Stricker realizes this could be his final Masters

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Steve Stricker played his way around Augusta National on Sunday fully aware it might be the last round he plays in the Masters.

If it was, he left himself some good memories.

Stricker’s 4-under-par 68 equaled his second-best score in his 50 rounds played here. His best was a 66 in the first round in 2000.

At 48, coming off back surgery in December, Stricker teed it up this week in his first start this year. He made the cut on the number.

Even before the surgery, Stricker wasn’t playing a full schedule, cutting back to spend more time with his family. While he would like to play the Masters again, he can’t be sure he will qualify again.

“I thought about that this morning,” Stricker said.

Stricker, once as high as No. 2 in the world rankings, has slipped to No. 75. He’ll need to climb back into the top 50 or win to get back to the Masters again next year.

“I've got some work to do to get back here,” Stricker said. “It always is a goal to get back here, for all of us players ... So, that would be, obviously, a great goal to shoot for the rest of this year and next year, to try to make it back.”

Stricker is playing in his 15th Masters. His best finish is a T-6 in ’09, one of his two top-10 finishes here.

“I kind of have a love/hate relationship with this place,” Stricker said. “You want to be here, but I haven't had the best of records going around here. It's fun, nerve wracking, all of it. You have your good times going around here and you have some real horrible times. You think, `You idiot, why are you doing that? Hitting in the water at 13?’ But it's so beautiful, and you want to be here this time of year and play, for sure. I surely want to be back, there's no question about that.”

Stricker isn’t in the field yet for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in June, but he says he plans to try to remedy that.

“Yeah, I'll try to qualify for it,” Stricker said. “I'm not sure when and where yet. I'm exempt through the first local qualifying, and then I'll have to pick a spot for the sectional qualifying.”