Pro golf: Madison's Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly headline John Deere Classic field

2014-07-05T23:15:00Z Pro golf: Madison's Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly headline John Deere Classic fieldMATT COSS | mcoss@qctimes.com madison.com
July 05, 2014 11:15 pm  • 

SILVIS — The billboards splashed across the Quad-Cities promoting next week's John Deere Classic display defending champion Jordan Spieth and the slogan "Magic Happens Here."

Since the $4.7 million PGA Tour event moved to TPC Deere Run 14 years ago, the tournament has continually produced magical and nail-biting finishes.

"If there is drama, more people watch," JDC tournament director Clair Peterson said. "We do have drama."

The field for this year's show, other than Monday's four-spot qualifier at Pinnacle Country Club in Milan, was finalized Friday afternoon.

There are eight players ranked in the world's top 50 participating, headlined by the tournament's last five winners in Spieth, Zach Johnson (2012) and Madison golfer Steve Stricker (2009-11).

"All year long, we've known those three were going to be here," Peterson said. "With that, I've answered the field question so many fewer times this year. When people know those three are coming, they get pretty excited."

Recent PGA Tour winner Kevin Streelman, Kevin Na, Ryan Moore, Chris Kirk and Harris English, all in the top 50, are competing. Kirk and English are just outside the top 10 of the United States Ryder Cup standings.

Also in the field is Madison golfer Jerry Kelly, who tied for fourth a year ago. He finished one shot out of the three-way playoff Spieth won over Zach Johnson and David Hearn.

The John Deere gave one of its sponsors exemptions to Oklahoma State sophomore Jordan Niebrugge, a former Mequon Homestead golfer. Menomonee Falls' Mark Wilson is also in the field.

The tournament also boasts eight major champions. The only multiple major winner is Retief Goosen, a two-time U.S. Open winner who will make his debut at the JDC.

"We're excited to have Retief," Peterson said. "He has a hotel room and he's ready to tee it up."

There is plenty of youth in the field, too.

Patrick Rodgers and Cameron Wilson, teammates at Stanford who turned pro in the last month, are among the sponsor's exemptions along with Iowa native Steven Ihm, who will make his pro debut.

Rodgers, who was the world's top-ranked amateur, led for a brief stint during last year's third round.

"We're really excited about what we have," Peterson said. "I think we've got around 30 guys who have won tournaments over the last two years, guys who have won majors and been involved in international competitions.

"Plus, we are really high on our sponsor exemptions."

In the past couple of days, Stuart Appleby, Paul Casey, K.J. Choi and Mike Weir were among those to withdraw. Patrick Reed, who received a sponsor's exemption here two years ago and finished in the top 10 last year, chose not to come back.

Conversely, Bo Van Pelt, Camilo Villegas and David Toms were among the additions in the past 48 hours.

Peterson said tickets sales have been "amazingly positive."

Besides Spieth, Johnson and Stricker, some of that stems from the dramatic finishes D.A. Weibring's design has brought about.

There have been five sudden-death playoffs in the last 14 years, including last year's that extended five holes with Spieth, Johnson and David Hearn.

There have been plenty of miraculous shots on Sundays at the 18th.

- John Senden blasted a bunker shot to within a foot to win in 2006.

- Stricker curled in a 25-foot birdie putt from the fringe in 2011 for victory.

- Johnson hit a 6-iron from the 18th fairway bunker that rolled to within a foot to beat Troy Matteson in a 2012 playoff.

- Spieth drained a 44-foot, 6-inch bunker shot on the 72nd hole last year to get into the playoff.

"It is the final five holes," Peterson said. "Thanks to D.A. there is so much that can happen on those last few holes — eagles, birdies and bogeys. It is a golf course setup for tournament excitement.

"With the big amphitheater at 18 on Sunday, it makes it all that much better. I don't think what has happened the last few years is an anomaly. It is a continuation from when we first came here."

It has helped the tournament grow in stature. This year's winner will pocket $846,000, up from $828,000 last year.

"It is like waiting for Christmas, you can't wait for the tournament to happen and be there," Peterson said.

The golf world has taken notice, too. Peterson witnessed that last year after taking the chartered jet to Muirfield in Scotland for the British Open.

"There were people wearing John Deere hats and all these fans telling us stories about how they stayed up until 1 a.m. watching the finish and how amazing it was," Peterson said.

What type of magic show will this year's tournament produce?

Stay tuned.

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