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Rejuvenated Stricker back at Sony, wants to win again

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HONOLULU – Steve Stricker decided three years ago to start cutting back on his schedule. Now he can't wait to get started.

That's why he left Wisconsin for the California desert the day after Christmas for six days of hard work, followed by a trip to the North Shore of Oahu for a week of work and play before starting his season at the Sony Open.

At first, he barely beat his daughter. Bobbi Maria, a senior in high school who devoted the fall to tennis, shot a 79. Her dad, a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour, shot 73.

''And then I shot 8 under and 10 under the next two days. I beat her by 20 after that,'' Stricker said with a laugh.

He turns 49 next month. He helped bring a Champions Tour event to his home state of Wisconsin this year. On the practice green Tuesday at Waialae, he was surrounded by players who had not even started kindergarten when Stricker began his PGA Tour career.

And he's not ready to stop just yet.

''I feel younger this year than I did at times last year,'' Stricker said.


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The Sony Open is the first full-field event of the new year, and this won't be a cameo appearance for Stricker. He still plans a limited schedule. Being home for his wife and two daughters remains a priority. He also wants to give himself a fair chance at winning.

''My No. 1 goal is to win again,'' he said. ''I'm hitting the ball not much differently from five years ago. It's about getting it in the hole, and I've been grinding on my putter for the last five months.''

Stricker, who had surgery on his back on Christmas Eve in 2014, didn't play until the Masters last year and tied for 28th. He played only nine more times and didn't fare much better, and he faced the harsh reality of a player in semi-retirement. He wasn't eligible for any of the World Golf Championships, and he wasn't in the U.S. Open for the first time in five years. This year, he isn't guaranteed a spot in any of the big events.

His world ranking, which reached as high as No. 2 in September 2009, has dropped all the way to No. 245.

It's about the world ranking. It's not about the money. It's not even about hanging on.

Stricker didn't mind easing his way back into golf last year, especially after back surgery. And he concedes to feeling older than he really was. Maybe it was the time away from the competition that rekindled his excitement.

Whatever the case, he plans to compete 15 times and play enough to get into a rhythm. He played back-to-back weeks only one time last year. His plan is to head from Honolulu to La Quinta, California. He'll go to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (with country singer Toby Keith as his partner), and he might play Riviera if the forecast is right.

''I'm excited to play,'' he said.

Jordan Spieth, who won by eight shots last week on Maui, is taking the week off. Brandt Snedeker is the only player from the top 5 at Kapalua who is playing the Sony Open, a traditional course just beyond the shores of Waikiki with smaller greens and tighter fairways.

The field also includes Adam Scott, who at No. 11 is the highest-ranked player in the field, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Kevin Kisner from the top 20.

Stricker spent an hour on the putting green. There were no chalk lines on the grass, tees in the ground or anything else to help with his alignment. He putts for feel, and that carried him to a remarkable resurgence that took him from no PGA Tour card to three Ryder Cup teams and contending in majors again.

Can he get back to that?

Stricker already has signed up as a vice captain for Davis Love III in the Ryder Cup. And he is aware of the huge generation shift on the PGA Tour, particularly among Americans such as Spieth and Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

And to think it was just over two years ago when Stricker and Spieth played a money game with Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. Stricker made seven birdies and an eagle to carry the day, and then he helped Spieth settle into his matches during their partnership at the Presidents Cup.

''I remember those days,'' Stricker said with a smile. ''Those days are long gone.''

He can't spend as much time on the range because of the wear and tear on his body. But he can still putt. He feels rejuvenated. And he wants to see how far that will take him.