SILVIS, Ill. — For Chez Reavie, the mental aspect of overcoming knee surgery was tougher than the physical work of rehabilitation.
He didn’t get comfortable on the golf course again until he stopped thinking about his rebuilt right knee.
Reavie, who had surgery on June 1 last year for a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee, relied on near-flawless putting Friday to shoot a 9-under 62 and claim a two-stroke lead at the John Deere Classic.
“I knew if I just got it on the green somewhere, I really had a good chance of making a birdie,” he said.
It was a sharp contrast to the way he played early in the year, when he missed the cut in three of his first five tournaments. Reavie blamed those struggles on worrying too much about his knee and everything he missed while sitting out for eight months.
“At first I was kind of counting my starts and counting how much money (I wasn’t making) and I was so stressed about thinking about that I wasn’t thinking about golf so much,” he said. “So after about five or six tournaments at the beginning of the year, I just said to hell with this, I’m just going to go play and wherever I finish up, I finish up.
“Then I started playing better golf.”
Reavie found the greens at TPC Deere Run to his liking while making an eagle and a succession of birdie putts, going 8 under during one nine-hole stretch. He went into the weekend at 14-under 128 in search of his first victory since the 2008 Canadian Open.
“The putter’s been great,” he said. “That’s been the key. I saved some poor shots with good par putts and hit some good shots and made birdies. “It’s always fun when you do that.”
Reavie finished early, then waited to see if anyone could catch him. No one did.
Steve Stricker shot a 64 to finish at 12 under in his bid for a third straight victory in the tournament. Steve Marino (66) also was 12 under, while Jhonattan Vegas (64), Mark Wilson (67), Brendon de Jonge (66) and Kyle Stanley (67) were four off the lead.
The last two British Open champions, Louis Oosthuizen (2010) and Stewart Cink (2009), both were 3 under and missed the cut by one stroke. Oosthuizen shot a 68, Cink a 67. Goydos, last year’s runner-up, failed to reach the weekend after going 66-75.
Reavie was playing so well that he had his sights on a 59 after he birdied his 16th hole of the day, the par-3 No. 7, to drop to 10 under for the round.
Birdies on his final two holes would have put him at the magic number, which Goydos reached in the first round of last year’s tournament. But those hopes died when Reavie’s birdie attempt from 14 feet lipped out on No. 8.
“Then I kind of took a deep breath and I was like, ‘OK, now it’s not really in the cards,’ “ he said.
Reavie still had chance at 60 when he reached No. 9, but his second shot found the bunker right of the green and he made bogey after missing an 8-footer, the only putt he missed inside 10 feet all day.
“I couldn’t be upset,” he said. “I made enough putts. I only had 21 putts today, so I can’t really complain about a putt not going in.”
Stricker got off to a birdie-eagle start while playing the course with his usual precision. During his two victories and the two rounds this year, he’s 58-under par. He would have been a stroke closer to Reavie except for a birdie putt that skidded just past the hole on 18.
“I don’t know what it is,” Stricker said of his success on the course. “I make a lot of putts. I’ve been putting real well here and seem to read the greens OK. I don’t know what it is, but it’s been a good ride.”
Marino highlighted his round with a 22-foot eagle putt at No. 2 after reaching the green with a 5-iron from 225 yards. He gave one of those strokes back with a bogey on 5, but rolled in a 19-footer for birdie two holes later.
“Yesterday, the putter was really good. I made a bunch of putts,” Marino said. “Today, I hit the ball great, hit a bunch of shots close to the hole and was able to make a few putts.”
First-round leader Kris Blanks drove his first shot of the day into a bunker left of the fairway on No. 1, made double bogey and never found the rhythm he had Thursday, when he birdied his final five holes. He finished with an even-par 71 to remain 8 under heading into the weekend.
“I’ve just got to hit it a little better,” Blanks said. “I didn’t hit it very good today and got out of position a lot, so I can’t be too upset.”
John Daly was on track to make the cut for the first time in seven appearances here after an eagle on his 11th hole of the day, the par-5 No. 2, left him to 2 under for the tournament. But two holes later, he sent his tee shot into thick grass right of the fairway, hacked at the ball seven times while advancing it only a few feet on each try, finally took a drop and ended up with a 13.
“It’s just brutal over there,” said Daly, who finished with an 81 that left him 11 over. “I mean, I hit it in the worst spot on the golf course. You just can’t hit it there.”