SILVIS, Ill. — A hat trick. A turkey. A three-peat. Call it what you want, Wisconsin’s Steve Stricker is the big cheese at the John Deere Classic again. Stricker canned a 25-foot left-to-right breaking putt from the back fringe on the final hole to finish at 22-under 262 and win by one shot.
When Stricker drained a 50-footer on the ninth hole to grab a five-stroke lead, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Sticker would defend his title and become just the 10th different golfer since World War II to win a tournament three straight times.
Tour rookie Kyle Stanley never got the memo and attempted to play spoiler by birdieing five of his first six holes coming home. When Stricker faltered on the back nine, Stanley suddenly led by two strokes. But Stanley’s 9-foot par putt spun out on 18.
“I was playing it inside left and it stayed there,” Stanley said.
Meanwhile Stricker birdied the par-5 17th hole to tie.
“Best putt of the day,” Stricker said.
Then he pulled off the shot of the tournament after pulling his tee shot at 18 into the left fairway bunker. From a hook lie, with his left foot in the sand and his right out, Stricker picked a 6-iron clean that streaked towards the flag stick and rolled to the back edge. The putt found the heart of the cup and brought down the house.
And the partisan fans, whipped into a frenzy had but one question for Stricker: “Are we going to see a four-peat?”
Stricker became just the 10th golfer since World War II to win a tournament three straight times. He finished at 22-under 262 to beat Stanley by one stroke.
Matt McQuillan, who had missed the cut in his previous 10 tournaments, shot a 64 to tie Zach Johnson (65) for third at 17 under. Charles Howell III (64) and Chez Reavie (72) were another stroke back.
Stanley kept the lead by salvaging par on 17 after sending his tee shot into a grove of trees, but he missed a 9-foot par putt on 18 to open the door for Stricker, who took advantage.
Stricker had fallen two off the lead with bogeys on 15 and 16 that seemingly ended his hopes of a threepeat.
But he regrouped quickly. Stricker knocked in a 15-foot putt for birdie on 17 to cut Stanley’s lead to one stroke, then made what turned out to be a tournament-saving shot from a bunker on the left side of the fairway.
Standing with his left foot in the bunker and his right foot on the lip, Stricker hit the ball solidly and left it on the fringe of the green behind the pin, drawing a huge roar from the crowd.
The next roar was even louder. Using his putter, Stricker sent the ball toward the cup and watched it curl in from the left side. The 44-year-old from Madison, Wis., backed away as the ball neared the hole, then raised his arms and pumped his fist to celebrate the moment.
With the victory, Stricker joined a select group of golfers who have won a tournament three year running. The list reads like a Who’s Who’s of the game and includes Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Ben Hogan and Johnny Miller.
Woods has done it six times and Palmer twice.
Woods also is one of just four golfers who has won a tournament four straight years. The way Stricker has mastered the TPC Deere Run course, you can’t discount his chances of joining that group, too.
Stricker finished 26 under at last year’s tournament and was 20 under in his 2009 victory.
Stanley, 23, earned a nice consolation prize, earning the spot in the British Open that goes to the highest finisher in this tournament who’s not already qualified. But if it hadn’t been for Stricker’s late heroics, Stanley would have had his first victory on the tour.
He trailed by five strokes after Stricker buried a 50-foot birdie putt on No. 9. But showing the poise of a tour veteran, Stanley birdied five of the first six holes on the back nine to zoom into the lead, making a 26-foot birdie putt on 13, an 18-footer on 14 and a 36-footer on 15 to go up by a stroke.
When Stricker bogeyed 15 and 16, Stanley suddenly led by two. He made a nice par save on 17 after driving into a grove of trees and he got into trouble on 18 when he went from the rough to a greenside bunker. He was in good position to salvage par again when he chipped up to 9 feet, but he missed the putt and took bogey, giving Stricker the opportunity he needed.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.