Stricker overcomes pain to contend at Hyundai

By Jason SobelJanuary 8, 2013, 4:45 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Steve Stricker ambled down the Plantation Course's first fairway on Monday afternoon like a man on the verge of retirement. Which he is, sort of. Stricker has already announced that he plans to play no more than 10 events this season, part of a plan that will allow him more time with family at home and more time working toward his new charitable foundation.

As he made his way toward a drive that was (for him, at least) pummeled down the fairway, Stricker wasn't hobbling because of age – he's only 45, which is hardly ancient in pro golfer years. Nor was it a crutch for poor play. One hole earlier, he actually sat down in the middle of the fairway and stretched, the very picture of a player in pain. No matter. He simply stood up, went through his pre-shot routine and holed an eagle pitch from 67 yards to claim a share of the lead.

It's difficult to keep an injury under wraps while walking and swinging and walking again, but damned near impossible when a guy breaks up that process by wincing and limping and stretching his way around the course.

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By the time he had reached the next hole, just about every fan in attendance knew of his ailment – and if they didn't, they quickly found out. And so while Stricker struggled his way down the fairway, they called words of encouragement toward him from behind the gallery ropes.

'You can do it, Steve!'

'Stay tough, Stricks!'


The last comment got his attention. Stricker made a sharp right turn and retreated toward the ropes, where wife Nicki not only knew how to get his attention, but knew what he needed.

It turns out he’s dealing with … something.

“Nobody knows if it's a muscle with pressure on the sciatic nerve or if there's a problem with a disk,” Stricker explained. “My back feels great. I don't feel tight. I don't feel stiff. Just every time I get over to my left side, I'm getting a shooting pain down my leg.”

After three days of delays and cancellations due to gusting winds, call this an imperfect storm. Stricker was forced to play 36 holes on the PGA Tour’s hilliest course while enduring an injury. It was enough that prior to the round he alerted a rules official to the prospect that he might not be able to go the distance.

All of which makes it even more impressive that Stricker not only finished both rounds, but posted scores of 71-67 to find himself in second place entering the final 18 holes, just three strokes behind leader Dustin Johnson.

“I think I'll be able to play tomorrow,” he said of the chance to defend his title. “What am I, in second place? I'm three back, so yeah, I've got a chance. I'll go out there and give it a whack, give it a try. Yeah, who knows what can happen? Maybe I'll feel great tomorrow.”

More than a few observers commented that after the start-stop-start-stop nature of the last three days, this week's eventual contenders would need to be armed less with sweet swings and deft putting strokes and more with the mental fortitude necessary to block such thoughts from the forefront of their minds. Considering that inner strength has been a hallmark of Stricker's career, it should come as little surprise that on a day walking 36 holes with an injury, he did his best grin-and-bear-it routine.

“To be able to do that on that golf course with as much pain as he's in is pretty impressive,” playing partner Brandt Snedeker said. “I was giving him a hard time walking up 9. I was going, ‘How am I going to beat you if you've got two good legs? I can't beat you with only one.’ It's tough to watch him because I know he's in pain. Of all days to go 36, not feeling good on this golf course in this wind, it would be a worst-case scenario, but he played great.”

On Tuesday, Stricker will be back out on the Plantation Course, once again wincing and limping and stretching his way around the course. That may be the worst-case scenario for most players, but he just keeps going, channeling the physical pain into mental strength.

That doesn’t mean he can’t use a little help. As he walks through the course in hopes of securing yet another victory, at some point Stricker will hear a familiar voice.


Once again, he will gingerly make his way to the gallery ropes, knowing what he needs to go the distance.

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

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Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.