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SILVIS, Ill. — Someone with family roots in Cedar Rapids is in contention to win the John Deere Classic.
It’s two someones, actually. One is Cedar Rapids native Zach Johnson, an almost-perennial contender here. He shot a second-round 67 Friday to get to 10-under par overall. He’s tied for third place, three shots out of the lead.
The someone else is the leader, Patrick Rodgers. His father, Charlie Rodgers, was born in Cedar Rapids. He didn’t leave any footprints, mainly because he wasn’t old enough to walk when he left town.
“He lived there for six months,” Patrick Rodgers said at TPC Deere Run Friday after firing a 7-under 64 to take a two-shot lead over Bryson DeChambeau. “My grandpa worked for a fertilizer company. He had to move around a lot before they finally settled down in Indianapolis.”
Patrick Rodgers has helped out Cedar Rapids. On Monday he made his third appearance at a Zach Johnson Foundation Classic, benefiting Cedar Rapids youth. Now he’s trying to do something for himself. Namely, earn his first PGA Tour win.
Rodgers made putts totaling almost 150 feet Friday, including a 51-footer for birdie on the seventh hole. He also made a birdie pitch from the rough on No. 3, 49 feet from the cup.
It was a fairly phenomenal day from a former amateur phenom who has been less than phenomenal in his two seasons on the PGA Tour. Rodgers won the 2014 Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s top college golfer when he was at Stanford, where he tied Tiger Woods’ school record of 11 tournament titles.
Rodgers was No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking for 16 straight weeks that year.
But his brief pro career has been punctuated by frustration. He has missed 13 cuts in 23 Tour events this season and is 108th in the FedExCup standings. He tied for fourth in January’s Farmers Insurance Open, but hasn’t fared better than 22nd since.
However, Deere Run is Rodgers’ happy place. He was given sponsor’s exemptions every year from 2012 to 2015. As a 21-year-old in 2013, he briefly had first place to himself during the third round of the JDC before eventually tying for 15th.
“I’ll never forget looking up at the leaderboard — I think it was on the 13th green that year — third round,” Rodgers said. “I saw my name up there by myself and I had the lead for the first time in a Tour event and started freaking out.”
Rodgers, now a ripe old 25, reacted to assuming the lead Friday by adding birdies.
“He’s a great kid, a terrific kid, talent that is immense,” Johnson said. “I mean, his amateur resume is one of the best we’ve seen probably in the last I don’t know how many years.
“We have the same manager (Brad Buffoni), so I’ve gotten to know him very, very well. Good Midwest kid.”
Johnson summed up what he thinks about Rodgers’ golf game by saying “It’s just a matter of time (until he wins a Tour event). It’s not a matter of if. Hopefully it’s not this week.”
Meaning, he would like to earn his second JDC championship and 13th on the Tour.
Johnson missed four birdie putts of 8 or 9 feet. But his overall game was sharp.
“I drove it awesome,” he said, “probably as far as I’ve ever driven it. … Tee-to-green, it was really good.
“I think the key for the weekend is certainly just to continue what I’m doing: Hit fairways and give myself opportunities.”
As for DeChambeau, he is another former amateur superstar. He won both the NCAA Division I individual title and the U.S. Amateur two years ago. He is a Tour rookie who is 114th in FedExCup points.
“I thought coming out here my first year I would be killing it and I’m not,” DeChambeau said.
“At the end of the day, it’s where we are right now. I’m moving in the right direction.”
Rodgers, DeChambeau and Johnson will play in Saturday’s final threesome, starting at 11:40 a.m.