SILVIS, Ill. — So now we’ll see if it is Back-to-Back Zach at the John Deere Classic.
Though Zach Johnson is three shots out of the lead entering Sunday’s final 18 holes at TPC Deere Run, he actually is closer to the front of the pack than he was entering Sunday’s round here a year ago.
Down by four strokes after last year’s third round, Johnson parred the first six holes on Sunday and looked like he’d be biding his time with everyone else on the JDC’s chartered jet to the United Kingdom, waiting for the winner to show up so they could then take off for the British Open.
Instead, the son of Cedar Rapids peeled off six birdies in the last 12 holes, tied third-round leader Troy Matteson for the 72-hole lead, and won in the second hole of a sudden-death playoff.
The names have changed in front of Johnson, but the challenge is the same Sunday. Make lots of birdies, leap-frog the leaders.
“Certainly I’m going to embrace some of those feelings that I had last year.” Johnson said Saturday after his third-round, 4-under-par 67 got him to 16-under 197, behind Daniel Summerhays (194) and David Hearn (196).
“What I do remember was that Sunday last year was a complete day of patience. I mean, I got off to a pretty slow start.”
Johnson made a 60-foot eagle putt and a 42-footer for birdie Saturday. He had four other birdies, but also had his first three bogeys of the tourney. Summerhays made nine birdie putts totaling almost 150 feet in shooting a 62.
Summerhays and Hearn have a combined zero PGA Tour wins. Johnson has nine. Summerhays’ best Tour finish is a tie for fourth, last year. Hearn’s is fifth, in 2011. Johnson was third at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial just six weeks ago.
But dismiss Summerhays and Hearn at your own peril. Johnson won’t.
“Both of them are great players,” he said. “I hope they’re intimidated, but I doubt that’s going to be the case. I’m not a very intimidating figure.”
The two leaders are the kinds of stories that used to dominate the JDC. Eighteen first-time Tour winners covered the tourney’s first 36 years. The first two winners of the tourney once it moved to Deere Run in 2000 were Michael Clark II and David Gossett, who quickly fell off the face of golf’s world. Ditto ‘04 champ Mark Hensby.
But this event evolved into something in which familiar golf names started winning. The last four champs here — Jonathan Byrd, Kenny Perry, Steve Stricker and Johnson — were all multiple-winners on the Tour before they held up the Deere’s trophy. Johnson may be the best hope for the “old guard” Sunday.
Summerhays wouldn’t be as popular a champion here as Johnson. Hey, who would? But how could John Deere not like having a winner from a Utah city called Farmington?
“My three little boys, they would love for me to hold that John Deere trophy up there,” Summerhays said. “This is their favorite stop. They’ve been talking about it all year, ‘When are we going to John Deere?’
Hearn will be playing in the final pairing on Sunday for the first time in his Tour career. You’ve never heard of him? Neither had the starter at the Tour’s AT&T National two weeks ago.
“Was announced this morning from Brantford, Ontario, Connecticut,” Hearn tweeted.
That wouldn’t have happened to Brantford native Wayne Gretzky.
Being a Canadian, Hearn will have his passport handy if he wins and earns the automatic entry into the British Open that the JDC winner gets. Summerhays said he also would be ready to board the tourney's chartered jet to Edinburgh, Scotland.
“I don’t think we have a passport for our 1-year-old, so the boys may have to stay,” he said, “but we may be able to find a babysitter between the grandparents.”
Johnson already has his spot on the charter secured. So if he wins, it’s more leg room for everyone. And the $828,000 first-prize is nice, too.