'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.”

Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."