John Deere Classic Hoping For Another Great Finish

By Mike Hlas, The Gazette

SILVIS, Ill. — CBS does 23 PGA Tour events a year. It does the Masters and the PGA Championship.

However, CBS golf commentator Ian Baker-Finch says the network basically treats the John Deere Classic the same way as any other tourney. Minus, that is, the hundreds of extra personnel it has at the major tourneys.

“I personally look forward to the John Deere every year,” Baker-Finch said this week in a phone interview. “I’ve been coming there for the last eight years (as a broadcaster), and I played there before that.

“It’s fan-friendly. It has great integration between the sponsors, the fans, and the region. And it always has an exciting finish.”

This year’s JDC starts this morning at TPC Deere Run, and it has hard acts to follow. In 2011, Steve Stricker made a birdie putt from just off the hole on the 18th green to defeat Kyle Stanley by a stroke and win his third-straight JDC title.

Two years ago, Cedar Rapids’ Zach Johnson made a remarkable shot from a fairway bunker for a tap-in birdie in a sudden-death playoff win over Troy Matteson.

Last year, Spieth made one of the Tour’s shots of the year when he made a birdie from a greenside bunker on 18 and got into a playoff with Johnson and David Hearn when Johnson bogeyed No. 18. “The luckiest shot I’ve ever hit in my life,” said Spieth.

The playoff went five holes, with Spieth winning. At 19, he became the Tour’s youngest winner of an event since 1931.

“I think it’s an extra-special tournament,” said Baker-Finch, who will be CBS’ 18th-hole tower Saturday and Sunday with Bill MacAtee, the anchor for the event.

As of Tuesday, one sports betting site had Spieth, Stricker and Johnson the three favorites in that order at this year’s JDC.

“I’ve been anxious for another win because of how good this felt last year,” Spieth said here Wednesday, “and I had a lot of close calls and I feel like I’m knocking on the door again.”

Johnson, meanwhile, has a first, two seconds and a third in his last five JDC appearances.

Spieth and Stricker are in a threesome with Stewart Cink today at 12:45 p.m. Johnson will play with Russell Henley and Ryan Moore at 7:30 a.m.

Others in the field include two-time U.S. Open-champion Retief Goosen, who is making his Deere debut. Patrick Rodgers, who had been the No. 1-ranked junior player in the world, turned pro recently and is here on a sponsor’s exemption. So is Rodgers’ former Stanford teammate, Cameron Wilson, who won the NCAA individual championship this spring.

Through various paths, four former University of Iowa golfers are here. Veteran Guy Boros is a Web.com Tour member. Aaron Krueger, the head pro at Des Moines’ Wakonda Club, qualified by winning the Iowa PGA Section tourney last year. He’ll play in the PGA Champoinship next month.

Steven Ihm of Peosta just finished his collegiate career and is a newly turned pro here on a sponsor’s exemption. Hawkeye sophomore Raymond Knoll earned one of the four last spots into the event via a Monday qualifier with 73 contestants.

Ihm and Knoll both have 2:15 p.m. tee times.

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