Sluman looks for back-to-back success

SILVIS, Ill. -- While most of the top players rest after the British Open, Jeff Sluman hopes to follow up his B.C. Open success when the John Deere Classic begins Thursday at the TPC at Deere Run.

British Open champion David Duval, Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III are all skipping the event, along with many other top players.

Michael Clark II is the defending champion. He made only six cuts in 17 starts before earning a playoff victory over Kirk Triplett here last year en route to winning PGA Tour rookie of the year honors. This season, he has missed 11 cuts in 19 starts and is hoping to again use this tournament as a springboard.

"It definitely was a life-changing event as far as my golf career was concerned," said Clark. "I went from always wondering whether I could win to knowing that I could win."

Weather delays were a feature of last year's event as play was interrupted three times on the Sunday, finally forcing a Monday finish.

Clark bogeyed the 72nd hole to end the tournament at 19-under on the new TPC at Deere Run course, then watched as Kirk Triplett birdied the hole to force a playoff.

On the fourth extra hole, Clark clinched victory with a birdie.

"The playoff was the best thing that ever happened to me from a confidence standpoint," said Clark, 32, who was a teammate of Duval's at Georgia Tech.

The only player to successfully defend a title here was David Frost in 1993.

D.A. Weibring, the Quincy, Ill., native who designed Deere Run, has won this tournament three times (1979, 1991 and 1995).

Sluman battled PGA Tour rookie Paul Gow before making a great par save and an 8-foot birdie putt in sudden death to win the B.C. Open last week. It was the fifth career victory and first since 1999 for Sluman.

Gow made the tour this year by finishing ninth on the Buy.com Tour money list.

Steve Lowery and Scott McCarron are also participating in this event. Lowery has four top-10 efforts this year, including a third-place finish at the Phoenix Open. McCarron captured his third career title this year at the BellSouth Classic in early April.

The par-71 course is a 7,183-yard layout. First prize is worth $504,000.