The John Deere Classic has a lower purse than many tournaments on the PGA Tour, but it's among the biggest birdie fests on the schedule every season and lends itself to low scores and plenty of drama.
On Wednesday's Morning Drive telecast, Kelly Tilghman put to rest any notion of a weak field at TPC Deere Run. Tilghman pointed out that 71 different PGA Tour winners—for 229 overall victories and nine major champions—would tee it up in Silvis, Ill.
Defending champion and 2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson is always a threat. He grew up just 91 miles away in Iowa, which Steve Burkowski noted in the aforementioned telecast.
Burkowski also highlighted how Johnson considers this a fifth major despite the tournament's relatively lower profile.
Johnson's win in 2012 snapped Steve Stricker's winning streak at the John Deere Classic at three consecutive years. The 46-year-old veteran tied for fifth last year and is playing a far more diminished schedule as the end of his tour career approaches.
Plenty of other stars will be in action, too, but this is also a massive opportunity for some players who may not be household names.
The victor in this event will automatically qualify for next week's British Open—if he hasn't already, of course.
Let's take a closer look at the action this week, with the complete TV schedule, a link to all the tee times in the first two rounds and the most notable groups to follow in the early going.
Note: All statistics and past tournament information, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of PGATour.com.
When: Thursday, July 11, to Sunday, July 14
Where: TPC Deere Run, Silvis, Ill.
Tee Times: First group is off at 7 a.m. CT. For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit PGATour.com.
Purse: $4.6 million
FedEx Cup Points: 500
TV Schedule (h/t PGA.com)
Thursday: Golf Channel 3-6 p.m. ET
Friday: Golf Channel 3-6 p.m. ET
Saturday: Golf Channel 1-2:30 p.m. ET, CBS 3-6 p.m. ET
Sunday: Golf Channel 1-2:30 p.m. ET, CBS 3-6 p.m. ET
Groups to Watch
No. 17: Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker and Davis Love III
The analysis to this point suggests that Johnson and Stricker are the only ones to watch in the tournament. While that's far from the truth, it's a treat that the two are paired together for the first two days.
Other than Louis Oosthuizen (No. 10), Stricker is the top-ranked player at No. 11 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Despite the limited number of events he's competed in this season, it's clear Stricker has plenty of game left. Until an out-of-bounds tee shot and shank did him in, he was in contention on Sunday in the U.S. Open at Merion.
This will be Stricker's first tournament since then, and considering how much he loves this venue, there isn't much reason to bet against him.
The Champions Tour also beckons for Love, who turns 50 next April. However, he isn't done yet, and he missed three months at the beginning of the year due to back surgery.
After inconsistencies and a withdrawal from the AT&T National, which he opened with an 83, Love was able to recalibrate and notch his first top 10 of 2013 with a tie for ninth at the Greenbrier Classic last week.
No. 21: Jordan Spieth, Ryo Ishikawa and Luke Guthrie
It seems like only a matter of time before one of these young guns breaks through for a PGA Tour victory, and Spieth has been the hottest golfer in recent weeks.
Surviving week by week on sponsor's exemptions, the 19-year-old from the University of Texas is living up to the hype. He finished joint runner-up at the Puerto Rico Open in his third event of the year and has four other top 10s.
Due to Spieth's current status, though, he must win a tournament to be eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs. Combine that with the incentive to qualify for the British Open with a victory, and this could be his week.
Some may remember Ishikawa for firing a 58 at age 18 in a Japan Tour event back in 2010, but he's really struggled recently. In 17 PGA Tour events thus far this season, he's missed eight cuts and recorded just two top-25 finishes.
At some point, Ishikawa has to capitalize on all that promise he displayed in his Japan Tour dominance.
Then there's Guthrie, who should be a gallery favorite being from the University of Illinois. He's only 23 and has had a successful rookie year thus far. Unfortunately, since registering a tie for eighth at the Zurich Classic in April, he's not finished better than tied for 21st.
Spieth shot three consecutive 67s at the Greenbrier before a final-round 73 knocked him back to a tie for 23rd. Thus, all three of these immensely gifted youngsters have some adversity to bounce back from, and a course that yields a lot of birdies is an ideal place to start.
No. 31: Jonas Blixt, Nick Watney and Louis Oosthuizen
Last week's winner, Blixt, is No. 51 in the world rankings, and the victory was visibly sweet for the emotional Swede, who could simply take that momentum and capture another trophy. Blixt, after all, was second at the Greenbrier in strokes gained putting and first in putts per greens in regulation.
Watney is always a bit of an enigma, but he's a five-time tour winner, and he also won a World Golf Championship tournament and a FedEx Cup event at last year's Barclays.
As hinted at before, the sweet-swinging Oosthuizen is the top-ranked player this week. After two prior withdrawals, he was steady at the Greenbrier, posting four rounds in the 60s and finishing tied for 17th.
Craig DeVrieze of PGATour.com produced a unique feature on Oosthuizen, a reputedly passionate farmer who loves John Deere products.
"I’ve still got quite a bit of passion for golf, but John Deere and farming is not far off...That’s why this week is so special to me," said Oosthuizen.
The golfer's father, Piet Oosthuizen, further confirmed the extent of his son's adulation for John Deere.
“You can ask him anything about John Deere...He is on the computer every day, and he knows every spec of every piece of John Deere equipment. He loves it," said Piet Oosthuizen.
When Louis Oosthuizen is on, his swing tempo is something to behold, and his smooth putting stroke is also mesmerizing. In an atmosphere like this, it might be the perfect time for Oosthuizen to win his first event on American soil.
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