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Fan favorite Stricker closes off opening 71 in style

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SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – The 18th hole looked harder to decipher than a calculus question from where Steve Stricker was Thursday at the PGA Championship.

To the delight of all the Wisconsin fans huddled at the finishing hole, Stricker solved his problem.

From deep in the gulch that splits that dual fairway, Stricker made a fabulous closing par to finish off a 1-under-par 71.

He worked hard for that par, studying the awful lie with extra care, consulting with an official and then marching out his yardage to a good layup position. After finally choosing to chop out, Stricker found himself in the fairway, 146 yards out and needing to get up and down to save par. He carved a 7-iron to 15 feet and made the putt.

Wisconsin’s favorite son in this event, Stricker was showered with cheers when the putt fell.

“That was important,” Stricker said. “That feels like a birdie there today. I’m sure that hole’s playing quite a bit over par.”

The 18th was ranked as the toughest hole on the course when Stricker reached it, playing to a 4.66 scoring average.

Stricker, 48, would love nothing better than to make a run at winning his first major championship in his home state. He was within the top 25 and five shots back when he left the scoring trailer.

PGA Championship: Full-field scores

“I’ve got to try and come out here and put up more than a 1 under, maybe a 3 or 4 under,” Stricker said.

Stricker’s wife, Nicki, was on his bag as caddie. Nicki was Stricker’s full-time caddie for the first five years he played the PGA Tour.

“It kind of brings us back to the days when we first started,” Stricker said. “It brings back some good memories.”

Stricker played alongside the current Ryder Cup captains, American Davis Love III and Europe’s Darren Clarke. Stricker is one of Love’s assistant captains. With the 2020 Ryder Cup scheduled to be played at Whistling Straits, Stricker’s an obvious candidate to lead the Americans there. He was asked if a Ryder Cup captaincy interests him.

“Someday, it will be nice,” he said. “I don’t know if it will happen . . . It’s in the back of my mind that someday it would be fun.”