It’s the week before the British Open, which helps explains why only 10 of the top 50 players in the world (and just six of the top 30) are in the field for this week’s John Deere Classic. Nonetheless, there are a few groups to watch during the first two rounds at TPC Deere Run, where the winner (if not already exempt) will earn a tee time at the year’s third major:
7:30 a.m. CT Thursday off 10 tee: Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker and Davis Love III
Rest is never an issue for the semi-retired Stricker, who is making just his third start since the Masters. Then again, this is the Wisconsinite’s fifth major, and he’s played like it recently. Since 2009, he has three wins and a T-5 in this event. Zach Johnson’s record here is nearly as impressive, with a victory last year and a T-3 in 2011 and T-2 in 2009. Love, meanwhile, is coming off his first top 10 of the season (T-9) at the Greenbrier.
7:40 a.m. off 10 tee: D.A. Points, Keegan Bradley and Charles Howell III
At the beginning of the year, who would have guessed that the only 2013 winner in this group was Points, who stunned the field in Houston? Bradley has six top 10s this season and is playing the Deere for the first time. Howell, though, is currently third on the list of alternates for the Open. He could eliminate the suspense by winning here and earning an automatic berth.
8:30 a.m. off 10 tee: Jordan Spieth, Ryo Ishikawa, Luke Guthrie
Spieth is the highlight of this group, as the 19-year-old has five top 10s and is motivated to win a Tour event and reach the FedEx Cup playoffs. His ascension serves as a sharp contrast to Ishikawa, 21, who has yet to deliver on all of his potential, at least on the PGA Tour. He’s mired in another forgettable campaign, with just one top 10 in 17 starts. Guthrie, another young star at only 23, is a former all-American at Illinois and should have plenty of support from the crowds.
12:55 p.m. off 1 tee: Jonas Blixt, Nick Watney and Louis Oosthuizen
Blixt is coming off a surprising victory last week at the Greenbrier, where he never shot a round worse than 67 all week and won by two. Watney is playing this third straight week as he preps for the Open, and this is always a special event for King Louie, the 2010 British Open winner, who has an affinity for tractors.