SILVIS — Steve Stricker was saying Sunday he’s not sure how many more years he can play the John Deere Classic.
After all, he’s getting to be an old guy. He turned 50 earlier this year. He was the second oldest player in this year’s JDC field — after Davis Love III — and the oldest one still left out on the course Sunday.
And he did look a little like a tottering old codger as he struggled around the course on Thursday. But by Sunday, he looked like the Steve Stricker who turned TPC Deere Run into his own personal playground for several years.
Stricker equaled his best final round ever in his 16 trips to the JDC with a 7-under-par 64 on Sunday. It was five strokes better than he shot on the last day when he won the tournament in 2011, six strokes better than he did when he carted home the trophy in 2010.
For awhile Sunday afternoon, his name was back up at the top of the leaderboard, where it was pretty much a permanent fixture for so many years.
It’s something he didn’t really expect after opening the tournament with a 2-over-par 73, his worst start ever in the JDC.
“Coming off the two-week layoff, I just wasn’t prepared mentally,’’ Stricker said. “Had no momentum on Thursday whatsoever. Didn’t putt very well, wasn’t even thinking very well ...
“I needed this weekend to work on a few things and get some momentum especially going into next week.’’
There were a few déjà vu moments for Stricker on Sunday.
First, there was the fact that his name suddenly showed up at the top of the leaderboard in the middle of the afternoon. It’s been a very common occurrence through the years. Stricker not only won the tournament three years in a row, from 2009-11, but has six other top-11 finishes in the JDC.
Then there was a little bit of additional déjà vu on the 18th hole. Stricker struck his tee shot into the left-side bunker in almost the exact spot he hit it in the final round in 2011.
On that occasion, he swatted a miraculous 6-iron out of the sand and ended up with a triumphant, clinching birdie. This time he just poked the ball out into the fairway and settled for bogey.
Despite the less-than-Strickerish finish, he was smiling and joking with reporters when it was over.
“I just have good feelings around this place,’’ he admitted.
He said it didn’t even seem as unbearably hot and humid Sunday as it often is for this tournament.
“Today was a little bit nicer,’’ he said. “I definitely had a little more pep in my step today and it was fun … To climb up the leaderboard like that was a lot of fun.’’
Stricker improved his score in every round this week, following the 73 with a 67 on Friday, a 65 on Saturday and the 64 Sunday.
He has had better rounds at TPC Deere Run — a 60 in the first round in 2010, a 61 in the second round in 2009, a 62 in the third round in 2010 — but he’s never gone lower in the fourth round.
Coming into this week, he averaged 67.8 strokes in the first round of the JDC, 67.2 in the both second and third rounds and only 68.8 in the final round.
Since he now qualifies for the Champions Tour, he is playing as much on that circuit these days as he does the PGA Tour although he still has made the cut in nine of 10 PGA events this year.
He figures to play even more Champions tournaments in the years to come, which could impact his availability for what has become his favorite PGA event.
“I don’t know how many more of these I can play in, but I sure enjoy coming here every year,’’ Stricker said. “You get great receptions from the crowds and a lot of support from the people, especially today. I started going low and the people started coming out to watch. So it was a lot of fun again.’’