US veteran Steve Stricker, bidding for as third title in a row at the PGA John Deere Classic, fired an eight-under par 63 on Saturday to seize a two-stroke lead after the third round.
Stricker stood on 20-under par 193 after sinking a dramatic 15-foot par putt on the final hole to keep his margin over Zimbabwe’s Brendon de Jonge, who also shot a 63 Saturday and can qualify for the British Open with a top-five finish.
Stricker, who last month won the Memorial for his 10th career US PGA crown, has gone 39 holes in a row without a bogey but to keep the streak intact he had to escape on 18 after finding bunkers off the tee and on his approach.
“I thought that was pretty important, to finish it off with a par,” Stricker said. “I didn’t get a great lie in the bunker but I made a nice putt.”
The 44-year-old American would complete only the 21st run of three triumphs in a row at the same event if he can hold his advantage after Sunday’s final round.
“I don’t know what it is about this place. I feel very comfortable here,” Stricker said. “I feel relaxed out there. It has been a great ride the last couple years and I’m having a lot of fun out there.”
The most recent person with a PGA 'three-peat' is former World No. 1 Tiger Woods, who turned the trick at the 2007 Bridgestone Invitational. Woods, who has six such career trebles, has not played since May due to a sore left knee.
The list of icons with three wins in a row at an event also included Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus.
“I haven’t really given it much thought, but it would mean a lot,” Stricker said. “It’s hard enough to win an event three times, let alone three in a row. So it will be tough. I’ve got to fight through nerves, but it would be special to be part of that list.”
Stricker has won the past four events where he has entered the final round with the outright lead as he will Sunday.
“I don’t put a lot of stock in numbers - past, present, whatever,” Stricker said. “I just try to go out there and do the things that I’m capable of doing. You’ve just got to stick to your own game and that’s what I’ve been able to do the last four or five years.”
Stricker opened with back-to-back birdies, added another at the par-4 fourth and followed with back-to-back birdies at the par-3 seventh and par-4 eighth.
Stricker began the back nine with a birdie at the par-5 10th, birdied the par-4 14th and birdied the par-5 17th as well.
De Jonge’s best finish in a PGA event has been third, which he managed three times last season, but he likes his odds of dethroning Stricker.
“I think anybody’s got a chance that’s within a couple,” De Jonge said. “Obviously you’re going to have to play a good round of golf. But yeah, I think everybody feels like they’ve got a chance.”
De Jonge birdied the par-5 second and par-3 third holes and had back-to-back birdies again on the par-4 fifth and sixth. After another at eight, De Jonge took his lone bogey of the day at the 13th but answered with a birdie at 14 and closed with back-to-back birdies as well.
“I got off to a great start, which was the key to set up the round,” said De Jonge. “Tomorrow is going to be more of the same. You’re going to have to make a bunch of birdies.”
The African can claim a British Open spot available to a player in the top five at the John Deere who is not already qualified for next week’s third major championship of the year at England’s Royal St. George’s.
But also in the hunt for the precious place is American Chez Reavie, who led after firing a 62 on Friday but slid to third on 196, one stroke behind De Jonge, after a 68 on Saturday.
American Kyle Stanley was fourth on 197, three strokes ahead of compatriot Mark Wilson, seeking his third title of the year, and Australian Cameron Percy.