Stricker Strictly Striking Saturday

By Brian HewittJuly 21, 2007, 4:00 pm
Steve Stricker just keeps coming back.
 
Last season he was the PGA TOURS Comeback Player of the Year, climbing from No. 162 to 34 on the money list and making 15 of 17 cuts despite limited status.
 
You dont want to win that award too many times, Stricker said cautiously.
 
Prior to that he lost his card in 2004 and questioned his desire to play the game that was his living. I wasnt sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, he said.
 
And worse, he added, I beat myself up for a while.
 
At the root of his problems was a driver swing that produced either snap hooks or high blocks. He found a way around it for a while thanks to putting and pure talent. At the 1998 PGA Championship at Sahalee he finished second to Vijay Singh despite never taking driver out of the bag all week.
 
But the spiral continued downward. Finally, through sure dint of hard work, Stricker straightened his way out of what had turned into a nightmare slump.
 
And suddenly now the 40-year-old Stricker finds himself poised to come all the way back from the cant miss label he earned 11 years ago when he won twice on TOUR, including a tour de force victory at the 1996 Western Open where he spent the week hitting medium and short irons into the par 5s and beating everybody in the field by eight shots.
 
Suddenly Steve Stricker finds himself poised to surge Sunday in the final round of the Open Championship if Sergio Garcia stumbles.
 
Garcia and Stricker will be the last twosome off at Carnoustie where the Spaniards lead is three over Stricker, whose lead over a group tied for third, is also three.
 
Until last year, Stricker had been down so long it looked like up thanks to injuries and the chronic wildness with the driver. He still gets emotional talking about it and those scars surfaced during a post-round interview.
 
This is part of my problem, Stricker said, fighting back tears. I need to get tougher on the inside.
 
The unassuming Stricker was plenty tough Saturday at Carnoustie where he spent just 23 putts while authoring a competitive course record of 7-under 64 which left him 6-under for the week. The 64 was one shot off the lowest score ever carded by anybody in a major championship anywhere.
 
Stricker birdied his first three holes and four of the first five en route to an outgoing 31. Stout par saves at Nos. 15 and 18 coming home kept his round bogey free. In his words, it was a clean card.
 
And it would have pushed him even closer to the lead if Garcia hadnt fashioned a clean card of his own to cement the 54-hole lead at 9-under. The previous lowest Open Championship rounds at Carnoustie were the 65s turned in by Garcia Thursday and Aussie Jack Newton in 1975.
 
A quick statistical check shows we shouldnt be surprised. Stricker entered the week ranked second in Rd. 3 scoring average on the PGA TOUR. He has also pushed his way up to No. 16 in the Official World Golf Ranking and 11th on the FedExCup point standings.
 
So how has Stricker done on Sundays this year?
 
His TOUR scoring rank is 64th in that category. Garcias is 38th.
 
Stricker has hit 31 of 45 fairways the first three rounds ands isnt afraid to unsheathe the driver any more. By comparison, two-time defending champion Tiger Woods has struggled off the tee and fought his swing all week. Woods trails Garcia by eight shots.
 
Ive still given myself a chance to win, Woods said after a Saturday 69.
 
But Strickers chances are better. He finished in the top 10 at the U.S. Open last year and was hanging around the top of the leaderboard late Sunday at Oakmont in last months U.S. Open.
 
Yes, Stricker still has self-doubts, a golfing character flaw Garcia has shown no signs of evidencing this week. But Garcia, who carries the hopes of Europe and the burden of having never won a major championship, will face more pressure.
 
If you have ever met Steve Stricker, you know why it is impossible not to like him personally. It was very difficult this week for him to skip his home game and fifth major'The U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee, an event he hadnt missed since 1990.
 
This is his first British Open since 2002.
 
But Steve Stricker is back. Hes back at the Open Championship. Back at the top of the leaderboard. And back from the depths.
 
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    Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

    Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

    Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

    In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

    Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

    “I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

    Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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    Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

    In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


    Made Cut

    Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

    Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    September can’t get here quick enough.

    Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

    There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

    In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


    Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

    On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

    “I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

    The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

    Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

    Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

    The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

    The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

    “My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


    Missed Cut

    Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

    After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

    It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

    Tweet of the week:

    It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

    The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”