Stricker in Position to Win Fourth Straight John Deere Classic

Steve Stricker's historic quest to win this week's John Deere Classic for the fourth consecutive time finally has morphed from pre-tournament promotional theme into final-round potential reality.

Stricker made four straight birdies on the back nine Saturday to shoot 5-under 66, moving himself into position to play in the final pairing with Troy Matteson, who also shot 66 and leads Stricker by three shots at 18-under par.

It could have been better for Stricker but for a bogey on the 18th hole.

Meanwhile, local favorite and John Deere Classic board member Zach Johnson of Cedar Rapids, Ia. moved into a two-way tie for third with a 66 of his own and now stands four behind Matteson at 15-under.  Left-hander Brian Harman shot 2-under 69 and also sits at 14-under.

Though he's trailing, Stricker said he likes his position on the leaderboard, because it will enable him to play aggressively from behind rather than protect a lead with too much caution.

"I've been in the position Troy's in, and it's a difficult position because you have the expectation that you should go out and win," said Stricker, who ignited his round with birdies holes 14-17.  "It's still very hard, because guys behind you are going for broke and they can be a little bit more aggressive and take a shot at pins, where with the guy with the four-shot lead may steer away from some pins and play a little bit more cautiously.  That's what he's going to have to deal with tomorrow."

Matteson said he was happy to have a three-shot lead on one of the game's finest players - and one he obviously respects and holds in high regard.

"You always want to be ahead rather than behind," Matteson said.  "Every stroke you can gain is good...I think you still need to be aggressive.  It's anybody's tournament...I'm going to do the same thing I've done every day.  Really haven't laid up or done anything different."

The 32-year-old from Georgia Tech has won twice before on the PGA Tour - at the 2006 and 2009 Open. Matteson's best finish at the John Deere Classic was a T-3 in 2007 and a T-10 in 2010.  

"Steve is a great guy," Matteson said of Stricker.  "He's the kind of guys that personifies what we're looking for on the [PGA] Tour.  He's the kind of guy you can tell your kids to use as a role model... think it'll be really fun to play with him."

Matteson also praised Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion who will play in the second to last group with Harman.

"Zach being from up this way, it's really good to see him near the top of the leader board," Matteson said.  "It gives people a reason to really come out an watch.  So, it's just good that those two guys are up there."

Johnson, who regards the Deere as his personal fifth major, was pleased with his 66 and was looking forward to his final round Sunday.

"I want to win," Zach said.  "I want to win every week.  It would be very special to win this week because of where I sit on the board and what this tournament's done for me in the past [awarded two sponsor exemptions]."

In his last three starts at the John Deere Classic, Zach as finished T-2 (2009), T-21 (2010), and T-3 (2011).  In his last 19 rounds, he has shot in the 60s 17 times.

And he said he's not feeling the pressure to perform that he once did as a sponsor pick.

"I had expectations back in the day, especially because I would get sponsor exemptions and I felt I knew the course really well and wanted to play well in front of friends and family," Zach said.  "Now, I've done it so many times - to say it doesn't matter probably isn't the right phrase, but the outcome is irrelevant.  You just go play.  That takes a little bit of the pressure off."

NOTES:  The field recorded 314 birdies in the third round, meaning that John Deere's pledge to donate $175 for each birdie scored on the weekend translated to $54,950 to Birdies for Charity so far...Australian John Senden, winner of the 2006 John Deere Classic, is in a three-way tie for fifth with former Ryder Cup player J.J. Henry and Navy veteran Billy Hurley III, a former sponsor exemption at the JDC...Veteran Jeff Maggert, who shot 62 on Friday, followed it up with a 1-over 72 and slipped to 11-under...After opening the tournament with a 72, 2007 JDC champion Jonathan Byrd shot back-to-back 66s to move into the top 30.  


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