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DeChambeau looking to repeat at John Deere Classic

Golf this weekend ...

FILE – In this July 1, 2018, file photo, David Toms holds up the trophy after winning the U.S. Senior Open golf tournament at The Broadmoor, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Toms takes aim at the Constellation Senior Players Championship after winning the U.S. Senior Open two weeks ago. That win was his first on the senior or regular tour in more than seven years. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

By Luke Meredith

AP Sports Writer

For the first time in his PGA Tour career, Bryson DeChambeau will enter a tournament looking to defend a title.

DeChambeau’s breakthrough on the PGA Tour came last year at the John Deere Classic, which tees off on Thursday at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois. After entering the final round four strokes off the pace, DeChambeau birdied six of his final nine holes for a one-shot win over Patrick Rodgers.

DeChambeau will enter this year’s event as a strong contender to repeat as its champion as well.

With most of golf’s big names playing the Scottish Open in preparation for next week’s British Open at Carnoustie, DeChambeau is the highest-ranked golfer in the field.

The 24-year old DeChambeau is sixth in the FedEx Cup standings after winning the Memorial Tournament earlier this season. He is also 22nd in this week’s world ranking.

“There has been a lot of things that have happened over the past couple years, growing a lot definitely, and just learning how to make better decisions for my body, my health, my game, and figuring out ways to execute shots better and more on demand,” DeChambeau said.

Two of the most notable names in the Quad Cities event are Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson— a pair of Midwesterners who make it a point to play the TPC Deere Run every summer.

Three of Stricker’s 12 career wins came at the JDC from 2009-11, and he finished tied for fifth a year ago.

Johnson grew up an hour west of the course in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and is so connected to the tournament that he’s on the board of directors. Johnson, who has shot 37 consecutive rounds of par or better at TPC Deere Run, tied for 12th at this year’s U.S. Open.

I “feel really good. I think if my caddie was up here he would be more honest. He feels really good. When your caddie feels confident in what you’re doing you know you got some stuff going,” Johnson said.

•••

TOMS COMES TO SENIOR PLAYERS LOOKING TO BUILD ON OPEN WIN

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (AP) — David Toms is breathing a little easier.

Nothing like winning a major to toss a big weight off a golfer’s shoulders, particularly when he had gone more than seven years without a victory on either the senior or regular tours.

Now, Toms has a shot at another one.

He comes into the Constellation Senior Players Championship looking to build on his win at the U.S. Senior Open at the Broadmoor two weeks ago.

“I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to try to win a tournament,” Toms said. “I felt like I had chances but wasn’t getting it done, and that’s when you think about when you go home at night away from the golf course. To finally get that, have that behind me now, it’s all about going out and trying to play great and giving myself another opportunity.”

Toms is part of a loaded field at Exmoor Country Club featuring 49 of the top 50 senior golfers.

Scott McCarron, with seven top-10 finishes this year and a win at the American Family Insurance Championship at University Ridge last month, comes in looking to defend a bittersweet comeback victory in last year’s Senior Players. He made up a six-shot deficit at Caves Valley near Baltimore to beat Bernhard Langer and Brandt Jobe by a stroke with a local caddie carrying his bag. His usual caddie Rich Mayo rushed to El Paso, Texas during the week to be with his ailing father, who died while Mayo was en route.

“His dad Bud was a great guy and loved watching Rich and I golf and compete, and would scream and yell at the TV all the time, so kind of felt his presence all week long,” McCarron said.

Langer hopes to extend his record with an 11th senior major championship. He won this event from 2014-16 before a late collapse helped give McCarron his victory last year. Langer was leading by one when he dropped his tee shot into the water on No. 17 for a double bogey. He had a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 18 that would have forced a playoff lip out.

“It’s a major. It’s a big tournament for us,” Langer said. “We’re all geared up to do the best we can.”

Toms is looking to build on a drought-busting victory. He spent last week vacationing with his family in Wyoming, getting in some time on the course with his son and avoiding the heat back home in Shreveport, Louisiana.

A 13-time winner on the PGA Tour, he hadn’t finished at the top of a leaderboard since the 2011 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. That changed two weeks ago when he made two long putts down the stretch for his first PGA Tour Champions win.

Toms rolled in a 15-footer for birdie on No. 16 and buried a downhill 20-footer to save par after driving into a fairway bunker on the 530-yard, par-4 17th. He shot an even-par 70 to finish one shot ahead of Miguel Angel Jimenez, Tim Petrovic and Jerry Kelly.

Winning the U.S. Senior Open gave him a spot in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach next year if he chooses to play. A victory this week would get him to the Players Championship in March, where he lost a heartbreaking playoff to K.J. Choi at TPC Sawgrass in 2011.

“There’s a lot of things that go along with it, as well as the purse was pretty big,” Toms said. “It was almost like winning a regular tournament. All of that makes it pretty special. But at the same time, it was just more about winning a tournament.

“All of the other stuff is just a bonus on top of that,” he continued. “For me, I think it’ll be the shot to the arm that I needed to continue to play great.”

A pair of international golfers— Joaquin Niemann of Chile and Francesco Molinari of Italy — are playing about as well as anyone in the field heading into the weekend.

Niemann, just 19, has four top-10 finishes in nine PGA Tour starts and has already earned a special temporary membership after posting back-to-back top 10s earlier this season.

Molinari won the last PGA Tour event he played, the Quicken Loans National, by shooting 8-under in the final round. Molinari also won in England on the European Tour in May.

“I think for me being European, obviously first thing was to come over here and prove myself. So to get the first win already, I think it’s a big achievement,” Molinari said. “But I’m young enough or not old enough to think that I’ve got a few years in front of me, and definitely the goal is to win more,” Molinari said.

Dylan Meyer, a former All-American from Illinois who finished tied for 20th at the U.S. Open, leads the list of young golfers competing on sponsor’s exemptions — a tradition that’s become a big part of the John Deere Classic.

DeChambeau and Johnson competed at TPC Deere Run on exemptions early in their careers, and Jordan Spieth won his first career title while on one in 2013.

___

A previous version of the story incorrectly misspelled Jordan Spieth as Jorden.

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