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Johnson cedes lead to Harman

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SILVIS, Ill. — And the low native Iowan Saturday at the John Deere Classic was ...

Not Zach Johnson of Cedar Rapids and Drake University, who shot a 2-under par 69 at TPC Deere Run and fell three shots off the lead at 14-under, tied for fourth place.

Not Steven Ihm of Peosta and the University of Iowa, who carded a 68 in his initial professional tournament and is at 7 under, tied for 35th.

It was Troy Merritt of Osage and Boise State University, who shot a 66 to get to 9 under overall.

Troy Merritt? Yes, unbeknown to even the most serious golf fans in Iowa, there are two natives of our state with PGA Tour membership. Merritt was born in Osage, but his family moved to Burley, Idaho, when he was a toddler. They moved to Fridley, Minn., when Merritt was a high schooler.

But he does have Iowa ties. Grandparents on both sides of his family live in Dubuque, he has brothers who were athletes at Wartburg College and Luther College, and his father is in Wartburg’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

Merritt is in his fourth year on the Tour. He finished second in last month’s FedEx St. Jude Classic. That was his best Tour finish, and set him up to keep his Tour card after starting this year with missed 36-hole cuts in his first six starts.

He is fine with you thinking there is just one Iowan on the Tour, that being Johnson.

“He’s a good one,” Merritt said, “so we’ll let people assume that.”

Just like you can assume Johnson and Steve Stricker will be near the top of the leaderboard entering the final round of a JDC, which is true yet again.

Stricker made a 27-foot downhill birdie putt on the final hole Saturday to pull within a shot of the lead. He will chase his fourth JDC title in the last six years today.

“I’m not going to go on that first tee and think that I’ve won here three times and the tournament’s mine,” Stricker said. “I’m not thinking like that at all.

“I’ve got a busy day tomorrow. I’ve got an important day for me tomorrow, and it’s just really down to business and try to take that first hole and first shot as it comes and go from there.”

Johnson set off no such fireworks. He shot his 23rd-consecutive round in the 60s here but is outside the top three for the first time in his last nine rounds here.

Playing into receptive greens and wind ranging from slight to nonexistent, he had his 69 while Stricker had a 64, tourney-leader Brian Harman shot a 65 and third-place Scott Brown had a scorching 61.

“It was about as blah a day as I’ve ever experienced,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have my best stuff, but I didn’t shoot myself out of the golf tournament.”

For those seeking a positive omen, Johnson was four shots behind leader Troy Matteson when the final round began in 2012. Johnson defeated Matteson in a sudden-death playoff for the tourney title. Johnson started fast that Sunday, and that’s probably the formula he needs to prevail today.

“I’ve just got to get out there, play my golf, play my game, make a few putts, and see what happens,” he said.

It was a second-straight good day for Ihm, a two-time first team All-Big Ten player at Iowa. He finished his round with a birdie at No. 9, which is saying something. Only nine of 77 players shot better than par on the hole.

“Obviously, that birdie at 9 was a great finish,” Ihm said. “I feel good. It’s fun. Today was another fun round.

“Tomorrow could be awesome. If I play as well as I did today and make some putts, anything can happen.”

Oh, and what about Harman? He’s 27, and his lone pro golf win was in 2010 on the eGolf Tour. He is a native Georgian and now lives in St. Simons Island, Ga.

Many Tour pros live there, and some call them the Sea Island Mafia. It also includes Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker and Davis Love III.

Harman was Johnson’s playing partner in the final round when Johnson won here two years ago.

“I felt like I was playing well enough to win a couple years ago,” Harman said, “and it just didn’t happen. Every experience you have like that is something you can draw from, for sure.”

Harman has played here in each of his three years on the Tour. He has done well on the golf course, but has another reason for returning.

“They have great beef here. I love red meat.

“They have cows right around the corner, so ...”

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