By most accounts, the John Deere Classic is among the favorite tour stops of the golfers who make it an annual part of their season. The fine people of the Quad Cities by the Iowa/Illinois border open their community, one of the smallest on the PGA Tour schedule.
They have helped make the Deere one of the feel-good success stories for the Tour, which has been beset with sponsorship concerns in some of its bigger events. The Deere, now in its 44th year, has no such issues, even though it takes place deep in farm country two hours from Chicago and comes a week before the Open Championship.
But still, the Deere fields are historically weak, with only three golfers in the world's top 20 taking part this year -- Jordan Spieth was the defending champion, while Zach Johnson (Iowa native) and Steve Stricker (University of Illinois) have local ties. One perk tournament organizers now offer to entice more big names is a Sunday night charter flight to whisk all the British Open entrants across the Atlantic.
But the marquee names remain few and far between, presenting an opportunity for a young golfer to break through, such as Spieth last year.
And Brian Harman this year.
Harman, in his third season tour, slept on the 54-hole lead and, after some nervous moments, shot a 5-under 66 to hold off Johnson to earn his maiden tour victory. He had four birdies on the back nine to give him a two-stroke cushion heading to 18. So the closing bogey didn't hurt him. His 22-under 262 total was one better than Johnson and three better than Jhonattan Vegas and Jerry Kelly, the Wisconsinite who's another Deere staple.
Spieth tied for seventh and Stricker, one stroke behind playing partner Harmon entering Sunday, faded to a tie for 11th with a 72.
For Harman, besides all the usual perks that come with a PGA Tour victory - such as a trip to the Masters for the Georgia native - he also secured himself a seat on that Trans-Atlantic charter, as the Deere victor gets the final Open Championship exemption.
Johnson has traditionally fared well at the Deere - winning in 2012 and losing to Spieth in a playoff last year. And playing stateside the week before the Open Championship has not hurt him. In the past three years, Johnson tied for 16th, tied for ninth and tied for sixth at the Open. In the previous Open at Royal Liverpool in 2006, Johnson missed the cut.
Spieth made his Open Championship debut last year - getting in by winning the Deere. He wound up in a tie for 44th, a more-than-respectable showing for the first-timer. Coming off two strong showings in the 2014 majors - tied for second at the Masters and tied for 17th at the U.S. Open - expect Spieth to turn in another solid effort.
Bo Van Pelt
Van Pelt will not be competing at Hoylake because he didn't qualify, breaking a four-year run at the year's third major. But his first top 10 of the season, a T7 at the Deere, bodes well for his fantasy owners. Van Pelt is still 101st in the point standings, but he's climbing as hasn't missed a cut in more than two months.
Stefani qualified for the field at Royal Liverpool based on his second-place showing at the Quicken Loans National two weeks ago. He likely won't be a factor in the Open, but now that he has secured his card for the rest of the season, he could make some noise leading up to the FedEx Cup playoffs. Stefani tied for 13th at the Deere and, if he's a free agent in your league, he's certainly worth a look-see.
Rose followed up his playoff win over Stefani at the Quicken by capturing the Scottish Open on Sunday. That moved him to No. 3 in the world and landed him among the handful of favorites at Hoylake. The Englishman has not fared well at the Open ever since he tied for fourth as an amateur way back in 1998. He didn't play at Royal Liverpool in 2006 and has missed the cut in three of the past four Opens.
Fowler already has a top 5 in both the Masters and U. S. Open, and he tied for eighth in the Scottish Open. Further, he has some quality showings at the Open Championship, including T5 in 2011, so don't be surprised if he's in the mix at Hoylake.
Last year, Mickelson rode a victory at the Scottish Open to his first Claret Jug. But 2014 has been a whole different story. Mickelson still doesn't have a top 10, although he shined on Sunday at the Scottish Open, closing with a 65 to tie for 11th. He tied for 22nd at Royal Liverpool in 2006.
McIlroy had another sterling Thursday followed by another tarnished Friday in Scotland. He coupled a 64 with a 78 and, despite a strong weekend, that was enough to end his chances for victory. McIlroy ended up T14, and declared himself happy with his game. He always has to be a considered a threat, especially in a major.
Scott has not played in a month, since tying for ninth at the U.S. Open. He's played only 10 tournaments all season, thought the extended breaks have not hurt him. No reason to think he won't contend at Royal Liverpool, where the current world No. 1 wound up T8 at the 2006 Open. Scott also was second and third the past two years. He's the favorite this week.
There has been only one Open Championship at Royal Liverpool since 1967, and Woods won it. But 2006 was a lifetime ago, or two, for Woods, now astonishingly more than six years removed from his last major win at the 2008 U.S. Open. With this just his second event since back surgery, it's hard to see him winning. Woods has fallen to seventh in the world in the just-released OWGR.