10 Players to Watch: John Deere Classic

1. Jordan Spieth, United States — Although he received plenty of unsolicited advice that he should skip the John Deere Classic and head to Scotland to prepare for his bid to win a third straight major in the 144th Open Championship at St. Andrews, Spieth never blinked. He will keep his commitment at TPC Deere Run, where he played on a sponsors exemption three years ago as an amateur and tied for 58th, before returning the next year as a rookie to claim his first PGA Tour title. Spieth holed out a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to complete a third straight 65 and get into a playoff, where his par on the fifth playoff hole beat Zach Johnson and David Hearn. He tied for seventh in his title defense.

2. Zach Johnson, United States — The John Deere Classic probably is Johnson’s favorite event on the PGA Tour, and not only because he attended Drake University and grew up not far away in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, so he gets to play before family and friends. He has played at TPC Deere run in each of the last 13 years and has finished in the top three in four of the last five. Included was a victory in 2012, when he closed with 65-66-65 and win with a birdie on the second playoff hole, hitting his approach shot to within a foot of the cup. He also tied for second in 2009, tied for third in 2011, lost in a playoff to Jordan Spieth in 2013 and finished solo second last year.

3. Brian Harman, United States — Defending his only PGA Tour title in the John Deere Classic, Harman is coming off his best finish of the season, solo third in the Travelers Championship after taking the lead to the final round and closing with a 69. That left him one stroke out of the playoff in which Bubba Watson bested Paul Casey, and he also tied for eighth in the Players Championship in May. Last year at TPC Deere Run, Harman led much of the way after starting with an 8-under-par 63, and his 66 on Sunday was enough to hold off Zach Johnson by one shot. Tied for the lead after 13 holes, Harman reeled off three straight birdies to take charge and won despite making a bogey at No. 18.

4. Steven Bowditch, Australia — Since claiming his second PGA Tour victory in the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, Bowditch has reeled off three more top-25 finishes, including a tie for 15th in the Travelers Championship and a tie for 13th in the Greenbrier Classic the last two weeks. He has strung together nine consecutive scores in the 60s heading into the John Deere Classic, which he is playing this week for the fifth consecutive year. After tying for 38th and missing the cut in his first two starts at TPC Deere Run, the Aussie tied for 12th two years ago and tied for 11th last year, posting seven scores in the 60s and the other at 1-under-par 70.

5. Kevin Kisner, United States — You have to figure that if Kisner keeps playing the way he has been recently, his first PGA Tour victory might not be far away. When he closed with a 6-under-par 64 last week and lost in a playoff to Danny Lee of New Zealand in the Greenbrier Classic, it was the third time in his last eight events that he fell in extra holes. Kisner also lost in playoffs to Jim Furyk in the RBC Heritage and to Rickie Fowler in the Players Championship. In those eight events, he finished 12th or better six times, including a tie for 12th in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Kisner missed the cut in his first two appearances in the John Deere Classic, but tied for 20th last year.

6. Danny Lee, New Zealand — It’s probably too much to ask for an encore after Lee claimed his first PGA Tour victory last week in a playoff at the Greenbrier Classic, but he has finished in the top 25 in five of his last nine starts. He has played the busiest schedule on the circuit this season, making his 28th start this week in the John Deere Classic, and has posted four finishes in the top 10 and nine more in the top 25. Lee, who was born in South Korea before moving to New Zealand when he was eight, is teeing it up at TPC Deere Run for the fourth time, and shot 1-under-par 66 in the final round to tie for 30th, but missed the cut in his other two starts.

7. David Hearn, Canada — Still looking for his first victory on the PGA Tour after losing in a playoff to Danny Lee of New Zealand last week in the Greenbrier Classic, Hearn is playing in the John Deere Classic for the fifth time. He has won twice as a pro, on the Web.com and Canadian tours, and has lost twice in playoffs on the best tour in the world, the other coming in 2013 at TPC Deere Run. The Canadian opened with scores of 66-66-64, then shot a 2-under-par 69 and lost when rookie Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot on the final hole before beating Hearn and Zach Johnson with a par on the fifth playoff hole.

8. Ryan Moore, United States — Well-rested after taking two weeks off following a missed the cut in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, Moore might be ready to heat up again after starting the season with his fourth PGA Tour victory in the CIMB Classic. He has posted seven other finishes in the top 25, including a tie for 12th in the Masters and a tie for ninth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. This will be his seventh appearance in the John Deere Classic and he posted his best result last year, a tie for seventh, when he posted four rounds of 68 or better. Moore also tied for eighth two years ago with four more scores in the 60s, where he has been in 11 of his last 12 rounds on the course.

9. Tony Finau, United States — The rookie stretched his streak of finishes in the top 25 to seven when he tied for 13th in the Greenbrier Classic and he will try to keep it going this week when he tees it up for the first time in the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run. He’s been close the last few weeks, but he still needs a real high finish to land his first berth in the Open Championship next week at St. Andrews and he showed he’s not afraid of the big stage when he tied for 14th in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, where he was making his first major appearance. Finau has 13 finishes in the top 25 this season.

10. Steve Stricker, United States — Even though he is semi-retired and has played only six times on the PGA Tour this season without a finish in the top-25, if there is any place Stricker can find his old form it’s at TPC Deere Run. He’s a local favorite from nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and played at Illinois, who is playing in the John Deere Classic for the 12th time. Strick has claimed three of his 12 PGA Tour victories in this tournament, in consecutive years from 2009-2011. He also has finished in the top 10 on four other occasions and despite playing only part-time last year, he was one stroke back in second after a 7-under-par 64 in round three, but closed with a 72 and tied for 11th.

Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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