Howell, Schneiderjans lead the way at the Deere

Writing from Silvis, Illinois

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Really, now. The name of this tournament is the John Deere Classic, but considering the health of the leaders, shouldn’t it be sponsored by Palmer Chiropractic, the big school across the river in Davenport?

Charles Howell III is coming off a serious rib injury.

Ollie Schneiderjans was out nine weeks with back trouble.

Each scored 8-under-par 63 at rain-softened TPC Deere Run in Thursday’s fourth round of the 47th Deere, the Quad Cities’ annual festival of golf. Howell set the target score in the morning and Schneiderjans matched it in the afternoon.

They lead local hero Zach Johnson, Rory Sabbatini, Patrick Rodgers and Chad Campbell by two strokes, and a sixsome including perennial Deere contender Daniel Summerhays and quirkmeister Bryson DeChambeau by three.

For Howell and Schneiderjans, it now feels so good.

“With my injury, all I could do was putt,” Howell said of his several weeks of enforced idleness after surgery. “It drove me nuts, just not being able to play golf. But I realized how lucky I am to play golf for a living. I missed competing out here.”

Howell sank 123 feet, 9 inches feet worth of putts en route to his bogey-free 63, with eight birdies. His highlight-reel putt was a 26-footer that curled in on the par-3 seventh.

Impressive though that was, Howell was correct in saying the week was young.

“To contend, you have to putt well for four days,” Howell said.

Schneiderjans’ back tightened up at Colonial thanks to a too-cold hotel room, and he ended up pulling a muscle. That sidelined him post-Memorial to now, but you couldn’t tell it, considering his nine-birdie showing.

“It’s still sort of there,” Schneiderjans said. “It lingered and I tried to play through it. It’s been fine the last three weeks.”

He made 90 feet of putts, including 26-footer for a birdie on the par-3 third – his 12th holes of the day – and finished his round with three birdies in four holes, going 3-3-3-3. And the par was a tap-in.

“I changed a little bit of my (putting) routine midway through the round, made a little adjustment,” Schneiderjans said.

He didn’t divulge the change, but he’d best keep to it. His 5-under 30 on that side matched the low for the day.

Sabbatini, hitting 13 fairways, shot 65 with a double-bogey early in his round, but ran off six birdies on an inward 30.

“I really tried to focus on making sure I was precise with what I was trying to do out there,” Sabbatini said. “I kind of had a little bit of everything going.”

Johnson, the 2012 winner, his all but his last green in regulation to open with 65 for the second straight year, and his 31st round in the 60s in 33 starts.

“With this Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday rain we had, it’s one of those where you feel you have to keep the pedal down,” Johnson said. “I think my irons were the best part of my game today.”

Bubba Watson, who played only nine holes before Thursday, punched out a 2-under 69, including an eagle 3 on the par-5 second. But he was even par after a bogey on 13, rallying by sinking a four-footer for birdie on the 14th and a 12-footer for birdie on the 17th.

He might need a 69 again Friday to make the cut. Five of the last seven years, 4-under 138 has been the number needed to advance to the weekend.

Illini Watch

Amateur Dylan Meyer, who rolled in Sunday to get what he called “the shock and awe out of the way,” looked like a veteran in the first round, scoring 1-under-par 70 to lead the contingent of University of Illinois-connected players past and present. He was 2-under after a birdie on the 13th, but gave one back on the next hole before parring in.

Nick Hardy, Meyer’s roommate at Illinois, scored even-par 71, with five birdies, three bogeys and a double-bogey 6 on the 13th, and is tied for 76th.

Among the graduates from Champaign, three-time winner Steve Stricker fired a 2-over-par 73 with one birdie, but at 50, he’s the low senior. D.A. Points has made the cut only once in 11 years, and he’s in line to miss it again without a rally after opening with a 3-over-par 74.

Maverick McNealy of Stanford, the third amateur in the field, opened with a 2-under 69.

Around Deere Run

Defending champion Ryan Moore opened with a 3-over-par 74 and is tied for 129th going into Friday’s play. ... Local hero Kurt Slattery has had an adventure this week, first on Monday by qualifying in Pinnacle Golf Club, where he’s an assistant pro, by eagling the 18th hole from the fairway to make a playoff and then eagling again to grab the fourth spot available in the field. Thursday, he elicited a roar from gallery pals by making a birdie on his sixth hole and was 1-under on his ninth, the par-4 18th. A shanked second after a perfect drive led to a double-bogey. He doubled his next hole as well, but rebounded with four birdies in the next six holes and finished at even-par 71. ... Danny Lee and Carl Pettersson withdrew, Lee after a 74 featuring an inward 4-over 39, Pettersson after an untidy 44 that finished 8-6 on the par-5 17th and par-4 18th. Pettersson had every number on his card from 2 through 8. ... The day’s scoring average was 70.716, the highest for an opening round since 2007 (70.840). Only five holes played under par, with the par-5 second, at 4.465, pulling the round average under par.

Tim Cronin

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