SILVIS, Ill. (AP) — Zach Johnson already was a member of the board of directors of the John Deere Classic.
Now he has another title at the tournament: champion.
Johnson won the Deere on Sunday with a birdie on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff. His 193-yard 6-iron approach from the bunker left of the 18th fairway ran up to less than a foot from the cup for an easy birdie, enabling him to knock off Troy Matteson, whose approach landed 43 feet from the pin.
“I saw it bounce on the green and hoped it would kick left,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t see the golf ball.”
Johnson couldn’t miss hearing the gallery, many of them friends, as the ball crept within a foot of the hole.
“I liked that crescendo from the crowd,” said Johnson, who is from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, about an hour from the Quad Cities.
The kick-in birdie had seemed unlikely minutes earlier after Johnson followed Matteson into the water from the same bunker on the first playoff hole. Each settled for double-bogey 6, then went back to the 18th tee for another try.
Johnson’s bunkered his tee shot again, but this time, he played one of the better shots of a career that includes a 2007 Masters victory and eight other PGA Tour titles.
“It’s one of the best results,” Johnson said.
When Matteson was unable to sink his long birdie putt, Johnson tapped in to secure his second victory of the year, adding to the title he won at Colonial Country Club.
While Johnson tried to downplay what winning would mean to him during the tournament’s first three days, with the trophy in his grasp he admitted that it meant a great deal.
“It just feels awesome,” Johnson said. “This tournament has meant so much to me and my family, from when they gave me exemptions to being a part of its board.
“I don’t really like making things a bigger deal than what they should be. It means a great deal now that I’ve done it.”
The duo had tied at 20-under 264 after Johnson closed with a 6-under 65 and Matteson had a 69.
Matteson had his best finish since winning the Frys.com Open in 2009, and needed a top-five placing to qualify for the British Open.
So rather than drive to nearby Rockford for a Monday pro-am and then fly to Mississippi for the PGA Tour tournament, he hopped on the charter that Deere has to ferry players across the Atlantic to the British Open. It will be his first appearance in the year’s third major.
“It’s a heck of a way to play a qualifier, for four days,” Matteson said. “When I started this week I really didn’t think about the British Open. It’s fun to play (Rockford) and then go to Mississippi.”
Matteson, playing with three-time defending champion Steve Stricker, led from the first round until a double-bogey on the 15th hole dropped him to 18-under, a stroke behind Johnson, who played a bogey-free, with birdies on three of his last six holes keying his surge.
But Matteson made up for his miscue with an eagle on the par-5 17th, sinking a 60-footer that drew a roar Johnson heard on the 18th green.
“I didn’t know who the roar was for,” Johnson said.
So Johnson two-putted for par and waited for Matteson, who matched him to force the playoff.
Johnson climbed into second in the FedEx Cup standings, trailing only Tiger Woods, and is fifth in the Ryder Cup standings.
“If it happens, great,” Johnson said. “In golf, arguably in sport, they’re some of the most fun and gut-wrenching tournaments you can play in. I love that.”
Stricker began the day with a chance for a fourth straight title, but played himself out of contention by driving into high grass on the 14th hole. He settled for bogey after a penalty drop, then bogeyed the next hole and finished four strokes back, tied for fifth with Luke Guthrie.
“It was fun trying to do it,” Stricker said of a potential four-peat. “It was fun, but I think it’s the putter. This week it was hot and cold.”
Stricker was attempting to become the fifth player to win the same tournament four straight times. The others are Tom Morris Jr., Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Woods, who has done it twice.
Scott Piercy’s closing 65 left him two strokes back in third, and John Senden posted a 67 for fourth place, three shots off the pace.
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