency that I probably expected. Golf has taught me a lot about pacing myself.”
With TPC Deere Run playing firm and fast, Sunday’s race to finish will be no place for the timid.
“You’re just trying to play each hole the best that you can,” Tringale said. “No lead is safe out here with this kind of golf course and setup.”