'Home game' for Stricker exciting and overwhelming

By Randall MellJune 13, 2017, 9:14 pm

ERIN, Wis. – Steve Stricker’s greatest challenge this week may not necessarily be making birdies.

Not the way fellow Wisconsin resident Andy North sees it.

Stricker may be widely regarded as the nicest guy on the PGA Tour, but he didn’t work his butt off to make it into the first U.S. Open ever played in his home state just to say he participated.

Stricker’s big challenge at Erin Hills may be dealing with all the love being rained down on him as the state’s favorite son in golf, all the demands that are being put on him. Home games aren’t easy in this game.

“This is going to be a tough week for him,” said North, who won two U.S. Opens. “In talking to Steve, he's already said ‘I've had to say 'no' more this week than I probably ever have.’

“He's here to play in a golf tournament. He's not here to entertain people all week long. As long as he's able to do that, it's a golf course that sets up really well for him, even though it's a longer golf course, because he's such a good pitcher and chipper of the ball. He's a great putter, obviously, but he also drives the ball very straight.”

Stricker is a 12-time PGA Tour winner looking to win his first major. He turned 50 in February, and nobody wins majors in their 50s.

In the more than 100 years major championships have been staged, nobody has done it. Julius Boros is the oldest to win one, taking the PGA Championship at Pecan Valley at 48 years, 4 months and 18 days old. Hale Irwin’s the oldest to win a U.S. Open, taking it at Medinah at 45 years and 15 days old.

But don’t tell Stricker he’s got no chance this week.

“I'm looking to play well,” he said Tuesday. “That's the thing. I don't want to stop, by just qualifying, and being here ceremonial. I want to play well and hopefully get in there.”

Stricker is the second-oldest player in the field, behind 54-year-old Gene Sauers, but he takes good form into the 69th major championship start of his career. He tied for seventh at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational at Colonial three weeks ago. He was a factor in The Open last year. He finished fourth at Royal Troon.

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“I wasn't sure if I was going to be here this week, but very excited, relieved,” Stricker said. “Worked hard to get here. Put a lot of extra effort in playing some extra tournaments to try to get here.”

The closest Stricker has come to winning a major was in 1998, when he finished second to Vijay Singh at the PGA Championship. He has 13 top-10 finishes in majors, two fifth-place finishes in the U.S. Open.

Stricker was so intent on playing this week, he wrote the USGA asking for a special exemption, knowing his request was a long shot. After he was turned down, he resolved to play his way in, teeing it up last week in a U.S. Open qualifier in Memphis, where he won medalist honors with a 65 and 67.

Stricker said not being qualified for the U.S. Open as excitement began to build for Wisconsin’s historic event was difficult.

“I had more and more people come up to me and say, `Hey, why aren't you in?’ And pretty soon it became a little chip on my shoulder, that I had to work a little bit harder to try to get in,” Stricker said. “I still don't believe I should have got [an exemption]. I'm convinced of that, but it would have been nice if they would have. But the way it worked out, I feel much better the way I got here.

“I earned my way in. I feel like I belong here.”

Stricker grew up in Edgerton, about 60 miles southwest of Erin Hills. His wife, Nicki, will reprise the role she served early in her husband’s career. She will caddie for him this week. They live in Madison now, about an hour’s drive from Erin Hills, but they are renting a home near the course this week.

Nobody will be cheered more heartily around Erin Hills than Stricker, who has been getting ovations in his practice rounds.

“It's overwhelming at times, the amount of people that are coming up to me and wishing me luck,” Stricker said. “It's pretty cool. Hopefully, I can play well to make it worth it on everybody's part.”

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x