SILVIS, Ill. – On just about any other day, Steve Stricker’s 60 in the opening round of last year’s John Deere Classic would have left him comfortably ahead and soaking in the adulation.
But July 8, 2010, wasn’t your routine day on the PGA Tour. Even after shooting 11 under, Stricker found himself a shot off the lead, because Paul Goydos had fashioned what then was just the fourth 59 in tour history.
“It was pretty hard to believe that he shoots 59 and has a one-shot lead, where I shoot 60 and I’m down by one,” Stricker said Wednesday. “Whatever way you want to look at it, it’s pretty remarkable.”
Never before had two scores that low been recorded on a single day in a PGA event. Stricker went on to win the tournament for the second straight year, beating Goydos by two strokes, and now faces the task of winning a tournament three years in a row, another rare feat.
It’s been done only 20 times on the tour, most recently by Tiger Woods, who completed a three-peat at the Bridgestone Invitational in 2007
Adding to the challenge Stricker will face when he tees off Thursday is one of the strongest fields at the Deere Classic, which many of golf’s marquee names skip because it falls a week before the British Open.
Still, the last two British Open champions are here, Stewart Cink (2009) and Louis Oosthuizen (2010). Also playing are Mark Wilson, a two-time winner on the tour this year, Zach Johnson, David Toms, Davis Love III and Jason Day, the 23-year-old Australian who finished second at this year’s Masters and U.S. Open.
“I was not ready for the national story it became, quite frankly,” Goydos said. “I thought it was a cool thing to accomplish personally, but I really didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. I was wrong.”
More surprising to Goydos than leading by only one after his magical round was what he saw the next day, when he played in the afternoon.
“I went to Starbucks and got a hot chocolate and a pastry of some sort, came back to my room, flipped on the computer and I was three back,” he said. “That was more of like, what? I’m not even leading or part of the story anymore.”
Stricker will be part of the story until he falters on the TPC Deere Run course, which hasn’t happened recently.
“You like that extra pressure,” Stricker said. “Hopefully, I can get an opportunity again coming down the stretch on Sunday. But it’s a long road. You got to play good. There’s a lot of good players here this week, so it’ll be tough.”
At No. 5 in the world, the 44-year-old from Madison, Wis., is the highest-ranked American. He won the Memorial last month, leads the tour in birdies and putting average and is fourth in scoring.
“He’s a machine,” Johnson said.
He certainly was last year, when he set a tournament record for 36 holes and broke the PGA record for 54 holes after a third-round 62. Given the condition of the course, scores like that aren’t likely to be repeated this week.
Last year, rain softened the course and left it vulnerable to low scores. It’s drier now, so the greens and fairways are firmer.
“Fairways are bouncing a little bit,” Love said. “The greens are bouncing a little bit, which is nice. And you’ve got to watch out for Steve Stricker again and the guys that usually play well here.
“But if it stays like it is now, scores probably won’t be as low.”
Oosthuizen is playing in the Deere Classic for the first time and came partly out of curiosity. He bought a John Deere tractor for his farm in South Africa after winning the British Open and wanted to see what the company was all about, so he toured a Deere assembly plant Tuesday.
Wouldn’t he have been better off playing in the Scottish Open this week instead of checking out the cab of a combine?
“It was 50-50,” Oosthuizen said. “But at the end of the day, you’re going to play in perfect weather over here. In Scotland, you can get not great weather and I just felt I’d rather have a proper week where I can play and work a bit on my game.
“I’ve known links golf quite a while and I didn’t feel it was necessary for me to play a links golf course before the Open.”
Besides, Deere has chartered a jet to fly golfers to England on Sunday night.
“A 10-hour flight, I think it will be,” Oosthuizen said. “So it’s a bit better than the trip I had to take here, which was 36 hours at the end of the day.”