At John Deere, bring birdies (and passport)

A fortunate player this week at the John Deere Classic may earn a coveted exemption to play at the British Open. Players on the bubble should bring their passports to Illinois with them -- just in case.

A fortunate player this week at the John Deere Classic may earn a coveted exemption to play at the British Open. Players on the bubble should bring their passports to Illinois with them -- just in case.

John Deere Classic

July 8-11

Course: TPC Deere Run (7,268 yards, par 71), Silvis, Ill.

Purse: $4.4 million. Winner's share: $792,000.

TV: Golf Channel (Thu.-Fri., 3-6 p.m., 8:30-11:30 p.m.) and CBS (Sat.-Sun., 3-6 p.m.).

Last year: Steve Stricker won the second of his three 2009 titles, matching the course record with a second-round 61 and shooting 68-64 in the 36-hole Sunday finish. Zach Johnson, Brandt Snedeker and Brett Quigley tied for second, three strokes back.

photo

Steve Stricker

SILVIS, Ill. (USA) – “Have passport, will travel” is one of the storylines this week at the John Deere Classic.

For 132 players, the tournament begins with fresh hope that their passport still can be stamped for Scotland and a shot at the Claret Jug.

While 24 competitors in the field of 156 already have a date next week with the famed Old Course at St. Andrews, one more player could join them with a seat on a chartered, nonstop flight from America’s heartland across the Atlantic to Glasgow, Scotland.

THREE TO WATCH

Steve Stricker: The defending John Deere champion climbed to No. 2 in the world rankings after a victory at the Northern Trust Open in February, but has recorded only one top-10 finish since. The Illinois grad missed more than a month after the Masters with an injury to the joint that connects his right clavicle and sternum. The last defending champion to repeat was David Frost in 1993.

Zach Johnson: The Cedar Rapids, Iowa native considers this event a homecoming. He’s played it every year since 2002 and finished T-2 last year. He won his seventh tour title, the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, in May.

Matt Weibring: Weibring will try to follow in his father’s footsteps – D.A. was a three-time John Deere champion (1979, 1991, 1995) – and master the course his father co-designed.

There’s a tournament within a tournament this week at the John Deere Classic. A coveted spot into the British Open has been reserved for the top player, not already exempt, finishing in the top five.

The last time the British Open was played at St. Andrews five years ago, Sean O’Hair won the John Deere and a chance to compete in his first major.

The only problem was, O’Hair didn’t have a passport.

So he and his caddie/father-in-law Steve Lucas hustled home to Philadelphia and collected his birth certificate. Meanwhile, JDC officials had connections in high places (the White House) and arranged for a passport for O’Hair on Monday. Problem solved. The next evening, he and Lucas boarded a flight to Scotland. They arrived in time for a quick trip around the world’s most famous course, and proceeded to finish T-15.

History may be repeating itself. Australian Jason Day, currently the first alternate for the British Open, admitted he didn’t bring his passport with him this week.

“I had no idea I was first alternate,” he said. “I’ve got to get one of my friends back home to break in my house somehow to get my passport.”

To win at TPC Deere Run this week will take a birdie barrage. Expect the town of Silvis to be painted John Deere yellow and green and for scoring to be low. Ever since Deere Run became the tournament site in 1999, the winner has lit it up like a Christmas tree, shooting between 16- and 22-under par.

Last year, Steve Stricker, a Wisconsin native and Illinois grad, was a popular champion after a final-round 64 propelled him to victory.

“Win and you’re in” is the battle cry for many this week. Hey, even fifth place could lock up a spot in the world’s oldest golf tournament. Hope the lucky duck packed extra underwear – and remembered his passport.

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