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Top 5 At The 2013 John Deere Classic: Steve Stricker Leads The Pack

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Top Five: 2013 John Deere Classic

Stricker press conference
Eileen Blass - USA TODAY Sports

With just a week to go before The Open Championship at Muirfield, this week’s John Deere Classic is a great opportunity for someone to grab some much-needed FedEx Cup points, and possibly a spot in next week’s major. The winners of the John Deere Classic and the European Tour's Scottish Open will round out the Open field.

This week’s venue, TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois, is known for being one of the more forgiving courses on the PGA Tour. Playing to a par-71, average scores in the 2012 event came to 69.549, with winning scores the last four years at -20 or better. At 7,268 yards, the length won’t be a major issue, and the course is one of the easiest on the Tour schedule for both fairways hit and greens in regulation.

The course record at TPC Deere Run was a spectacular 59, shot by Paul Goydos in the opening round of the 2010 tournament. As good as he was that year, he ran into Steve Stricker and his hot putter. Stricker shot the lowest aggregate in tournament history that year, going 26-under to win his second of three straight John Deere Classic titles.

Eight years ago, the John Deere Classic was also one of the tournaments to grant a sponsor’s exemption to then 15-year-old Michelle Wie. Wie narrowly missed the cut in the 2005 event, and then came back to try again in 2006, her first full year as a professional. Unfortunately, she shot a poor round of 77 in the first round, withdrawing after the ninth hole of the second round citing heat exhaustion. Despite her less-than-stellar play, her participation brought national attention to the tournament, and fans came out in droves to see her play.

This week’s field doesn’t include anybody who’ll dominate the headlines quite like Wie did years ago, but there are several of the game’s top players, including past champions like Stricker and Zach Johnson. Here are some of the players I expect to be in contention deep into the weekend.

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5) Kyle Stanley

Michael Madrid - USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Stanley has been struggling for the last few weeks, but he’s also got three top-10’s with two solo thirds this season. He’s also got back-to-back top 20 finishes at Deere Run, including a solo second in 2011. He’s not afraid to take some chances on the course, but he’ll have to match that up with some equally fearless putting to win this week.

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4) Keegan Bradley

Debby Wong - USA TODAY Sports

Back in action after two weeks off, Keegan Bradley is making his first outing at TPC Deere Run as a final warm-up before the Open Championship. The owner of four top-five finishes in 2013, Bradley is ranked 11th in the FedEx Cup, and a victory would be a major boost with the playoffs looming. He shines on the par-5’s, ranking fourth in par-5 scoring on Tour. If his putter cooperates, he can go low fast.

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3) Jordan Spieth

Allan Henry - USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Spieth’s journey to his first professional win continues this week in Illinois. The 19-year-old former Texas Longhorn has already surpassed anybody’s expectations. With five top 10s in 15 events this year, it seems like the first victory is bound to happen someday soon. He had a golden opportunity last week at the Greenbrier, but couldn’t convert on any of 14 birdie chances on Sunday. With a victory as the only thing standing between Spieth and the playoffs, he’ll have his sole focus on making sure that doesn’t happen again this week.

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2) Zach Johnson

Debby Wong - USA TODAY Sports

Zach Johnson is attempting to do what Stricker did before him and defend his 2012 championship. Johnson didn’t have a great June on Tour, with a missed cut and a T58 at the Travelers Championship representing his best finish. A lot of Johnson’s 2012 success was due to a hot putter that seems to have left him this season, but if there’s a place to get that momentum going again, it’ll be TPC Deere Run.

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1) Steve Stricker

JD Mercer - USA TODAY Sports

Steve Stricker won three straight John Deere Classic titles between 2009 and 2011, including the lowest aggregate in tournament history at -26 in 2010. Stricker, currently 20th in the FedEx Cup standings, is playing in only his eighth event of 2013. His last time out, in last month’s U.S. Open, he finished tied for eighth despite a six-over-par final round. When he comes out to play, he makes it count.

Stricker is arguably the best putter on Tour, and he’ll find plenty of success this weekend. Look for Strick to make it four out of five just a couple hours down the road from his Wisconsin home.