Stricker takes lead in Barclays title defense

By Associated PressAugust 22, 2008, 4:00 pm
the Barclays Logo 2007PARAMUS, N.J. ' Steve Stricker is right at home at Ridgewood Country Club ' and the top of The Barclays leaderboard.
 
A year after winning across the Hudson at Westchester Country Club, the Wisconsin player shot a 7-under 64 in perfect morning conditions Friday to take a three-stroke lead over Hunter Mahan in the FedExCup playoff opener.
 
This reminds me of home to tell you the truth, Stricker said. This looks like a course that could be very easily in the Midwest somewhere. It reminds me of Medinah a lot. The grasses are the same. We putt on poa annua greens a lot where Im from. Its bentgrass fairways, bluegrass rough and everything reminds me of home.
 
The 41-year-old Stricker, 21st in the FedExCup standings, had a 10-under 132 total on the tree-lined A.W. Tillinghast layout, the tournament site for the first time after 41 seasons at Westchester. He hasnt made a bogey since dropping strokes on the first two holes Thursday, playing his last 23 holes in 11 under.
 
I think the course is in such good shape, thats why the scoring is good, Stricker said. I think as we get further along, the scoring could get a little bit better just because guys will find a way to play it, understand it a little bit more and feel a little bit more comfortable with what they are doing out there.
 
Mahan, 31st in the FedExCup standings, followed his opening 62 with a 73.
 
I probably hit it better than I did yesterday, but nothing went in, Mahan said.
 
Kenny Perry, effectively the FedExCup leader with top-ranked Tiger Woods sidelined by a knee injury, shot a 67 to join Angel Cabrera (67) and Dudley Hart (69) at 6 under.
 
Im ecstatic, Perry said. Im in a good position.
 
Anthony Kim (67), Sergio Garcia (67), Kevin Streelman (70), Charley Hoffman (70) and Paul Casey (71) were 5 under.
 
I definitely played a lot better, Kim said. Its a lot more fun when youre not hitting out of the trees and chipping out sideways.
 
Phil Mickelson was eight strokes back at 2 under after a 70.
 
A lot of birdies and a lot of bogeys, Mickelson said. I need to go out (Saturday) and have a good day and shoot 6 or 7 under.
 
Padraig Harrington had rounds of 72 and 73 to miss the cut by two strokes.
 
Im tired, the British Open and PGA winner said. I tried hard, but struggled to focus this afternoon. It really is a knockdown after the last couple of weeks.
 
Stricker eagled the par-5 third hole, hitting a 60-degree wedge shot from about 70 yards that spun back into the hole, and was 4 under after five holes. He hit a 5-iron to 20 feet on the par-4 11th to set up a birdie, and made a 6-footer on the par-5 13th to tie Mahan for the lead at 9 under. The four-time tour winner pulled ahead with a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 15th and closed with three pars.
 
The PGA TOUR's comeback player of the year the last two seasons, Stricker hit nine of 14 fairways, 14 greens in regulation and needed only 25 putts on the small greens.
 
They were perfect and they rolled great, Stricker said. They were smooth. They still held fairly well, but you could tell that they are going to get firm.
 
After finishing ninth in the points race for the eight automatic positions on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, Stricker is trying to earn a spot at Valhalla next month as one of Paul Azingers four captains picks.
 
Ive got two tournaments going on within one. Thats basically what I feel like, Stricker said. Im trying like heck to keep it out of my mind, but its nearly impossible. I feel a little more pressure.
 
Garcia has thrived on old-school courses, twice winning at Westchester and claiming titles at Colonial and Congressional.
 
Its a wonderful golf course, Garcia said. Youve got to drive the ball well and shape it both ways and make sure that your short game is in shape, because its quite difficult around the greens.
 
Hart birdied the 18th, fading a 3-iron around the trees lining the right side of the fairway and holing a tricky 6-footer from the top of a ridge.
 
I had to hit every bit of a 3-iron in there, Hart said. This is a great golf course. This is one of the best courses weve played all year for sure.
 
DIVOTS
 
Canadian star Mike Weir is growing a playoff beard. I was on vacation last week down at a lake and let it grow and got back and I thought, Hey, its playoff time, maybe Ill just keep it, said Weir, 3 under after a 67. Its a hockey thing. In hockey, guys grow the beards, so I thought I would give it a shot and see if it works. Eric Axley followed his opening 78 with a 65 to make the cut by a shot. Ernie Els missed the cut by a stroke with rounds of 71 and 73. Stricker last held a 36-hole lead in the 2006 U.S. Open. He tied for sixth. The top 120 in FedExCup standings will qualify for the Deutsche Bank Championship next week in Norton, Mass. The field will be cut to 70 for the BMW Championship in St. Louis and to 30 for the TOUR Championship in Atlanta.
 
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