Jordan Spieth won last year's John Deere Classic at the age of 19. For the first time in his young PGA Tour career, Spieth will gear up to defend his title beginning Thursday at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois.
Much of the attention and fanfare will be engulfing Spieth, eagerly anticipating how golf's "next big thing" fares just one week ahead of The Open Championship. If a Claret Jug and a maiden major are in Spieth's future, a strong showing at the John Deere Classic would go a long way in providing momentum.
Despite a modest amount of prize money compared to some of the tour's bigger events, this tournament boasts a strong field. Some are vying for an 11th-hour British Open bid, while others are seeking life-altering victories that open up a world of opportunities.
Just ask Spieth how one week can change everything. After beginning last season with no PGA Tour status, Spieth capitalized on all his exemptions and eventually broke through at TPC Deere Run. Now, he's played in the last final-round pairing at the 2014 Masters and The Players Championship, ascending to 10th in the world rankings.
Below is a look at the basic information to watch this underrated stop on pro golf's top circuit along with more detailed analysis on the top groups to follow during the first 36 holes.
Note: Statistics are courtesy of PGATour.com.
When: Thursday, July 10 through Sunday, July 13
Where: TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit PGATour.com.
Purse: $4.7 million; Winner's Share: $846,000
FedEx Cup Points: 500
|Thursday, July 10||3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Friday, July 11||3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Saturday, July 12||1-2:30 p.m., 3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel, CBS|
|Sunday, July 13||1-2:30 p.m., 3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel, CBS|
Analyzing Marquee Groups
Jordan Spieth, Steve Stricker and Stewart Cink
The epic heights Spieth has reached so early are even more incredible when you think about what this accrued experience means for his future. Spieth has had trouble closing out tournaments when he's been in the hunt, but he's been a nearly constant fixture on weekend leaderboards.
As a testament to Spieth's ability to grind like a seasoned pro, he hit just 51.39 percent of greens in regulation at the Quicken Loans National. Despite that poor display, he ground out enough pars to finish tied for 11th.
Expectations are massive, but Spieth isn't shying away from them. Quite the opposite.
"I'm always looking forward to my ultimate goal, which when I set really young was to be the best player in the world," said Spieth, per Matt Coss of the Quad-City Times. "I want to be No. 1 in the world. Until that happens and you're winning almost every time, there's always ways to improve."
TPC Deere Run tends to yield far more birdies, whereas Spieth has teed it up at difficult courses in his past four starts. Seeing the ball go in the hole with increasing frequency should help Spieth crack into contention and put up a valiant fight to defend his John Deere Classic trophy.
Stricker is one of two golfers to win this tournament three times and the only one to do so in consecutive years, from 2009 through 2011.
The aging veteran has cut back his schedule significantly. Although this is a rare occasion in which Stricker is playing two events in a row, he won't be teeing it up in the British Open:
That shows how much the John Deere Classic means to Stricker. Considering he was in contention last week at the Greenbrier Classic until a final-round 74 dropped him down the leaderboard, don't be surprised if he finishes in the top 10.
Cink is a past major champion at the 2009 British Open, but he underwent swing changes not long thereafter and has gone through years of struggling. A tie for 19th at the Quicken Loans National was Cink's second-best result in the calendar year, though, so he could be on the rise at the right time.
Zach Johnson, Russell Henley and Ryan Moore
Johnson lost to Spieth in a playoff, victimized by some of his own misfortune and the young star's miraculous 72nd-hole bunker shot that found the cup. That denied Johnson a second straight John Deere Classic win.
Circumstances are similar to last season with regard to Johnson's form as he travels to Silvis. He hasn't played to his expectations since the start of the 2013-14 campaign, but the John Deere Classic was the start of an impressive run for the past Masters winner, as the PGA Tour highlighted in September 2013:
Zach Johnson's last 7 starts: John Deere - T2 The Open - T6 Bridgestone - T4 PGA - T8 Wyndham - T5 Deutsche Bank - T27 BMW - Won #FedExCup— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 16, 2013
One of the more unheralded young guns in American golf is Henley, the reigning champion at the Honda Classic, where he fended off the likes of Rory McIlroy down the stretch for his second PGA Tour win.
This marks the first time Henley is playing the John Deere Classic, so he's evidently looking for a spark, like Johnson is. Henley has missed four of his last seven cuts but is capable of making a lot of birdies, as evidenced by his ranking of 12th on tour in total putting.
On the strength of a tie for fifth at the Travelers Championship, Moore comes to Silvis having had recent success—something his playing competitors can't say with any conviction. Moore is ranked 18th in the FedEx Cup standings and has a golden chance to rise further if he can stripe it as he did last week.
John Senden, Ben Crane and Harris English
The John Deere Classic served as the setting for Senden's first tour win in 2006. All that's really held him back is his short game.
From tee to green, there are few in the world who boast Senden's power and precision. As long as he's knocking them stiff, Senden figures to be a factor on the weekend despite missing his previous two cuts.
Other than a blowup round of 79 to close out the Travelers Championship, Crane's past two starts have been exceptional, as he picked up a win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Even though Crane is 127th in all-around ranking, he finds a way to remain on the PGA Tour year after year. The victory in Memphis will keep Crane around. Another strong result at TPC Deere Run can aid his FedEx Cup status as he seeks to play in his second career Tour Championship.
At just 24 years old, English boasts two PGA Tour wins himself. A hot start to 2013-14 came unglued until a tie for seventh at the Travelers Championship the last time he teed it up. Now, English is in ideal position to have another good week.
Who's your favorite to win the 2014 John Deere Classic?
A number of challenging venues have lined the PGA Tour schedule in recent weeks. Seeing a birdie barrage in Silvis will be a nice change of pace. The British Open won't allow a lot of high-ball hitters to succeed, while quite the opposite will be true at TPC Deere Run.
A good mix of young talent, headlined by Spieth, and a slew of tour stalwarts create a diverse, intriguing mix for the 2014 John Deere Classic. It will be hard not to look ahead to The Open Championship.
However, should Spieth or another young star such as English rise to the occasion, there should be a supple amount of entertaining golf on this side of the pond before the major action shifts to Hoylake.