SILVIS – Jordan Spieth is undeniably the poster boy – having contended for the rarest of sports feats, pro golf’s “Grand Slam” in 2015, while also winning the John Deere Classic for a second time in three summers.
However, the former No. 1 ranked golfer in the world is far from alone in the local launching pad’s 52-year history with fellow Major tournament winners Payne Stewart, Bryson DeChambeau and David Toms also among the 23 golfers who realized their dreams at the JDC as first-time PGA Tour winners.
Now, a host of young guns – led by 2022 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Cameron Young – are bidding to become the sixth first-time champ in the past 12 years at TPC Deere Run.
Mr. Young heads into the final two rounds this weekend atop the halfway leaderboard with a two-day total of 13-under and a two-stroke lead.
The 26-year-old fired an eight-birdie, one-bogey, 7-under par 64 Friday, July 7, to jump ahead of a large group of hungry pursuers – many also seeking their maiden victory.
“There’s a lot of golf left, and there’s a lot of people that are three or four shots behind me, and that can go away really quick,” said Mr. Young, who has been a PGA bridesmaid six times already in his young career — five of those seconds coming last season including a runner-up finish in the British Open.
“We saw this morning, I came out and birdied the first three holes when the leader wasn’t on the golf course, and all of a sudden I’m tied with him,” added Mr. Young, the world’s highest ranked player in the JDC field at No. 19.
“There’s just nothing that I can take for granted … It’s a golf course that is very scorable when you are in control, but if you play it kind of loosely, it’s not that easy either.”
Among the other young hot shots hot on his heels is heralded Swedish import Ludvig Aberg — one of Mr. Young’s playing partners from the first two rounds Thursday and Friday.
Mentioned among the JDC’s pre-tournament favorites despite only turning pro last month, Mr. Aberg kept pace with Mr. Young by posting a 7-under Friday to sit three strokes back.
The 23-year-old European Ryder Cup hopeful became the world’s top-ranked amateur last fall before repeating as the U.S. College Player of the Year in May. Mr. Aberg was in title contention heading into the final two rounds last weekend in Detroit at the Rocket Mortgage Classic before fading to a share of 40th — his first finish outside the Top 25 so far in three pro starts.
“Last week was such a fun experience for me to be in that position, which I hadn’t really been in before. So, I think I’m going to use a lot of those experiences to my advantage this week,” said Mr. Aberg, who chipped in for birdie on No. 1 to get his own eight-birdie, one-bogey round of 64 off to the right start Friday.
“It’s been a change, to say the least. It’s not exactly the same as a college event, but I try to embrace it. … All I can do is have fun with it and try to play as good of golf as I can.”
Also contending for his first PGA Tour win is Adam Schenk – who is 51st in the world rankings and sits safely in next month’s 70-man playoffs at 26th in the FedExCup standings.
Mr. Schenk is among a threesome currently tied for second at 11-under after a bogey-free 5-under 66 Friday.
The others at 11-under are previous PGA Tour winners – Brendon Todd and 24-year-old South African Garrick Higgo.
“Cam (Young) played really nice again. If he keeps playing like that, it will be hard to catch him, but we’ll go out this weekend and give it our best,” said Mr. Schenk, a former Purdue star who hails from five hours southeast of Moline on the Illinois-Indiana border in Vincennes.
“It’s great to have family support and a lot of friends out there, so that makes it nice hearing the cheers. … I think there’s some more coming in tomorrow, so I look forward to that and just seeing some people I haven’t seen in a while.”
Joining Mr. Aberg at 10-under heading into today’s third round are three others looking to reach the PGA Tour’s winner’s circle for the first time — 22-year-old rookie William Mouw; Korn Ferry Tour grad Kevin Roy; and another in the FedExCup’s Top 30 — Denny McCarthy – who lost in a one-hole playoff at the Memorial earlier this year.
Lurking in a large cast at 8-under is 2021 JDC champ Lucas Glover – who finished 6-under Friday to jump into contention.
Chicagoan Kevin Streelman also matched the best round of the day with an 8-under – scrambling to overcome an even par opening round Thursday. Chris Kirk, also in the FedExCup’s Top 30, is another familiar name at 8-under.
First-round leader Jonas Blixt, a 3-time Tour winner from Sweden, dropped two shots Friday to slump to 7-under for the tournament and a tie for 18th with a group that includes defending JDC champ J.T. Poston and Top 30 FedExCup contender Seamus Power.
Of the five other former JDC champions in this week’s 156-player field, the only one to survive the weekend cutdown was U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson from nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The 2012 JDC champ between victories in the 2007 Masters and 2015 British Open – Mr. Johnson shaved four strokes off his tournament total Friday to sit at 5-under in his 21st consecutive JDC start.
The cut fell at 3-under with the weekend field reduced to the top 70 plus ties.
That meant early exits for past JDC champs including 2018 record-setter Michael Kim (2-under); 2016 winner Ryan Moore (3-under); 2019 victor Dylan Frittelli (even par); and 2005 titlist Sean O’Hair (7-over).
Also axed was the field’s top-ranked FedExCup player – No. 9 Nick Taylor – with the Canadian finishing at 4-over.
The cut also claimed Taylor Moore (3-under) and Emiliano Grillo (2-under) – two players ranked in the FedExCup’s Top 30.
Among the survivors was Nick Hardy, the 27-year-old former All-American from the University of Illinois. He was in the featured group Thursday and Friday with Mr. Young and Mr. Aberg.
Currently 44th in the FedExCup playoff chase, Mr. Hardy shaved two strokes off his tournament total to sit at 6-under heading into the weekend.
Familiar names also reaching the weekend were nine-time PGA Tour winner Matt Kuchar (4-under) – and a pair of players in the Top 40 of the world rankings — Russell Henley (5-under) and Sepp Straka (6-under). The latter’s 8-under matched the low round of the day and saved his tournament.
Despite players teeing off in the afternoon finishing with umbrellas dotting the course to fight rain drizzles, 110 pros posted better than even scores after the first two rounds and a whopping 671 birdies were added Friday to the Birdies for Charity total.
However, today’s third round tee times have been pushed back from 6:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. because of anticipated inclement weather. Groups of three will tee off from holes Nos. 1 and 10.
Worldwide TV coverage is 2-5 p.m. on CBS both days this weekend. Golf Channel also provides early TV coverage noon-2 p.m.
Grounds passes are sold out this weekend with Grammy Award-winning country music stars Darius Rucker (tonight) and Blake Shelton (Sunday) performing in the first-ever “Concerts on the Course” series.