Just another comeback for Stricker at Riviera

By Associated PressFebruary 20, 2009, 5:00 pm
Northern Trust OpenLOS ANGELES ' With a history of comebacks, Steve Stricker is hopeful of another one at the Northern Trust Open.
A month after his meltdown in the final round of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, Stricker put together a 5-under 66 on Friday and was tied for the lead with Tommy Armour among early finishers at Riviera.
Phil Mickelson, who opened with a 63 for the first-round lead, was among those playing in the afternoon.
Steve Stricker
Steve Stricker's Friday 66 has him in contention entering the weekend. (Getty Images)
In more gorgeous conditions, Stricker hit a 7-iron to 5 feet for eagle on the par-5 first hole, then atoned for his lone bogey by hitting a 4-iron to 4 feet on the par-3 sixth, which played 202 yards with a bunker in the middle of the green.
Armour, a 49-year-old who has yet to make a cut this year, made a terrific par save on his opening hole at No. 10 that settled him down, and picked up the pace on his back nine for another 67.
Stricker and Armour were at 8-under 134.
One shot behind was a group that included Kapalua winner Geoff Ogilvy (67), K.J. Choi (69), Pat Perez (66) and Rory Sabbatini (67).
Stricker became a footnote in PGA Tour history when he was voted comeback player of the year in consecutive seasons ' first when he went from not having a full card to 34th on the money list in 2006, the next year by moving up to No. 4 in the world.
The latest crisis was simply one bad round on a windy day in the California desert.
Stricker was in command at the Bob Hope Classic until hitting one tee shot out-of-bounds and his next shot into the water, scrambling to escape with a quadruple-bogey that ended his hopes of winning.
He played the next week in Phoenix and missed the cut.
That one stuck with me, Stricker said. The next week in Phoenix, I shouldnt even have played. I should have just gone home. Mentally, I wasnt in it, down in the dumps. It just felt like I threw a tournament away with a real good opportunity to win.
The two-week break at home in Wisconsin was planned all along, but could not have come at a better time.
Stricker spent a week taking his daughter to school, working on his tennis game so he could compete against his wife, and putting three bad rounds in the desert behind him.
Losing a tournament in howling wind is no reason to panic, and he figured that out.
Ive had to pick myself up a number of times out here on tour, so Im used to it, he said. You need to move on, and just try to keep doing what you know how to do. And for me, thats working at it and trying to get better and try to get myself in that position again.
Armour has been out here too long to get overly worried by a bad start. He didnt play too badly in missing the cut at the Hope and Phoenix, but he was 10-over par last week at Pebble Beach when he said he played terrible.
Just needed to tighten it up a little, Armour said.
Among the late starters were 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, who was at 2 over through six holes as he tried to make the cut; and Vincent Johnson, playing on the Charlie Sifford Exemption. Both are playing on the PGA Tour for the first time.
Johnson birdied two of the first three holes, but ran into trouble on the fifth when his ball moved as he placed his wedge behind it for a chip shot. He wasnt sure if it moved, and eventually was assessed a two-shot penalty for a triple bogey.
Former Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger was paired with the next U.S. captain, Corey Pavin. Azinger opened with a 67, but followed with a 76 and was likely to miss the cut. Pavin, wearing a Ryder Cup logo on the back of his collar, had rounds of 73-78. Sabbatinis 67 began with a tee shot that went out-of-bounds on the first hole.
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