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Spieth provides big boost to John Deere

By Mike Hlas
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Spieth provides big boost to John Deere

SILVIS, Ill. -- The John Deere Classic's Clair Peterson is looking like the shrewdest tournament director in golf.

The JDC is the week before the Open Championship on the golf calendar. That's long been a deterrent to most established PGA Tour stars coming to TPC Deere Run to play here.

But for a long time now, Peterson has given sponsor's exemptions to the best college players in the nation and let them get a taste of PGA competition. That has built relationships with those players, and gratitude.

Related: Watch Jordan Spieth takes aim at the flag -- twice

Jordan Spieth got one of those exemptions as a University of Texas freshman in 2012, and he got another as a fledgling pro in 2013. He parlayed that opportunity into his first Tour triumph.

No thinking person would have criticized Spieth for bypassing the JDC this year in order to get to Scotland earlier to begin Open Championship preparation. Spieth is halfway to golf's Grand Slam with wins in the Masters and U.S. Open. But he feels a debt to the Deere, and he's here.

Sunday, a tourney that generally goes overlooked by the national and global golf media and doesn't typically get big ratings for CBS has a heck of a hook. Spieth takes a 2-shot lead into the final round on the back of a 10-under-par 61.

The slogan of the JDC is "Where Magic Happens." No one was suing the event for false advertising Saturday. Especially after Spieth holed out from 106 yards for an eagle at the 17th hole to take the lead, and followed it with an 18-foot birdie putt to put the cherry on top of his sweet round.

"I had that fist pump on the last because walking up after the second shot I said 'Mike [caddie Michael Greller, I just saw the board and I think this is for my lowest round that I've shot on the PGA Tour.' And I said that's pretty cool," Spieth said. "And he said just keep on trucking. I said 'Yeah, but I appreciate this and I really want to make this thing because I really want this to be the lowest round."

So naturally the 21-year-old hit what he called "a perfect putt on the perfect line," and it was, well, perfect.

Normally, the crowd noise from that would have been the loudest of the day. But the sound that came from the fans at No. 17 was something else.

Spieth actually yanked his tee shot at 17 into the woods off the left side of the fairway. He ripped his second shot through the trees onto the fairway. He then landed his approach several feet in front of the pin and happily watched it spin back and roll into the hole.

Magic happened. It produced what may have been the loudest cheering this tourney has ever heard.

From 500 yards away on the 16th green, you knew Spieth had eagled. When the fans in the 16th hole's skyboxes saw it on television a few seconds later, they roared, too.

More John Deere Classic: Leaderboard | Round 3 Photos

Their eruption came as Zach Johnson and Steven Alker were on that green after hitting their tee shots at the par-3 hole. Johnson, is four out of the lead and had a 66 Saturday that was pedestrian in comparison to Spieth's score, joked about the hubbub at 16 later.

"I hit a 9-iron to 8, 9 feet, 10 feet," Johnson said. "It was a little delayed reaction. I thought it was a very nice acknowledgment of a very average shot. These are my people, I guess."

He then earnestly added "That roar at 17 was not of the birdie roar. I thought maybe it might be double eagle. I didn't know what was going on.

"We talk about Phil roars and Tiger roars, and Jack roars prior to that. Maybe the young man has some Spieth roars now. It's pretty impressive."

The young man had a first-round 71 and was eight shots out of the lead after his first round. Now the field has to catch him Sunday. Good luck with that.

Peterson and Spieth exchanged nods and smiles as Spieth left the JDC's interview room and headed to the players' locker room. This tourney was good to Spieth in 2012 and '13, and the reverse is true this weekend.

"Our revenue is up 35 percent this year over last," Peterson said, "and last year's was our biggest since 2006. Our Thursday crowd was, my goodness, like a Sunday crowd. I wonder what Sunday's going to look like."

It will look big-time to those tuning in see the concluding round on CBS or the United Kingdom's Sky Sports.

With Spieth, said Peterson, "It's a worldwide golf story, not a Quad Cities sports story."

This article was written by Mike Hlas from The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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