Woods, Stricker form friendly, formidable pairing

By Randall MellSeptember 25, 2012, 12:00 pm

The message came through with no translation required.

With the American Ryder Cup team being finalized a few weeks ago, Tiger Woods crossed paths with Steve Stricker.

“Hey bud,” Woods told Stricker. “You know, there’s no way I’m playing with you at the Ryder Cup, so you better find somebody else to play with.”

Stricker loved it. In Woods’ code, he knew exactly what that meant. He knew it meant that Woods was fired up about partnering with him again when the Americans meet the Europeans at Medinah just outside Chicago this week.


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U.S. captain Davis Love III hasn’t announced his pairings publicly yet, but it will be an upset if Woods and Stricker aren’t back together for fourballs and foursomes.

Woods and Stricker have become the most formidable American pairing in international team matches today, and they both have some special mojo working in Chicago.

Woods has won two PGA Championships at Medinah and owns five other BMW/Western Open titles in suburban Chicago.

Stricker couldn’t have been more motivated to make this Ryder Cup team. It’s being played practically in his backyard. A Wisconsin native raised in Edgerton just a couple hours north of Chicago, Stricker played at the University of Illinois. He’s revered among Illini followers. He won the Western Open in ’96 and is a three-time winner of the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill. Stricker’s so beloved there, they gave away bobbleheads with his likeness at this year’s John Deere Classic.

As a golf partnership, Woods and Stricker were an instant hit when U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples first put them together at Harding Park three years ago. They rolled to a 4-0 mark with Couples never separating them.

“We really gel together,” Woods said of that first union.

At the last Ryder Cup in Wales, they teamed to go 2-1, once again never separating for the partnered events in the rain-adjusted schedule.

They’re 6-2 overall as partners in team events.

“Tiger and Stricker have had great success,” Love said. “I wouldn’t want to play against them, for sure.”

As an assistant captain in Wales, Love got to see the chemistry between Woods and Stricker on uncomfortable foreign turf.

“Steve’s said Tiger makes him feel comfortable,” Love said. “Well, you know what? I think Steve makes Tiger feel comfortable, and that's what you want. You want those guys to both be comfortable with the pairing.”

After Stricker was announced as the winner of the Payne Stewart Award at the Tour Championship last week, Woods sought him out and hugged him on the driving range.

This shapes up as a pivotal Ryder Cup for Woods because the event is so at odds with the rest of his terrific resume.

By the end of his career, Woods may go down as the most prolific winner in PGA Tour history. Yet, if the Americans lose the Ryder Cup this week, he may be on his way to being remembered as the biggest loser in American Ryder Cup annals.

This will mark Woods’ seventh Ryder Cup appearance, but he has played on just one winning team, at Brookline 13 years ago.

Woods is trying to avoid a fifth consecutive loss in the event. No American has played on five consecutive losing teams in Ryder Cup history.

“We didn't play well at the right time, and that's just the way it goes,” Woods said. “Hopefully, this year we'll play well at the right time.”

Woods is 13-14-2 in Ryder Cup play with most of his trouble coming in partnered matches. He’s 4-1-1 in singles. Throw out his partnerships with Stricker, and Woods is 3-6-1 in foursomes and 4-6 in fourballs.

Why the struggle with partners?

There are theories.

“In the early days, it was like Tiger going to the dentist,” NBC’s Johnny Miller said. “He wanted a good outcome, but nothing he looked forward to too much.

“The second part was he was so intimidating, he would intimidate his own partner, just because his aura was so amazing. It's changed. I think he's softened with Stricker and a little bit with Furyk, and I think now he's going to be a lot better team player than he was in the early days.”

Another theory was that Woods is less programmed for team competition.

“I don't know that Tiger's mindset as a golfer – how would you put this? – really lends itself to team play,” NBC’s Roger Maltbie said.  “Johnny has referred to it many, many times: The lone wolf mentality. I think that certainly is a quality that Tiger has as much or more than anybody I've ever witnessed.

“Tiger is his own entity, and I think mixing into a team format was difficult for him. I don't read too much into who is a good partner for Tiger or who is a bad partner for Tiger. I think it had more to do with how he viewed the game, how he approached the game, how he approached his career, what he wanted from the game. I think that’s changed as he’s gone along.”

Stricker didn’t play on those early Woods’ teams. Stricker played his first Ryder Cup with Woods in 2010, his first Presidents Cup with him in 2009.

Asked about Woods’ team struggles, Stricker shrugs his shoulders.

“I don’t know,” Stricker said. “He has been as much a team player as anybody when I have been part of these teams. At every one of them, he was trying to win. I’ve been paired with him, and he is as fired up as anyone. He’s so competitive. He doesn’t like to lose at anything. It’s why he has won 74 times on the PGA Tour. I think it’s all important to him.”

Woods’ camaraderie with fellow players has been noticeably on display the last couple years. It goes way beyond the friendship with Rory McIlroy. Back at the WGC-Bridgestone, South African Branden Grace was paired for the first time with Woods. Grace called Woods “the nicest guy I’ve ever played with.”

That’s pretty much what most PGA Tour pros will tell you about Stricker.

Stricker was presented this year’s Payne Stewart Award for his respect of the game’s traditions, his charitable work and professionalism. The award is a testament to his standing in the game beyond his 12 PGA Tour titles.

Stricker, 45, and Woods, 36, are golf’s odd couple. Stricker’s the humble, Midwestern boy who frequently tears up with emotion and who slumped so badly in his career he was twice named Comeback Player of the Year. Woods is the California kid who became a superstar, the son of a U.S. Army Special Forces war veteran with his own affection for military life.

As teammates, though, Woods sees more similarities than differences with Stricker.

They’re both terrific putters, and Woods says they plot their way around courses similarly.

“I think we approach the game the same way, with the same mentality,” Woods said. “We just play it differently. I hit the ball a little bit further, but our mentality and how we play and how we compete is exactly the same.”

Stricker has a special gift for uniting unlikely forces.

As a Wisconsin boy, he’s a Chicago Bears fan. He also has that University of Illinois degree. Uniting folks from Wisconsin and Illinois over any cause is quite the trick, but you’ll see them united in support of Stricker at Medinah.

Stricker says he never saw this partnership with Woods coming way back in ’97 when he played with Woods for the first time at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Though Stricker was coming off two wins in ’96 and a fourth-place finish on the PGA Tour money list, he was blown away seeing Woods’ superior gifts in that first pairing.

“I didn’t play well,” Stricker said. “I could see this guy was really good. I just thought he was at a different level than I was, and he always has been, and I’m fine with that. I think it just took me awhile to get to the point of feeling comfortable around him.”

Stricker didn’t really get to know Woods well until the start of the FedEx Cup in 2009. They began the playoffs with Woods No. 1 in FedEx Cup points and Stricker No. 2. They played the first two rounds of The Barclays together and the first two rounds of the Deutsche Bank Championship together. They struck up a friendship that led them to wonder how they would pair together for the upcoming Presidents Cup that year.

“It was kind of like trying to get a girlfriend in high school,” Stricker joked.

Woods told Couples he would like a Stricker pairing, and Stricker told Couples the same. And Couples put them together.

Stricker thinks it works for him because he is long past trying to compare himself with Woods.

“Tiger does extraordinary things that nobody else does,” Stricker said. “You just have to say, `That’s OK, that’s him.’ But I do some things that are good. I can’t drive it as far as Tiger does, or hit those towering irons way up in the air, but I can do other little things that make up for it. That’s what has given me the confidence to go out and play with some of these guys and be comfortable around them. I’m old enough, I’ve been around enough, that I feel OK about the differences.”

Woods and Stricker may have different demeanors, but their approaches both work well in match play. Woods won those three consecutive U.S. Junior and three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles and won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship three times. Stricker also won the Accenture Match Play Championship in 2001. Stricker’s match-play grit is so respected that the Americans sent him out first to lead off singles at Wales two years ago and he beat a red-hot Lee Westwood.

Woods and Stricker both won three points in a losing cause for the Americans in Wales.

 “I never saw this kind of pairing coming after that first time Tiger and I played together, the way we mesh together so well,” Stricker said. “I don’t even know why, but we get along really well. I respect him.”

The mutual respect should make them tough team to beat this week.


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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.