Stricker no stranger to contention


AVONDALE, La. – Some PGA Tour players like to play their way into the prime time of the season, loading up on starts.

Not Steve Stricker. This week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans is just his seventh start of 2012. Yet he's in contention for his second win of the year, tied for fifth place, two shots behind Jason Dufner after 36 holes at TPC Louisiana.

Aside from Ernie Els, the five other contenders tied with or in front of Stricker have a combined three wins. Stricker has 12, including eight over the past four years, the most of any Tour player during that period. If he wins this weekend, it would mark the fourth consecutive year in which he has won at least twice. This year he won the season opener at Kapalua and posted top-10 finishes in both World Golf Championship events.

Stricker can contend on virtually any venue. He drives the ball well, hits it a modest but sufficient distance and has an enviable short game. On the weeks when he is not at his best, he typically hides it well. 

'I have weaknesses, but they're not huge weaknesses, so I think that's key wherever you go,' he said Friday after shooting a 4-under 68 that left him at 10 under. 'I can find a way to get it around, and I've been playing smart.' 

Stricker's approach to tournament golf is one of measured aggression, which bucks the trend toward running an all-out sprint at many PGA Tour events. 

'I'm fairly aggressive at times, but I play smart,' he said. 'I know when to pick my spots and when to back off, when to take my pars and run. I get the most out of my game. I'm getting older, not hitting the ball as far as I used to as when I was younger, but I'm playing smarter.' 

He's playing less, too. Last year the Wisconsin native decided to scale back his schedule to maximize his time at home with his family.

After this week, Stricker will skip Quail Hollow before returning at The Players Championship. He'll then take another two weeks off to prepare for his title defense at the Memorial, then head to Fort Worth for the Colonial.

Stricker is even eating less, deciding to watch his diet despite being a 45-year-old in better shape than a lot of people half his age. He passed on the tempting treats of New Orleans' finest cooks during the Wednesday pro-am. 

'I've been watching what I eat,' he said. 'I was eating a lot of raw nuts in my bag. Usually I would hit every one of those stops. I had one little dish out there and that was it. I'm trying to eat some better stuff because I tend to not eat so well.' 

While Stricker denied himself the culinary treats here in New Orleans, he savors the flavor from the last six seasons and wants to keep that taste in his mouth this weekend. 

'This has been a run of the last six years where I've played some really good golf. I'm excited about that,' he said. 'I take it one day at a time still and see what it gives me.'