Iowan Zach Johnson hit an incredible six iron to inside two feet on the second playoff hole to defeat 54-hole leader Troy Matteson at the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois. This is Johnson’s second win on TOUR this season as he found the winner’s circle at Colonial. Scott Piercy finished third and three-time defending champion Steve Stricker posted T5.
Johnson, who grew up across the river in Iowa, began the day four shots behind Matteson and one shot behind Steve Stricker, who was looking to win this event for a record fourth time. When the week began, all hailed this week as the “Steve Stricker Invitational” and with the three-time defending champion just one shot out of the lead heading into Sunday, his name surely was going to be on the trophy come Sunday night. Somebody forgot to tell Johnson and Matteson. Matteson was cruising along at 20-under-par before a double-bogey six on No. 15 brought a handful of players back into the tournament. Johnson posted a birdie on No. 17 to reach 20-under and looked like he was cruising along to his ninth-career win. Stricker was fading with three bogeys in his last five holes and his challenge disappeared with his final bogey at 17. Matteson, on the other hand, had one last chance to catch Johnson as he had over 60 feet for eagle on No. 17. After 360 degrees, his putt fell and he was tied for the lead. After an interesting two-putt par on No. 18, it was playoff time. Matteson, who had defeated Rickie Fowler and Jamie Lovemark in his last playoff at Frys.com was facing Johnson who was also undefeated in playoffs (2-0). After matching double bogeys on No. 18, they teed it up again on the final hole and this time Johnson made no mistake.
Steve Stricker was the story this week but Zach Johnson became the hero on the weekend. Johnson’s 2012 has been nothing short of excellent and today just adds to the totals. He’s now won on TOUR twice for the third time in his career (2007, 2009) and also has two second-place finishes in 2012. As I wrote in my preview, Johnson wasn’t playing very well entering this week but this is an event that is huge on his calendar and his recent results here have been fantastic. Johnson has always been accurate off the tee but this year his putting has made his game stand out. He was second this week in strokes gained-putting and third in total putts. He is now first on TOUR in strokes gained-putting for the 2012 season. In his nine-career victories, Johnson has come from behind six times, including four shots today, and has won the other three tournaments when holding the out-right lead. Nice combination! Whereas Stricker is the gold standard at this event, Johnson isn’t far behind as he extends his streak of sub-par rounds to 16 this week. Johnson only made four bogeys on the week, including zero on Sunday en route to his closing-round 65 (-6) to post 264.
Zach Johnson won the 2007 Masters on a cold, blustery spring weekend where par was an excellent score. Can he do the same at The Open Championship next week? Well…there have only been 10 winners the week before a major who have gone on to win the following week. Lee Trevino, in 1971 (Canadian Open), is the only player that has won the week before The Open Championship and gone on to lift the Claret Jug the following week. Johnson’s accuracy off the tee plus his ability to hole putts will put him in the conversation next week so stay tuned!
Déjà vu All Over Again?
For the second straight year it took an unbelievable shot from a big-time veteran player to beat the “off-the-radar” TOUR pro. Last year, Stricker hit an unbelievable bunker shot AND putt on No. 18 to defeat Kyle Stanley. This year, Johnson held his nerve in the playoff and hit six-iron to a foot to hold off veteran Troy Matteson in a playoff. Whew!
Twenty one of 29 (no 54-hole leader in WGC-Match Play) players who held the 54-hole lead have NOT gone on to win in 2012. Troy Matteson showed some real guts holing that eagle putt on No. 17 to force a playoff but his four-shot lead on the first tee over Zach Johnson was long gone.
Zach Johnson’s victory sees the U.S.A. dominance on TOUR in 2012 continue. This is the red, white and blue’s 25 victory in 30 events this season. Of the top 18 golfers this week, 16 were U.S.A. Only John Senden (T4) and K.J. Choi (T13) broke up the monotony. The only foreign-born players to win in 2012 are Rory McIlroy (Honda), Justin Rose (WGC-CC) Luke Donald (Transitions), Carl Pettersson (RBC Heritage) and Marc Leishman (the Travelers). Pettersson gained his U.S. citizenship halfway through the season but we won’t pile on…
There have only been five first-time winners on TOUR in 2012: Kyle Stanley, John Huh, Rickie Fowler, Marc Leishman and Ted Potter, Jr.
Zach Johnson joins Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan and Jason Dufner as the only multiple winners on TOUR in 2012.
With this victory, Johnson collects $828,000 and 500 FedExCup points. Johnson improves his position in the season-long standings from sixth to second. He now trails leader Tiger Woods by 32 points. Jason Dufner, Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar, respectively, round out the top five on the list.
Young Guns versus Middle Guns versus Old Guns
In 30 events on TOUR in 2012 our season-long standings are all squared again after Johnson’s second victory in 2012. The “Middle” have now equalized the “Young”, 14-14-2, as the “Old” folks are left in the dust for this season.
For the “Young”, age during their victory in ( ), Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24), Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan TWICE (29) Rory McIlroy (22), Justin Rose (31), Rickie Fowler (23), Dustin Johnson (27), Webb Simpson (26), Marc Leishman (29) and now Ted Potter, Jr. (28) are your winners.
The “Middle” guys are Mark Wilson (37), George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods THRICE (36), Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34), Ben Curtis (34), Matt Kuchar (33), Jason Dufner TWICE (35) and now Zach Johnson TWICE (36).
Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41) are the only “Old” guys to hit the board in 2012.
Troy Matteson: For the second week in a row a “Troy” was defeated in a playoff. Last week it was Kelly and this week it was Matteson. I guess that’s good news-bad news for Troy Merritt if he’s in next week! Matteson was looking to become the first player since Rory McIlroy at the 2011 U.S. Open to go wire-to-wire on TOUR. He came up one hole short. He led the field in strokes gained putting and birdies which is why he was the 54-hole leader and runner-up. He also was T9 GIR. In six-career events here, Matteson has made three cuts and has two top 10 finishes (T10, 2010; T3, 2007). He probably deserved more respect going in this week than I gave him based on that history. I was looking at his birdie or better conversion percentage which was 155th. Also, the fact that he had missed 11 of 21 cuts coming into the week which included zero top 25’s didn’t exactly push him up my list. The good news is that Matteson gets to skip the TOUR stop this week because he is now exempt into The Open Championship. Enjoy the chartered flight!
Scott Piercy: Piercy should find himself in the “Déjà vu All Over Again” part of the column every week because, well, it’s all-or-nothing for him in 2012. In his 12 made-cuts of 2012, he has 10 top 25 finishes. The last two weeks Piercy has been excellent and he has been rewarded with T12 (Greenbrier) and T3 this week. Piercy only made four bogeys on the week and didn’t make any Sunday as he fired 65 to wrap up his best finish of 2012. Don’t be deterred by his putting stats this week because he was a GIR machine, finishing T4 in that category. I’ve had Piercy in my weekly game the last two weeks and I can assure you that he’s THIS close to winning. He made nothing last week and nothing this week and was a combined 28-under par in those events.
John Senden: The 2006 champion and superior ball-striker was a no-brainer this week and he lived up to his reputation but in a different way than usual. Senden was only T31 in driving accuracy, T64 GIR and yet was in the top 25 in all three putting categories. Usually, it’s the opposite! Sadly for Senden, it was a combination of all three facets that didn’t fire on Sunday. He double-bogeyed No. 1. He missed greens. He missed fairways. He missed short, makeable par putts. He made three bogeys on the week. He made two of them on No. 16 and No. 17 after making eagle and birdie on the previous two holes. Senden showed zero signs of rust as this was his first event since the U.S. Open in June where he finished T10. Back-to-back top 10’s for the Aussie have been solid.
Luke Guthrie: Steve Stricker might have been the most famous Illinois alum this weekend but you need to get familiar with Guthrie. He’s played two events on TOUR in 2012 after graduating as has finished T19 (FESJC) and T5 this week. At Illinois, he won the B1G championship back-to-back and was the first player to do so since a guy name Luke Donald did at Northwestern just after the turn of the century. He is the first Illinois player to do so since Stricker played there. His 72.08 career-stroke average is the best in Illini history. This week, he started fast with 65 and ended even faster with the round of the day, 64, on Sunday. That’s impressive for anyone, let alone a kid making his second-career TOUR start. I’ll keep an eye out for Guthrie as 2012 moves on, especially at TPC courses. You should too!
Steve Stricker: I think I have already typed his name 103 times in this column and he DIDN’T win this week! He was looking to join an exclusive club this week if he would have won here for the fourth time in a row. Now we all can see why that’s an exclusive club because winning ANYWHERE four-straight times is next to impossible. Stricker found himself just one shot off the 54-hole lead and was ready to pounce on Sunday after birdies on two and three. Stricker cooled off as he only made one birdie in his next 10 holes before bogeying three of five coming in. His wedge play this week was excellent put his putting in 2012 continued to struggle when it counted as he was 54th in strokes gained-putting. This was the week that everyone was saving Stricker in the one-and-done pools and he gave you a T5. Nothing wrong with that! Stricker’s injury issues look to be behind him and in his last three events, he’s finished T15 (U.S. Open), T22 (Greenbrier) and T5 this week.
Scott Brown: In 16 events this season Brown has made four cuts but this is his second top 10 finish of the year (T5, PRO). His solo-seventh this week came on the heels after he WD last weekend as his wife gave birth to a baby girl early Sunday morning. His solo-seventh included two double bogeys this week which dug into his 24 birdies. He joined the TOUR this season after finishing No. 8 on the web.com Tour last year. Now you know what I know.
Kevin Streelman: This late spring and summer it’s seems like the only time I have seen Streelman on television on the weekend is doing commercials for Wilson irons. Streelman’s T8 was his best finish since his T13 at VTO in late April (10 events). Last week, at another birdie event, Streelman managed T56 so I am just as surprised as you are on his T8 finish.
Lee Janzen: He would have been in my preview for the U.S. Open but not much else this season. His best finish in eight previous events was T29 at RBC Heritage. The 47-year-old Janzen made the most birdies this week (T1) but he also slipped up in making the most (T1) double bogeys (three) as well. From a fantasy standpoint, I won’t touch him; there are too many Ted Potters and Billy Hurleys that I believe have a better chance of contending on a week-to-week basis.
Ryan Moore: Moore’s steady play rewarded loyal fantasy gamers this week as he now has made 10 cuts in a row and 15 of 17 in 2012. This was Moore’s best finish in six events dating back to his T5 WFC in early May. Moore’s putting was his saving grace this week as he finished ninth in strokes gained-putting. Moore only made 16 birdies this week but also had two eagles and only four bogeys and a double. This was Moore’s fourth top 10 of 2012. For a player of his talent, I always expect Moore. We’ll see if this starts another spurt of solid play from him.
Chris Dimarco: The 44-year old cracks the top 10 for the first time in 22 events in 2012. He’s made 11 cuts in 22 starts. Dimarco has battled injury problems throughout recent times and has really battled his iron play. He ranks 12th on TOUR in driving accuracy but currently is 172nd in GIR. Those aren’t combinations that I am looking for in weekly games.
Billy Hurley III: After making four cuts in his first 16 events on TOUR, Hurley three sticks has rallied to make three cuts in his last four starts. In those first 16 events T32 (VTO) was his best finish. The Navy man wasn’t going to quit and it was the AT&T at Congressional (T4) that jump-started his season. He MC last week as his normally solid putter went ice cold but the flat stick found life this week as he finished eighth in strokes gained-putting. His T8 was his second top 10 in three events so keep an eye on the hot player!
“Hey, whatever happened to…”
Ken Duke: Mr. “All or Nothing” was sadly “nothing” this week as he MC. Duke has been worth the risk this season as he has six top seven finishes on the season. His putter was doing work but he was 136th GIR on a course with 8,000 square foot greens. This week was a short-term setback, no more.
Ben Crane: Almost every email I received this week inquired as to why Crane didn’t make my top 15 list. The answer I gave was he was right on the cusp but his history at this event pushed me in other directions. His T13 finish this week was his best finish in five events since his T10 at CPIC, where interestingly enough Zach Johnson won as well. Here’s what I learned: whenever Zach Johnson wins, Crane will play well. RANDOM CORRELATION!
Nick Watney: Every other email was asking “where’s Nick Watney?” this week. The answer I gave was Watney had played 12 rounds in the 60’s out of 50-something played in 2012. I didn’t project Watney to fire four consecutive rounds of 69 or lower. Here’s how well Watney hit it this week: he was 76th in strokes gained-putting and first in GIR. He only made 17 birdies but it was only four bogeys and one double that kept him in the top 20 (T13). He’s not making anything on the greens and yet has finished T21 (U.S. Open), 10th (AT&T) and now T13 this week. He’s made 15 of 17 cuts yet he’s 57th in the FedExCup standings. He’s showing signs of life.
Kyle Stanley: Last year’s runner-up finished T19 in 2012 so we’ll put him on the radar for 2013. Stanley was a par machine this week on a course that needed birdies but he did manage four rounds of 69 or better. He drove the ball as well as normal but he still has been struggling with the putter. After missing four cuts in a row Stanley has now made four out of his last five. In those four made-cuts, Stanley has finished T49, T60, T22 and T19 this week. He has value in later rounds but he hasn’t shown me anything to reach for him early in weekly drafts.
Brendon de Jonge: Ho-hum another top 25 (T19), his seventh of the year; Ho-hum, 13 straight cuts-made and 19 of 22 on the season.
S.Y. Noh: “Soon You’ll Know” Ho-hum another top 25 (T19), his ninth of the year; Ho-hum 11 straight cuts-made and 18 of 22 on the season.
“And another thing…”
The analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat with GolfChannel.com's Ryan Ballengee on Wednesday at NOON, ET. They will be breaking down the field at the The John Deere Classic and answering your questions. Please note the day-of-the-week change. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.