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Stricker wins Deere Classic

Photo by Mike Phillips

Photo by Mike Phillips

SILVIS, Ill. -- Even with a big lead, Steve Stricker knew he could be in for a rough final round at the John Deere Classic.

And that's exactly what he got.

Stricker led by seven strokes with 17 holes to play. With five holes to go, the lead was down to just two. But he maintained that margin the rest of the way Sunday and won the tournament for the second straight year, closing with a 1-under par 70 that was just enough to beat Paul Goydos.

"It's a position you want to be in, with a big lead, but you know you have everything to lose," Stricker said. "This is the exactly the same way I felt at Northern Trust. It was difficult. It's a hard round to play."

Stricker had a six-shot lead in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera in February and had to scramble to win by two. On Sunday, he found himself doing the same thing.

He played it safe and his putting wasn't sharp. The shot-making that had allowed him to record the lowest 54-hole total in PGA Tour history wasn't there. But he came through with a critical birdie after driving into the trees on No. 17 and finished with a 258 -- 26 under and a record for the tournament.

"You don't want to give shots away and then you end up playing a little safer than you normally do and it leads to tougher birdie putts," Stricker said. "Then they creep in closer because they were playing some good golf."

Goydos, who dazzled the golf world with his 59 in the opening round, shot a solid 66 but still fell short of dethroning Stricker, who won for the ninth time in his career.

Jeff Maggert shot a 70 to finish six strokes back.

Stricker started this final day with a six-shot lead and quickly bumped it to seven with a 7-foot birdie putt on the first hole. But he had to battle through the rest of the round before essentially sealing his victory at 17.

After driving into the trees right of the fairway for the second straight day, Stricker punched out to 91 yards, right in front of the green, then knocked a sand wedge to six feet. Measuring the putt carefully, Stricker tapped the ball and as fans yelled "Get in the hole," it dropped.

"I told myself you can make this and you need to make this," he said. "I look back at some of the big putts that I've made and there's nothing to be scared of and I rolled it in. So that was a big putt. To go into the last hole with two shots instead of one was huge."

Goydos also birdied 17 to stay two behind, but his last hope ended when he hit into the water on 18. Stricker bogeyed the hole after laying up and hitting into the left rough, but it didn't matter -- he was a champion again.

"Strick was hard to catch," Goydos said. "I tried and kept pushing and chipping and grinding and biting at him and doing what I could. But in the end, the putt he made on 17 was a world-class putt. That's what top five players do, that's what Ryder Cup players do."

With the championship sown up, Stricker hit a safe shot to the green on 18 and happily took his bogey. The world's fourth-ranked golfer doffed his cap and hugged his caddie and Goydos after tapping in his final shot.

Goydos, who had been trying for his first win since 2007, qualified for the British Open with his second-place finish. Deere officials arranged for two charter jets to fly the players direct to Scotland on Sunday night.

"I competed reasonably well today," Goydos said. "There are dozens of things I'm excited about and the perk is I get to go over and play at St. Andrews."

The final groups started three hours early because rain was forecast and they played in threesomes instead of pairs. And it was just in time -- it began sprinkling as Stricker, Goydos and Maggert played the 18th.

Maggert drew within four strokes of Stricker on the back nine, but fell back when he bogeyed 13.

Stricker also birdied the second hole on Sunday to match those by Goydos and Maggert. But things got tougher when he missed the green at No. 4 and took a bogey after leaving his 8-foot putt for par 3 inches short.

That changed the whole atmosphere of the round, he said.

"I was aggressive, feeling good," Stricker said. "I hit a good drive at 4 and then just walk off with a bogey. And (Maggert) makes birdie and all of a sudden my lead is five."

After dominating the TPC Deere Run course for three rounds, Stricker had a shot at the PGA Tour scoring record of 254 and the record of 32 birdies for 72 holes.

He fell four strokes and one birdie short of matching those numbers, but he got a victory and that will make the long flight to St. Andrews seem a whole lot shorter.

"This is why we're playing right here," Stricker said, pointing to the trophy on the table in front of him, "to win tournaments. I wouldn't trade anything for this."