John Deere Classic: Five sleepers who could break the trend

Fans walk across a bridge at the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois. (Photo by Anna Papuga/Getty Images)
Fans walk across a bridge at the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois. (Photo by Anna Papuga/Getty Images) /
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Can a sleeper break the trend of known commodities frequenting the winner’s circle at TPC Deere Run?

Having lived in the Midwest, including the Quad Cities, the John Deere Classic has been a big week for me as long as I’ve been a golf fan. I’ve attended a handful of the Deeres in person, and otherwise watched full coverage when the trek from central Minnesota to Silvis, Illinois, is too much to endure.

I could go on and on about the passion I’ve seen poured into the event. The players are treated like royalty, regardless of world rank (of which there are no players inside the top 19), by fans and staff. Bonus points if your name is Steve Stricker or JDC board member, Zach Johnson.

Sunday is almost always dramatic. Whether it’s Stricker holing a putt from the fringe or Jordan Spieth sinking a Hail Mary to win, TPC Deere Run lends itself to an exciting sprint to the finish line.

These are the moments I remember most. On a more analytical level, something that stands out almost distinctly is how sleepers seem to fare in this event.

For a tournament of its stature, the John Deere Classic owns a pretty solid winner’s list in the past 10 years. Going backward it’s Ryan Moore, Spieth, Brian Harman, Spieth, Johnson, Stricker, Stricker, Stricker, Kenny Perry and Jonathan Byrd. Not bad.

It’s not all multi-PGA TOUR winners at the top, though. Inevitably, an underdog or two right there to grab that fantastic deer replica trophy, only to fall short. I still have a soft spot for Troy Matteson in 2012 and Tom Gillis in 2014. Both likely lost out on their last chance at PGA TOUR glory by pilfering multiple shot leads and running out of gas in playoffs against stalwarts Johnson and Spieth, respectively.

This year could be the year we see a break from the mold, and here’s my case:

  • The JDC is known for offering several spots to top college or freshly turned pro talent. The likes of Maverick McNealy, Curtis Luck and Sam Horsfield are capable of holding their own right away on Tour, but often have difficulty getting starts early in their career.
  • Trouble at the top: Defending champ Moore is making his first start in five weeks coming off of a shoulder injury. Zach Johnson hasn’t finished top 10 in a stroke play event since January. Stricker has been in fine form, but has had trouble keeping up with the birdie fest in recent years. The highest-ranked player, No. 19 Daniel Berger is making his JDC debut.
  • There have been eight first-time winners this season, six of which were outside the top 100 at the time of their win. D.A. Points, Rod Pampling and Kyle Stanley also snapped lengthy droughts this season.

So, who’s best equipped to break through a la Brian Harman in 2014? I’ll break it down.