Zach Johnson Wins the John Deere Classic; Stricker Just Misses Making History

When he won the 2007 Masters, he introduced himself in the Augusta National media center by saying, "I'm Zach Johnson from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That's about it. I'm a normal guy."

Zach needed no such introduction Sunday, when he won the John Deere Classic on the second hole of a sudden death playoff against Troy Matteson and denied three-time defending champion Steve Stricker an historic fourth consecutive title.

Johnson's pin-seeking 193-yard 6-iron second shot from the 18th-hole fairway bunker - the same one from which Stricker hit his other-worldly approach to set up last year's victory - settled mere inches from the flag. The shot ignited the highly pro-Zach crowd and set up a tap-in birdie for the victory. Matteson's second shot from the fairway barely rolled to within 45 feet of the hole before he missed the birdie putt that again would have extended the playoff.

"It just feels awesome," said Johnson, 36, a native of nearby Cedar Rapids, Ia. who has referred to the John Deere Classic as his "fifth major."  

As a young player, he received two sponsor exemptions from John Deere Classic tournament director Clair Peterson. Later, he accepted Peterson's invitation to join the tournament's board of directors on which he currently is an active and highly-valued participant.

"This tournament has meant so much to me and my family, from giving me exemptions to being part of its board...It means a great deal now that I've done it," Johnson said. 

Stricker shot 1-under 70 in his final round to finish in a tie for fifth at 16-under. The Madison, Wis. native and resident, who began the day three shots behind Matteson, narrowed the lead to one stroke. But an errant tee shot and lost ball on the short par 4 14th resulted in a bogey, which he followed up with bogeys on 15 and 17.

Johnson stood on the 18th hole of regulation with a two-shot lead when Matteson, playing right behind him in the final pairing with Stricker, poured in an unlikely 60-foot eagle putt on the par 5 17th. The putt hit the cup hard and rimmed the hole before dropping in. Both players finished at 20-under par in regulation.

On the first playoff hole, No. 18, both players hit their approach shots into the pond adjacent to the 18th green and made double-bogey - Matteson from the right trees and Johnson from the "Stricker fairway bunker."

On the second playoff hole - 18 again - their tee shots went almost the same places, although Zach's was in the "Stricker" bunker 10 yards closer to the green.

With a large crowd packed around the 18th hole amphitheater, Johnson's low line-drive second shot came flying toward the green. As it did, the fans held their breath before it hit the green and began rolling directly toward the cup. As it did, cheers seemingly could be heard around the Midwest in anticipation of a miraculous eagle 2. The ball stopped inches short.

Still, the crescendo increased, the cheers reflecting not only the crowd's appreciation of the shot but its pride in the career accomplishments of a fellow Midwesterner.

The victory was Johnson's second of the season and the ninth in his nine-year PGA Tour career. The $828,000 winner's share of the tournament's $4.6 million purse pushed his official career earnings to $25 million.

The win also moved him to No. 5 from No. 8 on the Ryder Cup points list, virtually assuring him an automatic berth. The U.S. will face Europe at Medinah CC outside Chicago, Sept. 28-30.

Matteson's consolation was a check for $496,800 - which should go a long way toward guaranteeing his PGA Tour playing privileges next year - and an exemption into this week's British Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes near Manchester, England. The highest finisher among the top five not already exempt receive an invitation. Johnson already was exempt.

On Sunday evening, a non-stop charter flight took Johnson, Matteson, and 23 other players to Manchester, where they were to arrive around noon Monday and begin preparing for the season's third major championship.

NOTES: Steve Stricker's T-6 finish moved him to No. 11 from 13 on the Ryder Cup points list. The top eight receive automatic berths, although Stricker is likely to be a captain's pick...In recognition of its 175th anniversary, Deere & Company donated $175 per birdie over the weekend. The pros made 628 birdies, meaning Deere will donate $109,900 to the Birdies for Charity Fund...Playing on a sponsor exemption, former Illini Luke Guthrie finished T-6 with Stricker, earned $174,800, and gets a spot in this week's True South Classic outside Jackson, Miss. Both Stricker and Guthrie were back-to-back Big Ten champions from Illinois...Kevin Streelman, who hails from the Naperville area, finished T-8, as he did in 2009...Past JDC champion John Senden finished solo fourth at 17-under, his best finished since his 2006 victory...Jordan Spieth, a sponsor exemption and the only remaining amateur in the field, shot 2-under 69 on Sunday to finish T-58 at 6-under for the week...Zach Johnson's victory moved him to third on the Money List with $3.9 million and second on the FedEx Cup points list...Johnson's regular caddie, Damon Green, took the week off to play in the U.S. Senior Open, where he finished 17th. Johnson's instructor, Mike Bender, a former Tour pro, looped all four rounds of the victory, providing tips along the way.  Green will be back on the bag at this week's British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.

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