Stricker set to defend title at John Deere Classic

Steve Stricker is well rested, pain free and ready to defend his

title at the John Deere Classic.

Stricker took six weeks off in April and May to rest an aching

right shoulder and has played in only two tournaments since

returning to the tour.

The injury, an inflammation in the joint where the clavicle

meets the sternum, interrupted a promising year for the 43-year-old

Stricker. He is ranked No. 4, has made the cut in all 11

tournaments he’s played and has four top-10 finishes, including a

victory in the Northern Trust Open in February.

But rest accompanied by therapy was the only cure, so Stricker

sat – not that it was a hardship.

“It’s not hard for me to stay home,” he said. “That part of

it wasn’t too hard. But it got to a point where I’m like, geez, I

gotta get going. And I wasn’t quite ready yet.”

Stricker pulled himself off the tour after tying for 30th at the

Masters. He didn’t play again until late May at the Colonial, where

he was the defending champion and finished in a tie for 38th at 8

under.

Since then, he finished tied for 17th at the Memorial and was 15

over at the U.S. Open to tie for 58th. For the rest of the time,

it’s been home sweet home.

“I do a lot of family things, try to do some things with my

kids,” said Stricker, who has two daughters, ages 4 and 11. “I

took my daughter fishing last week for a couple of days, just to

try to get away from it and not play at all and not even think

about it at all.

“But then, when that’s over, you realize you gotta get back to

work.”

For Stricker, getting back to work at TPC at Deere Run is as

good a place as any.

Stricker tied the tournament record when he shot a 61 in last

year’s second round, then came back with a 68 and 64 in Sunday’s

36-hole finale to beat Brett Quigley, Brandt Snedeker and local

favorite Zach Johnson by three strokes.

“It’s always exciting to come back to a place where you’ve had

success,” Stricker said. “Just driving in the gates and

remembering some of the shots that happened down the stretch, the

way the whole week played out last year, is always fun to look back

at and reflect on a little bit. Coming off a couple of weeks off, I

feel fresh and excited to play.”

Stricker said he’s having no problem with his shoulder, no pain,

no tenderness. He’s not so sure he can say the same about his

game.

“My game has kind of slowed a little bit, I feel like, the last

couple of months,” he said. “I haven’t played a lot. I’m surely

fresh and rested and ready to play. But I’ve been working on some

things, too, and hopefully some of those things are starting to pan

out in the right direction.”

With the Deere Classic falling the week before the British Open,

many of the big names skip the event. But it still has a solid

field that includes nine winners on this year’s tour.

Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, won the Colonial. This is

the closest thing to a hometown tournament for Johnson, who grew up

75 miles to the west in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and is on the event’s

board of directors.

South Africa’s Tim Clark, second here in 2007, got his first PGA

Tour victory when he won the Players Championship in May. Bubba

Watson is coming off a victory at the Travelers Championship two

weeks ago, while 22-year-old Australian Jason Day gained his first

PGA win at the Byron Nelson Championship.

Clark experienced another first Wednesday, though not the kind

he wanted. His clubs got delayed in Chicago during his travels and

never made it to town, so he borrowed a set to play in the

pro-am.

“Playing today, it’s not a big deal,” Clark said. “I still

got out there and saw the course and played, but if I don’t have

them tomorrow, I’ll be in trouble.”

Clark, Stricker, Johnson, Day and Watson are among the John

Deere Classic players who’ll take advantage of a charter jet that

tournament organizers arranged to fly them to the British Open on

Sunday night.

Tournament officials hoped the charter would encourage more

golfers to play here this week. Anyone flying commercially from

here – Silvis is 165 miles west of Chicago – would have to change

planes three or four times before getting to St. Andrews.

“It certainly made it easier for us and I certainly think it’s

helped attract a better field,” Clark said. “The British Open is

an extremely important tournament for us. We want to be as well

prepared as we possibly can be.”