Notes Stricker Wins Again More Awards

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2006 Target World Challenge pres. by CountrywideTHOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Steve Stricker looked at the crystal bowl Tuesday and said under his breath, 'This looks familiar.'
 
It's the trophy for the PGA TOUR comeback player of the year, and Stricker became the first player to win the award twice -- in consecutive years, no less.
 
'I won this last year, and I don't know what I did to deserve it again this year,' Stricker said. 'I was thinking about what I would have to do to win this three years in a row. Usually, you have to have a better year than last year. I don't know if I did that if I would be out of this ballot and maybe on the player of the year ballot.'
 
Stricker was on the comeback ballot with Brian Bateman and Rocco Mediate, and PGA TOUR officials recently kicked around the idea last month of not awarding the trophy every year.
 
According to tour regulations, the award is for players who have returned to their previous form following a period of decline due to poor play, poor health of personal tragedy. The regulations also state that the award will be given out during years in which the Players Advisory Council feels it is warranted.
 
Ultimately, the tour decided it was worth giving out the award this year.
 
Bateman earned his PGA TOUR card on the number at Q-school, then won the Buick Open. Mediate started the year under a minor medical exemption, and secured his card with a runner-up finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
 
Stricker's comeback in 2006 was easy to document. He didn't have his card, and wound up 34th on the money list. This year was probably a stronger comeback, with his first victory in more than six years, runner-up in the FedExCup and No. 4 on the money list.
 
But even Stricker felt awkward winning it two years in a row.
 
'I voted for Brian Bateman,' he said.
 
OPEN CHANGES
Nick Faldo now only has 10 years left to play in the British Open.
 
The Royal & Ancient changed the maximum age rule for past champions, giving them until they are 60 to play in golf's oldest championship. The previous age limit was 65. It will be phased in over the next five years, meaning anyone over 60 can continue to play the British Open until they turn 65.
 
In other changes, the runners-up from the British Amateur, U.S. Amateur and European Amateur will be exempt into the final stage of qualifying. Also exempt into the final stage are the top 10 players from the R&A's world amateur golf ranking on May 26.
 
DALY GRIND
John Daly has finally come to a startling conclusion: He thinks it's time for him to get serious about his game.
 
Daly, a two-time major champion who lost his PGA TOUR card last year and had to rely on sponsor exemptions, said last week that he would start working with swing coach Butch Harmon.
 
'Butch will push you. I never had anybody push me to do things,' Daly said last week. 'I need to be pushed hard. It's something that maybe should have been done a long time ago, but I was too stubborn. You get a little older and your eyes don't see things and you don't feel the same as you would normally.'
 
Harmon is most famous for working with Tiger Woods and Greg Norman when they became No. 1 in the world, and his latest challenge is trying to get Phil Mickelson to No. 1. But getting Daly to take his game seriously might be the real test.
 
'Butch is excited about it,' Couples said. 'That's a good thing, because ... there are a few people he (Harmon) has turned down because he's so busy.'
 
FATHER AND SON
Greg Norman is making a rare and perhaps final visit to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for one reason: The Shark will be playing with son Gregory.
 
'He asked me if we could play in the AT&T, and I didn't know if I could get either one of us in, to tell you the truth,' Norman said. 'As it worked out, we were lucky enough to get in. To get out there and play those courses in a tournament with that history is going to be good for him as well.'
 
It will be the second straight year a Hall of Fame player competed at the AT&T with his son. Tom Watson played last year with his youngest son, Michael, and they finished second in the pro-am behind Pebble winner Phil Mickelson and amateur partner Harry You.
 
Norman and his son have played in the Del Webb Father-Son Challenge the last two years.
 
'It's a little bit different because it's a PGA TOUR event, and there are going to be a lot of people out there,' Norman said. 'It's going to be a totally different atmosphere. So it's good for him to experience all that if he wants to go and qualify for events that he'd like to play in next year.'
 
PLAYING IT SAFE
Jim Furyk had planned to play one time over the final two months of the year, but he didn't expect it to be the Target World Challenge.
 
Furyk is the two-time defending champion at the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, one of his favorite events. But an itinerary that took him from South Korea to Bermuda in October caused him to reconsider. Furyk had some neck and back issues at the PGA Championship, and they flared up during the long flights.
 
'I knew the flight over there was going to bother me,' he said. 'I called and let them know that I wasn't feeling up to it. I want to make sure I'm in shape for Jan. 1. It was tough. But I've been good to them, and they've been good to me.'
 
DIVOTS
British Open champion Padraig Harrington was named European Tour golfer of the year by a panel representing golf writers, TV and radio, and the European Tour. Also considered for the award were U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera and Justin Rose, who won the Order of Merit. ... Woody Austin knew he had reached the big time when he played in his first silly-season event, winning the Merrill Lynch Shootout with Mark Calcavecchia. 'If Greg (Norman) told me all I had to do was dive in the water to get in, I would have done it a long time ago,' Austin said. ... U.S. Amateur and U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Colt Knost has won the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the top player in the world amateur rankings. Knost turned pro earlier this year, and missed his PGA TOUR and Nationwide cards at Q-school.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
Tiger Woods has won 16 times worldwide the last two years, the same number as the next five players below him in the world ranking -- Phil Mickelson (6), Jim Furyk (4), Steve Stricker (1), Ernie Els (3) and Justin Rose (2).
 
FINAL WORD
'There's obviously never a bad time to win a golf tournament, but I guess now would probably be a better time than most.' -- Ernie Els, playing the South African Open this week after blowing the Dunhill Championship with a triple bogey on the last hole.
 
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