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Spieth targets a 'patient' John Deere title defense

(Reuters) - Twelve months ago, Jordan Spieth become at 19 the youngest player to win on the PGA Tour since 1931 with a thrilling playoff victory at the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois.

The American world number 10, who has since embellished his credentials as one of the most exciting prospects in the game, is back at the TPC Deere Run this week where he aims to defend his title with the same strategy that worked so well last year.

"Stay patient out there," Spieth told reporters ahead of Thursday's opening round. "I know that this week is one you typically have to make more birdies than a U.S. Open.

"Normally it takes in the teens to even 20 under (par) to win (here), and that's always tough going in knowing that and trying to stay patient, even though you know it needs a lot of birdies.

"I remember last year I was just trying to press off the bat, and I shot one over on my front nine of the tournament. I teed off on the back nine and I was two over in my first like seven holes."

Spieth trailed by six shots heading into the final round last year and spectacularly holed out from a bunker on the 72nd hole to complete a closing 65 before going on to beat fellow American Zach Johnson and Canadian David Hearn in a playoff.

"This year I hope to get off to a little better start than that, just knowing that the birdies will come out here if you're patient and you hit the fairways," laughed Spieth, referring to his opening nine holes at the TPC Deere Run last year.

"The golf course is so pure that putts will go in and you'll have some opportunities with wedges."

BURGEONING RESUME

Since that breakthrough playoff win as a rookie on the PGA Tour, after he had posted a 72-hole total of 19-under-par 265, Spieth has continued to enhance his burgeoning career resume.

He ended his debut season on the U.S. circuit by qualifying for the elite Tour Championship, becoming the only player other than Tiger Woods to do so after starting the year without any playing status.

Spieth competed on the triumphant U.S. team at last year's Presidents Cup, broke into the world's top 10 and tied for second at the Masters in April when he was aiming to become the youngest ever winner of the season's opening major.

Throughout it all, however, he has remained remarkably composed and level-headed for a player so young.

"I stay focused and grounded because I'm not winning," said Spieth, who will celebrate his 21st birthday on July 27. "I've won once out of almost 50 tries now going back to amateur days, and those percentages aren't very good."

Spieth competed in his 50th event on the PGA Tour at last month's Quicken Loans National in Maryland where he tied for 11th.

"That's humbling to me, and so I've just got to stay patient and my time will come," he said of his sole victory on the PGA Tour. "But I've got to put the work in.

"It's going to take a lot harder work than I'm even putting in now, and I'd like to think I'm putting in a lot of hard work. But it's going to take that extra step that nobody else is taking."

Spieth is the highest-ranked player competing this week at the TPC Deere Run where fellow Americans and fan favorites Zach Johnson, the world number 16, and Steve Stricker, ranked 19th, are also in the field.

Johnson has finished in the top three in four of his last five starts at the event, including a victory in 2012, while PGA Tour veteran Stricker won the John Deere Classic three years in a row from 2009-2011.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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