Zach Johnson is into triple digits of the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in 15 years. Steve Stricker is not in the field. Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau are bypassing the event, too.
When the John Deere Classic tees off Thursday morning at TPC Deere Run, the field of 156 players won’t feature some of the prominent golfers that have been splashed on billboards across the Quad-Cities at some point over the past decade promoting the annual PGA Tour stop.
Stricker, a three-time JDC champion and already with two major titles on the 50-and-over circuit this season, is opting to play in this week’s Bridgestone Senior Players Championship in Akron, Ohio.
Spieth, a two-time winner at Deere Run, and DeChambeau, who prevailed here two years ago, are taking the week off.
With The Open Championship, the final major of the season, next week in Ireland and a World Golf Championship in Memphis the following week, many of the signature names don’t want to play three consecutive weeks especially with the back-and-forth travel across the pond.
The JDC field is suffering because of it.
Kevin Na, ranked 32nd, is the only golfer in the OWGR’s Top 50 participating this week. There are 14 others inside the Top 100 joining him.
Several are household names to golf fans in the Q-C — Kyle Stanley, Charles Howell III, Kevin Streelman and past champions Ryan Moore and Brian Harman.
There will be no Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson or even the most recent major champion (Gary Woodland) that gets the casual fan to purchase a ticket or flip on the television coverage.
Sure, JDC officials would salivate at having one of those names in its field.
Still, the show goes on.
And more times than not, even without a star-studded cast, this tournament delivers a must-see show. It fits the tournament's slogan of "It's more than golf, it's MAGIC."
Just in the last decade, we’ve witnessed a 59 from Paul Goydos, Sunday hole-outs on the 72nd hole to win or force extra golf, multiple playoffs and the first teenager to be a champion on the Tour in 82 years.
Compelling stories emerge on Tour every week.
We saw that last week when Nate Lashley won the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.
Lashley, a Waterloo Open champion in 2010 and 2011, was the last guy in at Detroit Golf Club and lapped the field. The 36-year-old lost his parents and girlfriend in a plane crash during his college career. He walked away from the sport for a while to sell real estate.
In just a week, Lashley went from an unknown to a millionaire, a two-year exemption and walking in the same group with Hall of Famer Mickelson and a Top 20 player in Tony Finau at the 3M Championship in the Twin Cities.
Can another fairy tale or feel-good story develop this week at Deere Run? The probability is high given this tournament has produced 22 first-time winners on the PGA Tour.
Defending champion Michael Kim was 473rd in the world when he obliterated Deere Run to a record 27-under par last July for his first PGA Tour triumph.
As of Saturday afternoon, there are 36 players in the field ranked outside the top 500. Not including the four individuals who will come out of Monday’s qualifier at Pinnacle Country Club in Milan, 17 players don’t crack the top 1,000 of the OWGR.
Some are journeymen — Ricky Barnes, Freddie Jacobson and 2006 JDC champion John Senden.
Others are in the infancy of their careers — sponsor exemptions Matthew Wolff (2019 NCAA champion), Justin Suh and Collin Morikawa. Wolff and Morikawa are tied for the lead after three rounds at the 3M Open.
Then, there are those who were among the best in the world at their craft and are looking to capture that golden touch one more time.
Luke Donald, a former World No. 1, is coming to the JDC for the first time since 2003. Bill Haas claimed the FedEx Cup title eight years ago. Jason Dufner pocketed a major championship in 2013.
Maybe, just maybe, it is the week local favorite Zach Johnson gets back into the winner’s circle.
The 43-year-old, a two-time major champion, hasn’t hoisted a trophy since winning the Claret Jug at St. Andrews four years ago.
Or, possibly a young star is born.
Recently turned professional Viktor Hovland, 21, was the low amateur at The Masters earlier this spring and finished 12th at the U.S. Open last month. In the field on a sponsor’s exemption, a win here could springboard his career path like it did Spieth.
The Tour is deep with talent.
Come next Sunday, another name will be added to the wall of champions and the tournament will embrace its champion regardless of his stature in the game.
The leaderboard will be void of the game's superstars, but this tournament still has found ways to prosper.
If history is an indicator, don't bet against it happening again this week.