Stricker overcomes pain to contend at Hyundai

By Jason SobelJanuary 8, 2013, 4:45 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Steve Stricker ambled down the Plantation Course's first fairway on Monday afternoon like a man on the verge of retirement. Which he is, sort of. Stricker has already announced that he plans to play no more than 10 events this season, part of a plan that will allow him more time with family at home and more time working toward his new charitable foundation.

As he made his way toward a drive that was (for him, at least) pummeled down the fairway, Stricker wasn't hobbling because of age – he's only 45, which is hardly ancient in pro golfer years. Nor was it a crutch for poor play. One hole earlier, he actually sat down in the middle of the fairway and stretched, the very picture of a player in pain. No matter. He simply stood up, went through his pre-shot routine and holed an eagle pitch from 67 yards to claim a share of the lead.

It's difficult to keep an injury under wraps while walking and swinging and walking again, but damned near impossible when a guy breaks up that process by wincing and limping and stretching his way around the course.


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By the time he had reached the next hole, just about every fan in attendance knew of his ailment – and if they didn't, they quickly found out. And so while Stricker struggled his way down the fairway, they called words of encouragement toward him from behind the gallery ropes.

'You can do it, Steve!'

'Stay tough, Stricks!'

'Tylenol!'

The last comment got his attention. Stricker made a sharp right turn and retreated toward the ropes, where wife Nicki not only knew how to get his attention, but knew what he needed.

It turns out he’s dealing with … something.

“Nobody knows if it's a muscle with pressure on the sciatic nerve or if there's a problem with a disk,” Stricker explained. “My back feels great. I don't feel tight. I don't feel stiff. Just every time I get over to my left side, I'm getting a shooting pain down my leg.”

After three days of delays and cancellations due to gusting winds, call this an imperfect storm. Stricker was forced to play 36 holes on the PGA Tour’s hilliest course while enduring an injury. It was enough that prior to the round he alerted a rules official to the prospect that he might not be able to go the distance.

All of which makes it even more impressive that Stricker not only finished both rounds, but posted scores of 71-67 to find himself in second place entering the final 18 holes, just three strokes behind leader Dustin Johnson.

“I think I'll be able to play tomorrow,” he said of the chance to defend his title. “What am I, in second place? I'm three back, so yeah, I've got a chance. I'll go out there and give it a whack, give it a try. Yeah, who knows what can happen? Maybe I'll feel great tomorrow.”

More than a few observers commented that after the start-stop-start-stop nature of the last three days, this week's eventual contenders would need to be armed less with sweet swings and deft putting strokes and more with the mental fortitude necessary to block such thoughts from the forefront of their minds. Considering that inner strength has been a hallmark of Stricker's career, it should come as little surprise that on a day walking 36 holes with an injury, he did his best grin-and-bear-it routine.

“To be able to do that on that golf course with as much pain as he's in is pretty impressive,” playing partner Brandt Snedeker said. “I was giving him a hard time walking up 9. I was going, ‘How am I going to beat you if you've got two good legs? I can't beat you with only one.’ It's tough to watch him because I know he's in pain. Of all days to go 36, not feeling good on this golf course in this wind, it would be a worst-case scenario, but he played great.”

On Tuesday, Stricker will be back out on the Plantation Course, once again wincing and limping and stretching his way around the course. That may be the worst-case scenario for most players, but he just keeps going, channeling the physical pain into mental strength.

That doesn’t mean he can’t use a little help. As he walks through the course in hopes of securing yet another victory, at some point Stricker will hear a familiar voice.

“Tylenol!”

Once again, he will gingerly make his way to the gallery ropes, knowing what he needs to go the distance.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”