Stricker Lurking with Two Rounds to Play

After two rounds at the 2012 John Deere Classic, only three strokes and six players stood between Steve Stricker and the lead in a tournament he is trying to win for an historic fourth consecutive time.

Stricker, who trailed leader Troy Matteson by four shots at the start of his day, shot a 4-under par 67 Friday at TPC Deere Run. His  effort left him three shots behind Matteson, who followed up his opening round 61 with a 3-under 68 to remain at the top of the leaderboard.

"I'm three back," Stricker said.  "Yesterday, I was four back...I actually picked up a shot on the lead.  And there's a long ways to go."

In other words, if it's at all possible for a three-time defending champion to be unofficially "lurking" behind the leaders, that's just what Stricker's doing.  

"I like the spot I'm in," said the low-key Stricker, who's not completely comfortable with all the attention he's receiving this week.  "I'm behind. I would rather kind of be there, I think, at this point." 

Stricker knows what he needs to do - and he knows he can do it. 

"I need a low round," he said. "That's what it's going to take.  One of these rounds, on Saturday or Sunday, I'm going to have to put up a real low one and get right in there."

History shows the 45-year-old Wisconsin native is perfectly capable of doing so.  Since he began winning the John Deere Classic in 2009, Stricker has shot rounds in the 60s in 12 of a possible 14 rounds, including scores of 60, 61, 62, 63, and 64.

The super-low aspect of those rounds has to do with Stricker having an incredibly hot putter.  But for much of this year, Stricker's putting has been cold - something he has been working diligently to change.

On Friday, he said the work he has been putting in on the greens has been yielding results - not good news for the players trying to thwart his quest for the Quad Cities four-peat.

"I have been working on my putting," Stricker said.  "It's getting better.  I hit better putts last week.  Hitting better putts this week. Feel like some of my confidence is coming back.  I'm standing over putts thinking I have a good opportunity to make 'em - even from 20-30 feet I feel I can make them."

Of course, Stricker isn't the story at the John Deere Classic this week - it only seems like it.

On Friday, 48-year-old Jeff Maggert shot the round of his life, carding a 9-under 62 that put him at 12-under, a stroke behind Matteson.  He's tied with Brian Harman, who chipped in on his final hole - the 9th - following a brief stoppage of play late in the afternoon due to lightning in the area. He fired his second straight 65.  

There's also a four-way tie for fourth at 11-under.  The group includes former U.S. Ryder Cup team member J.J. Henry, Ricky Barnes, Robert Garrigus, and England's Gary Christian.  

Then comes Stricker at 10-under in a tie with two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen and rookie Tommy Biershenk.

Seven players are tied at 9-under, including John Deere Classic past champion John Senden (2006); John Deere Classic board member and former Masters champion (2007) Zach Johnson; 2009 PGA Championship winner Y.E. Yang, who overtook Tiger Woods in the final round; former Illinois star and rookie Luke Guthrie, who's playing on a sponsor exemption; last week's winner at Greenbrier. Ted Potter, Jr., a left-hander; Ben Crane, and Chris DiMarco.

Players took advantage of soft course conditions made possible when last week's extremely hot weather required the golf course superintendent's staff to put lots of water on the course to make sure the playing surfaces remained good for the tournament and beyond.

NOTE: Amateur Jordan Spieth - a sponsor exemption - made the cut Friday with a 4-under 67 and sits at 5-under for the tournament.  Meanwhile, fellow amateur and sponsor pick Patrick Rodgers followed his opening-round 4-under 67 with a 3-over 73 and missed the cut .  

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