SILVIS, Ill. – It wasn't pretty Friday at the John Deere Classic.
Part of it was the sky, which featured some ominously dark clouds that somehow skirted around the golf course all morning. More exotic locales such as Davenport, Iowa, may have been pelted with an isolated shower, but it didn't storm on the John Deere Classic.
But mainly, it wasn't pretty because Friday was "Illini Day" at the tournament. I don't say that because I happen to be an alum from the University of Wisconsin, a Big Ten rival of Illinois. It's just a fashion fact – orange and dark blue, the school colors of the University of Illinois, clash with the majestic green and yellow colors of the host, John Deere. (It may be a strange coincidence, but those are Green Bay Packers colors, too, or close enough, anyway.)
Even the half-dozen flags in front of the tournament's family fun tent were replaced with big orange banners featuring a dark blue "I" for Illinois. Blue and orange and green and yellow are like matter and antimatter – they should always be kept apart.
But, hey, that's apparently the kind of clout Steve Stricker, the superstar of the week as he goes for a fourth-consecutive John Deere Classic title, carries. He walks softly and carries a big stick.
Stricker is a Wisconsin native – from tiny Edgerton, near Madison – but it's a dirty little non-secret that he went to Illinois. He's a Badger State guy, but he's not a Badger, he's a Biting Illini. (Sorry, that's what Big Ten foes have long disparagingly called the Fighting Illini due to a forgotten on-the-field incident.)
The tournament didn't do "Illini Day" just for Stricker. This is Illinois country, even if it's on the Iowa border, so it never hurts to play to your already enthusiastic fan base. It doesn't hurt that Stricker is the BMOC – Big Man On Campus – at this tournament, and he was pleased to don an orange shirt with blue lines and navy blue slacks on Friday. A lot of fans followed suit with assorted shades of orange polos and T-shirts.
"It was good to see a lot of orange," said Stricker.
In a happy accident, another Illini alum, Luke Guthrie, shot 68 to move into contention at nine under par through two rounds.
Despite the day's demented rainbow shades, the tournament got good news, thanks to Stricker. He plodded along with an uneventful 67 to get to 10 under par through two rounds. That left him three behind leader Troy Matteson, who followed his opening 61 with a 68. It meant that no matter what happened later Friday, Stricker would still be within easy striking distance of the lead with 36 holes left.
So the attempt at the "Stricker Slam," as they're calling it here, is still alive. Stricker knows he can't avoid talking about four in a row, or even thinking about it. So he's embracing it in his own Midwestern way.
"Well, you've got to make the cut before you can win the tournament," Stricker said after his round. "That's always my first goal in tournaments, believe it or not. Make sure you're playing on the weekend."
He was happy that he had inched slightly closer to the lead. He trailed Matteson by four shots after Thursday's round. After Friday, he was within three of Matteson.
"I just have to keep doing what I do," Stricker said.
Which, of course, is play the heck out of this golf course. This tournament has turned into a Steve Stricker retirement savings account the last three years.
"I need a low round this weekend," he said. "That's what it's going to take. One of these two rounds on Saturday or Sunday, I'm going to have to put up a real low one."
Stricker's done it before, and he's got a chance to do it again. His name is near the top of the leaderboard with two rounds to go.
From his point of view, Friday at the John Deere Classic was actually pretty as a picture.