Stricker the real No 2


With his win at last week's Northern Trust Open, Steve Stricker vaulted into No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings. In this edition of Punch Shots, senior writers Rex Hoggard and Randall Mell debate if Stricker really deserves the No. 2 spot.


If we’re ranking the classiest man in golf, Steve Stricker is already my No. 1.

Best putter? Best wedge player? Yeah, near the top of those lists, too.

But as much as it pains me to write this, Steve Stricker isn’t the second best player in the world.

Not yet anyway.

When he wins the Masters in two months, or makes his first major championship triumph a teary-eyed celebration in his home state at Whistling Straits in August, seeing him at No. 2 will feel right.

I’ve written before, and I’ll repeat it here: It feels like Stricker’s following the Mark O’Meara path to a major championship breakthrough. It feels like Stricker’s friendship with Tiger Woods, his strong showings in frequent pairings with Woods, his terrific play as partner to Woods at the Presidents Cup will help draw out the best in Stricker in the biggest events. O’Meara won his two majors at 41 after befriending Woods. Stricker turns 43 in 12 days but looks ready to break through.

Phil  Mickelson is the second-best player on the planet. Beating Woods at the Tour Championship and then head-to-head in the final round of the HSBC Champions last fall showed us he’s closer to No. 1 than anyone else.

The math says it’s so. By three-tenths of a point, Steve Stricker edged ahead of Phil Mickelson into second place in the World Ranking this week, and the math is never wrong, right?

Forget for a moment that Stricker is among the game’s best interviews, a stand-up family man and perhaps the best partner the U.S. can trot out with Tiger Woods each fall. Forget that the Midwesterner hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since September and that his short game is on the Seve side of brilliant.

Forget the emotion for a moment, because in the elite world that Stricker finds himself all that matters is majors and, to a lesser degree, double-digit victory totals.

Eight Tour titles is a fine career and Stricker’s play suggests there will be more before he fades into the Wisconsin winter, but in 45 Grand Slam attempts his closest brush with victory was more than a decade ago (1998 PGA, runner-up). Since 2007, the year after he won the first of consecutive Comeback Player of the Year awards, Stricker has three top 10s in 12 major tries.

Nice guy? Sure, but in the uber-competitive world just behind Woods it’s majors, not style points, that count.