Senden five off pace at John Deere Classic

John Senden carded a four-under 67 that featured an eagle at the par-five second hole, but the Australian is still five shots off the lead heading into the final round at the John Deere Classic.

Troy Matteson fired a five-under par 66 for a three-shot lead over three-time defending champion Steve Stricker.

Matteson had a 54-hole total of 18-under 195. Stricker was on 198 after a 66 that included seven birdies — including four in a row from the 14th.

Senden also managed two birdies with no bogeys in his round to lead a group on 13-under 200.

He was joined by Billy Hurley, who carded a 64, and J.J. Henry, who signed for a 69.

Stricker was optimistic of his chances.

“Those were four nice birdies in a row, which I really needed,” said Stricker, who fell five adrift of Matteson at one point.

Although he finished with a bogey at 18, Stricker kept himself in contention to achieve the rare feat of winning the same tournament four times in a row.

“I have a good time here. Obviously, a lot of good vibes going around here having won the last three years,” said Stricker, who is attempting to join Young Tom Morris, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods as players who have won the same tournament four straight times.

Woods has accomplished the feat twice.

Zach Johnson posted shot 66 for 199, sharing third place with Brian Harman (69).

A two-putt birdie at the par-five second hole got Matteson going, and he backed it up with a nine-foot birdie putt at the third.

He added birdies at six and 10 before his first bogey of the day at the 11th, where he drove into the trees.

Matteson rebounded with birdies at 13, 16 and 17 before his three-putt bogey at the last.

“It was interesting,” he said. “I hit a few bad ones and a few good ones and made a couple of long putts.

“It was an interesting way to play the back. I’ve played really well and have gotten away with a few things and that’s what you need to do to stay near the top.”

Stricker, who had one birdie and one bogey in his first five holes, began to build some momentum with birdies at eight and 10.

He launched his run of four straight birdies with a tap-in at 14, then drained a four-footer at 15. He holed a six-footer at 16 and drained an 11-footer at 17.

“If you drive the ball in the fairway, you have a lot of short iron shots and that’s my strength,” Stricker said. “And my putter is starting to warm up a little bit. I’ve just got to keep plugging along.”

Johnson, who is from nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa, drew a big gallery, as did Stricker.

He’s chasing a first title at TPC Deere Run, where he’s on the tournament board of directors, but he acknowledged the historic nature of Stricker’s quest.

“If I can’t win it, I wouldn’t mind seeing him win it,” Johnson said. “It’s not hard to be a fan of his — but anything can happen.”

Even Matteson understands why so many eyes are on Stricker, even though Matteson has a chance to become a wire-to-wire winner.

“It’s great for me if I win,” said Matteson. “If Stricker wins, it’s a really big story.”

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