Matteson sprints ahead

Troy Matteson shot a career best-equalling 61 to head the field after the first round of the John Deere Classic.

Troy Matteson shot a career best-equalling 61 to head the field after the first round of the John Deere Classic in Illinois.

Matteson’s score of ten-under-par puts him three shots ahead of Ricky Barnes and with a group of seven players – including three-time and defending champion Steve Stricker – a further shot adrift.

The 32-year-old’s round included five birdies on the front nine and a further five on the back nine as he both started and finished strongly. Having begun with three birdies in his first five holes he then repeated the feat on the closing five holes.

“I made a couple of putts that were really, really difficult, and I had a bunch of other really, really good looks,” he said.

“Any time you do that and your putting starts to come around you’re going to make putts.

“I didn’t think it was going to be 10-under, but definitely thought it was going to be good.”

Barnes notched up eight birdies and a solitary bogey at the ninth to put himself in a strong position.

However, from the chasing pack it is Stricker who will attracted the most attention.

Only four players – Young Tom Morris (Prestwick), Walter Hagen (USPGA Championship), Gene Sarazen (Miami Open) and Tiger Woods (Bay Hill and the Buick Invitational) – have won the same tournament four years on the trot and Stricker is looking to join that elite group. A win in Illinois would also ensure the American a spot in next week’s Open.

After a slow start, the 45-year-old made his move on the back nine, carding four birdies and an eagle to find himself three shots back and very much in the mix.

“I’m looking at it as an opportunity. It’s fun. But there is pressure involved. You’re trying to do it and there’s a lot of expectations not only from me, but from a lot of other people to do it too,” said Stricker.

“I try to tell myself, I’ve won it three times. How in the heck can I win to the fourth time?

“I’m trying to downplay it to myself. Maybe it’s working. I’ve done that every year here. Every time I come back I’m like, oh, there is no chance I can win again.”