Steve Stricker playing strong in Playoffs

By Randall MellSeptember 4, 2009, 4:00 pm
DeutscheBank Logo 2007NORTON, Mass. – Tiger Woods couldn’t slow him down.

Neither could some bad lobster ravioli.

Steve Stricker is looking more like the man to beat in these FedEx Cup playoffs than Woods after Friday’s start of the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Stricker dissected the TPC Boston Course with an impressive 8-under-par 63 to take the early first-round lead. He held it for most of the day until Jim Furyk made a run to join him atop the leaderboard late in the afternoon.

The fact that Stricker posted a score seven shots better than Woods in the same grouping with Woods might seem impressive. But that wasn't what had Scott Verplank shaking his head.

Verplank couldn’t believe the stomach Stricker’s showing under playoff pressure.

After having dinner with Stricker on the eve of the tournament, Verplank awakened feeling so sick to his stomach he wasn’t certain he could tee it up. He was sure it must have been the lobster ravioli he ordered the night before. Stricker ordered the same thing, so after dragging himself to the course Friday morning, Verplank called his friend.

“Are you not feeling well?” Verplank asked.

“I’m fine,” Stricker answered.
Steve Stricker The Barclays
Steve Stricker was just a par putt short of forcing a playoff in the final round of The Barclays. (Getty Images)

Verplank didn’t need an update to see how Stricker's stomach was holding up. All he had to do was look at the leaderboard. Stricker’s name shot to the top of it early on and stayed there.

“I was a little disappointed to look up there and see Stricker 8-under par,” Verplank said.

Actually, Verplank didn’t fare so badly either with his stomach churning on him. He shot 65, good for a tie for second.

“I can’t say that I’ve ever felt so terrible and shot that good,” Verplank said.

Stricker, 42, is one of four players who can overtake Woods in the FedEx Cup points standings this week, the second of the PGA Tour’s Playoff events. Stricker is the only player who can do so with a first- or second-place finish.

If Stricker wins, he climbs to No. 1 in the standings if Woods finishes third or worse. If Stricker finishes second, he moves up if Woods finishes 27th or worse.

After watching Stricker attack the TPC Boston layout with barely a missed shot, Woods knows he has some hard work to do. Stricker birdied the first two holes Friday, then made five consecutive birdies in the middle of his round. He hit 12 of 14 fairways, 15 greens in regulation and needed just 25 putts in a bogey-free round.

“We thought he was going to shoot 62 at the turn the way he was going,” Woods said. “The putts were center cut, iron shots were right at it, and he was driving the ball great. He made one mistake at seven, his lay up was left [in the rough]. But other than that, you’d be hard pressed to find a shot that he hit off line.”

There’s something about playoff golf that suits Stricker.

In the inaugural year of the FedEx Cup playoffs, Stricker finished second to Woods. He’s second to Woods again this year with an eye on toppling the world’s No. 1 player. Stricker’s 63 Friday was his 26th round in the 60s in 37 FedEx Cup playoff starts. Sergio Garcia’s next best with 21 rounds in the 60s.

The thing that will get Woods’ attention is how comfortable Stricker is growing in his pairings with Woods.

Stricker played the first two rounds with Woods at The Barclays last week. Stricker posted better scores than Woods in both rounds. In fact, in their last three playoff pairings together, Stricker is a staggering 10 shots better than Woods.

Woods has said Stricker is one of his favorite pairings.

“I am comfortable playing with him,” Stricker said. “We are friends, we have a good time out there, and that’s the way I look at it. I just enjoy being out there with him, and Heath [Slocum] was a lot of fun today. I worry about myself now and do the things that I’m capable of doing and don’t worry about what Tiger's doing.

“Back when he first came out, and I was trying to stack up my game with his. It didn’t stack up. I’m over that. I don’t care. He can do all those great things, and I’ll just do the things I need to do to try to play well. I think once I took that pressure off myself, it kind of freed me up a little bit to play with him.”

Stricker had a chance to win The Barclays last week but missed a 10-foot putt at the final hole that would have forced a playoff with Slocum. In Friday’s Deutsche Bank Championship pairing of the top three players in the FedEx Cup standings, Slocum noticed the easy way Stricker and Woods have with each other.

“Right now, it doesn’t matter who Steve is playing with,” Slocum said. “He’s going to play well. He’s playing with such confidence. I was fortunate to win Sunday, but Steve played with great confidence all day. We all have our work cut out this week.”

Woods may have the best putting stroke of all time, but Stricker’s is among the best of this generation. He’s fifth in putting average this season. But what is really boosting Stricker to another level is his dramatically improved driving skills.

Dennis Tiziani, the former University of Wisconsin golf coach who is Stricker’s father-in-law, says Stricker turned his driving around shortening his swing. He said Stricker had been getting the club “stuck behind him.”

“His swing now looks a lot shorter, very compact,” Tiziani said.

It’s looking like the swing most capable of challenging Woods in this FedEx Cup playoff run.

Tiger Woods couldn’t slow him down.

 

Neither could some bad lobster ravioli.

 

Steve Stricker is looking more like the man to beat in these FedEx Cup playoffs than Woods after Friday’s start of the Deutsche Bank Championship.

 

Stricker dissected the TPC Boston Course with an impressive 8-under-par 63 Friday to take the first-round lead.

 

The fact that Stricker posted a score seven shots better than Woods in the same grouping with Woods isn’t what most impressed Scott Verplank.

 

Verplank couldn’t believe the stomach Stricker’s showing under playoff pressure.

 

After having dinner with Stricker on the eve of the tournament, Verplank awakened feeling so sick to his stomach he wasn’t certain he could tee it up. He was sure it must have been the lobster ravioli he ordered the night before. Stricker ordered the same thing, so after dragging himself to the course Friday morning, Verplank called his friend.

 

“Are you not feeling well?” Verplank asked.

 

“I’m fine,” Stricker answered.

 

Verplank didn’t need an update to see how Stricker's stomach was holding up. All he had to do was look at the leaderboard. Stricker’s name shot to the top of it early on and stayed there.

 

“I was a little disappointed to look up there and see Stricker 8-under par,” Verplank said.

 

Actually, Verplank didn’t fare so badly either with his stomach churning on him. He shot 65, good for a tie for second.

 

“I can’t say that I’ve ever felt so terrible and shot that good,” Verplank said.

 

Stricker, 42, is one of four players who can overtake Woods in the FedEx Cup points standings this week, the second of the PGA Tour’s playoff events. Stricker is the only player who can do so with a first- or second-place finish.

 

If Stricker wins, he climbs to No. 1 in the standings if Woods finishes third or worse. If Stricker finishes second, he moves up if Woods finishes 27th or worse.

 

After watching Stricker attack the TPC Boston layout with barely a missed shot, Woods knows he has some hard work to do. Stricker birdied the first two holes Friday, then made five consecutive birdies in the middle of his round. He hit 12 of 14 fairways, 15 greens in regulation and needed just 25 putts in a bogey-free round.

 

“We thought he was going to shoot 62 at the turn the way he was going,” Woods said. “The putts were center cut, iron shots were right at it, and he was driving the ball great. He made one mistake at seven, his lay up was left [in the rough]. But other than that, you’d be hard pressed to find a shot that he hit off line.”

 

There’s something about playoff golf that suits Stricker.

 

In the inaugural year of the FedEx Cup playoffs, Stricker finished second to Woods. He’s second to Woods again this year with an eye on toppling the world’s No. 1 player. Stricker’s 63 Friday was his 26th round in the 60s in 37 FedEx Cup playoff starts. Sergio Garcia’s next best with 21 rounds in the 60s.

 

The thing that will get Woods’ attention is how comfortable Stricker is growing in his pairings with Woods.

 

Stricker played the first two rounds with Woods at The Barclays last week. Stricker posted better scores than Woods in both rounds. In fact, in their last three playoff pairings together, Stricker is a staggering 10 shots better than Woods.

 

Woods has said Stricker is one of his favorite pairings.

 

“I am comfortable playing with him,” Stricker said. “We are friends, we have a good time out there, and that’s the way I look at it. I just enjoy being out there with him, and Heath [Slocum] was a lot of fun today. I worry about myself now and do the things that I’m capable of doing and don’t worry about what Tiger's doing.

 

“Back when he first came out, and I was trying to stack up my game with his. It didn’t stack up. I’m over that. I don’t care. He can do all those great things, and I’ll just do the things I need to do to try to play well. I think once I took that pressure off myself, it kind of freed me up a little bit to play with him.”

 

Stricker had a chance to win The Barclays last week but missed a 10-foot putt at the final hole that would have forced a playoff with Slocum. In Friday’s Deutsche Bank Championship pairing of the top three players in the FedEx Cup standings, Slocum noticed the easy way Stricker and Woods have with each other.

 

“Right now, it doesn’t matter who Steve is playing with,” Slocum said. “He’s going to play well. He’s playing with such confidence. I was fortunate to win Sunday, but Steve played with great confidence all day. We all have our work cut out this week.”

 

Woods may have the best putting stroke of all time, but Stricker’s is among the best of this generation. He’s fifth in putting average this season. But what is really boosting Stricker to another level is his dramatically improved driving skills.

 

Dennis Tiziani, the former University of Wisconsin golf coach who is Stricker’s father in law, says Stricker turned his driving around shortening his swing. He said Stricker had been getting the club “stuck behind him.”

 

“His swing now looks a lot shorter, very compact,” Tiziani said.

 

It’s looking like the swing most capable of challenging Woods in this FedEx Cup playoff run.

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

Getty Images

Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

Getty Images

McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

Getty Images

Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''