Stricker playing hometown favorite at Whistling Straits

By Randall MellAugust 12, 2015, 10:25 pm

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Whistling Straits doesn’t look like it belongs in Wisconsin.

You drive through the front gate, and you think you’ve been transported to the rugged coast off the Forth of Clyde in Scotland or something.

All those cornfields just outside the gate, all those pretty little farmhouses with their rustic red barns and silos, they seem so far away.

But it sure sounds like Wisconsin around here.

You hear that whenever Steve Stricker steps to a tee box.

This is his home, his sweet motherland, and he’s the beloved favorite son this week. All the good folks from small towns like Ladysmith, Lodi, Peshtigo and Sturgeon Bay, places so much like where Stricker grew up in Edgerton, and from the larger cities like Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay, they’re rooting hard for Stricker around here.

There’s a lot of love being poured on the Wisconsin boy already this week. When he reached the last hole in his practice round Wednesday, he was showered with howls of delight.

Stricker’s an emotional man, he will give you that, and he is sure to be dealing with a lot of feelings when he steps to the first tee box at 1:20 p.m. ET on Thursday. His wife, Nicki, is back on his bag as caddie this week. It all promises to get even more emotional by week’s end, whether that’s in a dreamy finish hoisting a trophy, or a more heavy-hearted finish, missing a cut on Friday. It’s all heightened for Stricker knowing he could be playing his final major championship.

Yes, his last major. He said he’s resigned to the possibility.

“I probably won’t play another major,” Stricker said Wednesday in the shadow of the Whistling Straits clubhouse. “Well, maybe I’ll try to qualify for the U.S. Open when it’s at Erin Hills [in Wisconsin in 2017]. Hopefully, that will happen, but not too many majors do you get to play in your home state.”


PGA Championship: Full-field tee times


Stricker, 48, is a 12-time PGA Tour winner who would relish electrifying all these hometown fans with a run at winning his first major. Yes, he has fantasized about winning here. He shared that dream with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this week.

“Yeah, that would be pretty special,” Stricker said. “It’s run through my mind a few times how cool of a thing that would be. There’s a long ways to go, and I’m going to have to pull some tricks out of my hat to do that, but you never know. That’s why we play this game and sports in general. I feel like I can play well.”

Stricker made his best run at winning a major in the PGA Championship. He took a share of the lead into the final round at Sahalee in 1998, ultimately finishing second to Vijay Singh, two shots back. He equaled the lowest round ever shot in a major, opening the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club with a 63 four years ago. He has finished T-7 in two of the last three PGA Championships. That’s how he got into this week’s event. He qualified off his T-7 finish at Valhalla last year.

Giant galleries are expected at Whistling Straits, and that means giant support for Stricker.

While home games are usually an advantage in sports, that’s not necessarily the case in golf.

There’s typically additional pressure on the hometown guy, who has more distractions to deal with than he does on the road. There are family and friends wanting more of his time. There is more media. There are more strangers wanting more attention, more autographs.

GolfChannel.com asked Stricker if a home game is really an advantage in golf.

“It can go either way,” Stricker said. “What I’ve experienced in the past, when we’ve played in the Greater Milwaukee Open, you get on a roll, and you can feed off that momentum. If you don’t, you kind of press too hard. David Hearn just went through it in Canada a couple weeks ago, trying to win up there. He said it’s great fun, but it’s tough. It’s the weight of everyone on your shoulders, and you want to play well for everybody else, and there are all the extra demands. Yeah, it can be tough, but it’s also fun.”

Stricker regularly plays as a favorite at the John Deere Classic, where he has thrived in the role. He won that event three consecutive years (2009-11). As a Wisconsin guy who went to school at the University of Illinois, he’s a hometown guy on two levels in the Quad Cities event.

One of his generation’s best putters, Stricker’s chances this week might just come down to his flat stick.

Coming off back surgery last December, Stricker’s semi-retired status translated into even fewer events this year. He has made just eight starts this season, with a T-27 finish at Colonial his best finish. He has slid to No. 138 in the world rankings. His putting hasn’t been good. In fact, it’s never been worse. He’s 164th in strokes gained putting, his worst ranking in his career. It prompted him to take extreme measures this week. He has benched the Odyssey White Hot putter that he has used for almost 15 years for a new Scotty Cameron GoLo.

“I’ve been putting horrible,” Stricker said. “I look down, and it’s something different now. See if that helps.”

Stricker likes the rest of his game. If he drops a few putts early, he could put a real jolt into Whistling Straits.

“I’m hitting it nicely,” Stricker said. “If I can continue to do that and gain a little confidence on the greens, I’ll be fine. It will be interesting to see tomorrow. I’m excited to play. I’m excited to get out there and test it out.”

All those Wisconsin fans are excited to help him make that dream finish come true.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”



Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.



Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream


Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.


Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.


Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.


Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.


Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.


Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.


Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)