SILVIS – The circus came to town Friday at the John Deere Classic.
It was in the form of a mass of humanity following the 12:45 p.m. pairing of Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker and Davis Love III, which had some serious star power.
Johnson is the defending champion, having won a playoff against Troy Matteson at the 2012 JDC. He's from just down the road in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and has a strong local following. The gallery was five, six, seven people deep following them throughout the course, especially around the greens.
"There's a confidence level for me here," Johnson said. "I like playing in front of friends and family, and I just like everything about it."
Randy Hahn of Iowa City made the short drive east and followed Johnson, Stricker and Love III most of the 18 holes. He also kept an eye on Sean McCarty, a pro at his local course, Brown Deer Golf Club in Coralville, Iowa, but as McCarty carded a first-round 82, most of his attention went to Johnson.
"Well, it's a lot better than being at work," Hahn said. "This is a good group to come and watch. Zach and Steve Stricker together, that's a real treat. You've got the last four winners right here. To come and watch the Iowa boy Zach, that's what I'm here for."
When Johnson pitched in for birdie from just off the eighth green, a roar went out that was surely heard all over the course. A man I was standing next to channeled his best Bill Murray from Caddyshack: "It's in the hole," he said three times, determined to drive his comedic point across.
Stricker also has a local following. He resides in Madison, Wis., and played golf at Illinois in the late 1980s. He's also a three-time John Deere Classic champion (2009-11).
"Needless to say, I'd like to see Stricker get a win this weekend," said Dean Hendrickson of Monroe, Wis. "It's kind of an open question right now. He's got to keep the birdies going."
Johnson finished with a 5-under-par 66 for a two-round total of 12-under 130, tied with Lucas Glover and Patrick Reed. Stricker is three strokes back at 133, following a second-round 66.
Love III, with 36 career professional wins and the captain of the United States Ryder Cup team last fall, found himself in an unusual position. He was clearly in his playing partners' shadow, evidenced whenever he was the last person to putt out on a given hole.
When that was the case, there was a mad scramble among spectators to get to the next hole, even though Love III had yet to hole out. He finished with an even-par 71 on Friday and is at 4-under 138.