Neither could some bad lobster ravioli.
Steve Stricker is looking more like the man to beat in these FedEx Cup playoffs than Woods after Friday’s start of the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Stricker dissected the TPC Boston Course with an impressive 8-under-par 63 to take the early first-round lead. He held it for most of the day until Jim Furyk made a run to join him atop the leaderboard late in the afternoon.
The fact that Stricker posted a score seven shots better than Woods in the same grouping with Woods might seem impressive. But that wasn't what had Scott Verplank shaking his head.
Verplank couldn’t believe the stomach Stricker’s showing under playoff pressure.
After having dinner with Stricker on the eve of the tournament, Verplank awakened feeling so sick to his stomach he wasn’t certain he could tee it up. He was sure it must have been the lobster ravioli he ordered the night before. Stricker ordered the same thing, so after dragging himself to the course Friday morning, Verplank called his friend.
“Are you not feeling well?” Verplank asked.
“I’m fine,” Stricker answered.
Verplank didn’t need an update to see how Stricker's stomach was holding up. All he had to do was look at the leaderboard. Stricker’s name shot to the top of it early on and stayed there.
“I was a little disappointed to look up there and see Stricker 8-under par,” Verplank said.
Actually, Verplank didn’t fare so badly either with his stomach churning on him. He shot 65, good for a tie for second.
“I can’t say that I’ve ever felt so terrible and shot that good,” Verplank said.
Stricker, 42, is one of four players who can overtake Woods in the FedEx Cup points standings this week, the second of the PGA Tour’s Playoff events. Stricker is the only player who can do so with a first- or second-place finish.
If Stricker wins, he climbs to No. 1 in the standings if Woods finishes third or worse. If Stricker finishes second, he moves up if Woods finishes 27th or worse.
After watching Stricker attack the TPC Boston layout with barely a missed shot, Woods knows he has some hard work to do. Stricker birdied the first two holes Friday, then made five consecutive birdies in the middle of his round. He hit 12 of 14 fairways, 15 greens in regulation and needed just 25 putts in a bogey-free round.
“We thought he was going to shoot 62 at the turn the way he was going,” Woods said. “The putts were center cut, iron shots were right at it, and he was driving the ball great. He made one mistake at seven, his lay up was left [in the rough]. But other than that, you’d be hard pressed to find a shot that he hit off line.”
There’s something about playoff golf that suits Stricker.
In the inaugural year of the FedEx Cup playoffs, Stricker finished second to Woods. He’s second to Woods again this year with an eye on toppling the world’s No. 1 player. Stricker’s 63 Friday was his 26th round in the 60s in 37 FedEx Cup playoff starts. Sergio Garcia’s next best with 21 rounds in the 60s.
The thing that will get Woods’ attention is how comfortable Stricker is growing in his pairings with Woods.
Stricker played the first two rounds with Woods at The Barclays last week. Stricker posted better scores than Woods in both rounds. In fact, in their last three playoff pairings together, Stricker is a staggering 10 shots better than Woods.
Woods has said Stricker is one of his favorite pairings.
“I am comfortable playing with him,” Stricker said. “We are friends, we have a good time out there, and that’s the way I look at it. I just enjoy being out there with him, and Heath [Slocum] was a lot of fun today. I worry about myself now and do the things that I’m capable of doing and don’t worry about what Tiger's doing.
“Back when he first came out, and I was trying to stack up my game with his. It didn’t stack up. I’m over that. I don’t care. He can do all those great things, and I’ll just do the things I need to do to try to play well. I think once I took that pressure off myself, it kind of freed me up a little bit to play with him.”
Stricker had a chance to win The Barclays last week but missed a 10-foot putt at the final hole that would have forced a playoff with Slocum. In Friday’s Deutsche Bank Championship pairing of the top three players in the FedEx Cup standings, Slocum noticed the easy way Stricker and Woods have with each other.
“Right now, it doesn’t matter who Steve is playing with,” Slocum said. “He’s going to play well. He’s playing with such confidence. I was fortunate to win Sunday, but Steve played with great confidence all day. We all have our work cut out this week.”
Woods may have the best putting stroke of all time, but Stricker’s is among the best of this generation. He’s fifth in putting average this season. But what is really boosting Stricker to another level is his dramatically improved driving skills.
Dennis Tiziani, the former University of Wisconsin golf coach who is Stricker’s father-in-law, says Stricker turned his driving around shortening his swing. He said Stricker had been getting the club “stuck behind him.”
“His swing now looks a lot shorter, very compact,” Tiziani said.
It’s looking like the swing most capable of challenging Woods in this FedEx Cup playoff run.