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John Deere Classic Preview

For a golfer ranked so highly for so long, Steve Stricker hasn’t much of a record in the Majors, but he sure knows how to win the John Deere Classic, which gets under way in Illinois tomorrow.

Stricker won the event in 2009, 2010 and 2011, one of a select band of players to have won the same PGA tournament three times in a row, and is a strong 13/2 favourite with Coral to bounce back with a fourth victory after missing out last year.

The popular 46-year-old American looked as though his Major barren spell might belatedly be coming to an end when bang in contention teeing off on the final day of the US Open last month, actually one shot ahead of eventual winner Justin Rose.

A nightmare second hole, on which he put two shots out of bounds (one of them a shank) and was lucky to escape with an eight, immediately put him out of contention and though his usual impressive putting allowed him to finish in the top ten, it was nevertheless a deeply disappointing final day.

Stricker is now at an age when he wants to spend more time with his family and announced earlier this year that he would not be coming over for the Open next week, but this is a great opportunity for a big consolation pay cheque at a course which clearly brings the best out of him.

His aggregate score over the 12 rounds on his three-year winning spree was 68 under par and that included a 60 the first round in 2010 (beaten by Paul Goydos’s magic 59!).

Zach Johnson broke the Stricker spell last year and is 18/1 with Coral to successfully defend his title. The 2007 US Masters winner will be among a large group jetting over to Scotland as soon as this tournament is over to prepare for the Open.

With Phil Mickelson and others opting to warm up for Muirfield in the Scottish Open and others preparing with a week off, the John Deere Classic may not take as much winning as some PGA tournaments, but world top-20 players Keegan Bradley (22/1) and Louis Oosthuizen (25/1) will be pegging it up, so it’s hardly going to be a gimme for Stricker or Johnson.

And there is plenty of interest in 19-year-old Jordan Spieth 33/1), who had the best amateur career since Tiger Woods before turning professional and impressing on the PGA Tour this year with a succession of fine performances, most recently when finishing sixth in the AT & T National at Congressional. This great new American hope is world-ranked 120 at the moment, but is destined to climb much, much higher.

Written by Jon Freeman