Stricker focused on 4th
SILVIS— Looking for advice on how to win the same golf tournament four years in a row, former Illini Steve Stricker went to the authority:
Woods has won four straight times at the same tournament twice. Stricker goes for a fourth straight in the John Deere Classic, which starts today at Deere Run.
Woods' advice was more of an order.
"He told me to get it done," Stricker said. "And he also threw me a jab, saying `Only one of us has won four in a row.' "
Stricker's victory last year was the most dramatic of the three. He birdied the last two holes, the 18th by rolling in a 25-footer from the fringe after a difficult approach shot, to overhaul Kyle Stanley.
Stricker, among the most mild-mannered pros, celebrated with a first class fist-pump.
Winning three in a row at a PGA Tour tournament has been accomplished only 26 times, most recently when Woods captured a third, and then fourth, title in San Diego from 2005-2008. Now Stricker tries to equal that.
"I know it's going to be hard, a big challenge, but I've got a lot of good vibes coming here," Stricker said. "This has been a great ride. I like to deer hunt, and I see that deer (statue) every morning coming in here. If there's any tournament I've been meant to win, I guess it's this one."
Stricker, 23rd on the Tour's money list, called himself more relaxed than he has been as defending champion the last two years.
"But there's still a nervous energy," he added. "So I don't know if being more relaxed is good or bad. I don't feel the pressure that I have to go on and win this week. I've had a great run, and I'm going to try like mad to do it again."
At the least, Stricker can draw on memories of past successes, plus the gallery. The Madison, Wis., native went to Illinois, and now has fans in the Quad Cities.
On Friday, Stricker and fellow Illinois grads in the field — D.A. Points and Luke Guthrie — will wear orange as part of Illini Day oni the course.
"You start to make a birdie here and there, you can go with the energy the crowd is providing you and get on a good roll," Stricker said.
The run to three straight titles probably wouldn't even have begun but for the tournament's charter jet to the British Open site, which started in 2008.
"The year before, seven players went from our tournament to the (British) Open, and they all lost their luggage at Heathrow," said tournament director Clair Peterson. "We felt we had to do something."
It boosted the depth of the John Deere field considerably, Stricker included. While only 16 of the top 50 on the Tour's money list are playing, 34 players in the field have won in the last two years.
"I was leaving Friday night and getting there Saturday, then have four days to prepare," Stricker said. "Then the charter came. It was always hard not to come here because it's so close to home. I finally decided to give it a rip."
That was 2009. Stricker beat a trio that included Zach Johnson by three strokes. He repeated in 2010, beating Paul Goydos by two strokes. Last year's dramatics gave him three titles.
"When you have a world-class player in Steve, it's not all that surprising to me," Johnson said. "His chances of winning this week, I don't have any idea, but it wouldn't surprise me."
Stricker wasn't alone in finding the charter the clinching reason to play the week before the British Open. This week, 25 players are expected to take the non-stop flight. A 26th will join them if he finishes in the top five and isn't otherwise qualified.