SILVIS, Ill. — Sepp Straka won the John Deere Classic on Sunday with a final-round 9-under 62 that could have been much better, making double bogey on the final hole but taking the title by two shots when Brendon Todd and Alex Smalley were unable to catch him.
The 30-year-old Austrian who played in college at Georgia won for the second time on the PGA Tour, moved to No. 27 in the world and increased his chances of representing Europe in the Ryder Cup this fall in Rome. He shot 73 on Thursday but followed with rounds of 63, 65 and 62.
“At my best, I do feel like I can compete with anybody. Obviously the last three days I could have competed with just about anybody in the world, but growing up I never would have thought I would have a chance to even play on the PGA Tour,” Straka said. “This is all just a big dream come true.”
Straka, who teed off an hour ahead of the final group, started birdie-eagle and made four more birdies on the front nine to turn in 7-under 28 at TPC Deere Run. He made par on the par-5 10th hole but ran off four birdies in a row, none from longer than 14 feet.
At that point, Straka was 11 under for the day and 23 under for the tournament, needing to play the final four holes in 1 under to shoot 59. Paul Goydos shot golf’s magic number in the first round in 2010 at TPC Deere Run
“I wasn’t going to change my game plan or strategy for the 59,” Straka said. “The goal was still to keep the same game plan and try to finish and win a golf tournament. As fun as the 59 would be, I think winning the golf tournament is always more fun.”
Straka made routine pars on Nos. 15 and 16 and failed to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker on the par-5 17th, missing a 9-footer for birdie. On the par-4 18th, he hooked his approach from 181 yards into the pond next to the green, leading to a 6 and a 21-under 263 total.
“I hit the ball really solid, but I just pulled it way left of my target,” Straka said. “So, yeah, it was an unfortunate time for a bad swing, but thankfully it didn’t hurt me.”
Straka went to the driving range to stay loose for a possible playoff. Todd and Smalley, playing in the final group, had plenty of holes to match him, with Todd getting closest when he birdied the par-4 14th hole to reach 20 under. But Todd bogeyed the par-3 16th and hit a sloppy wedge into the par-5 17th for another par.
“Obviously Sepp went out there and played an unbelievable round. Hats off to him. Really happy for him. He is a friend of mine,” said Todd, who also played at Georgia.
Smalley was 19 under after his birdie on No. 14 but three-putted for par on the 17th. Both players needed to hole their approaches on the 18th and neither came close. They finished at 19 under.
Smalley said he didn’t know what Straka was doing ahead of him until broadcaster Colt Knost gave him a heads-up.
“I actually had no idea what was going on. I didn’t look at all, and that was my plan,” Smalley said. “If it wasn’t enough, then it wasn’t enough, and Sepp deserves to win with a 62. That’s incredible playing.”
Ludvig Aberg closed with a 63 to tie for fourth, the Swede’s best finish in four starts as a professional after an outstanding college career at Texas Tech. He was 18 under alongside Adam Schenk (68).
“I expected it to be a lot of fun, but it’s even more fun than I thought it would be,” Aberg said of life as a pro.
Cameron Young, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 19 in the world and the 36-hole leader, closed with a 68 and was part of a group of seven players at 16 under.