Quick Round with Steve Stricker

By Randall MellDecember 13, 2009, 4:42 am

NAPLES, Fla. – These are terrific times for Steve Stricker.

As a PGA Tour pro, he’s climbing to thrilling heights he’s never known before.

At 42, his game’s never been better.

These are sad times, too.

Stricker has forged a friendship with Tiger Woods over the past few years, a bond that prompted Woods to ask for Stricker as his partner at the Presidents Cup two months ago, where they were an unbeatable team. The controversial news reports that have sent Woods into a freefall the last two weeks have hit Stricker hard. Though his friendship with Woods is limited to their times together at PGA Tour events, he has struggled with the picture of Woods that has emerged.

Stricker, though, is showing no signs of letting anything cool off his game this winter. He and fellow Wisconsinite Jerry Kelly seized the lead Saturday going into the final round of the Shark Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club.

With his dominant performance at the Presidents Cup in October, his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship in September, Stricker finished the ’09 season strong. His three PGA Tour titles this year helped him climb to No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Senior writer Randall Mell caught up with Stricker at the Shark Shootout to talk about his big year and how the Woods’ fallout has affected him:

What was your reaction when Tiger announced Friday night that he was taking an “indefinite break” from professional golf?

My first reaction was that it was a good decision. For him to get his family life in order, and work out all those things that have happened, is what he needs to do. My hats off to him. Golf is always going to be here and hopefully he gets his life straight at home and comes back. Because we need him back here as well. We all know what he does for excitement levels, purse levels, TV audiences. It all goes up when he’s here, so we need him here, too. It shows he has his priorities, hopefully, in order and gets that taken care of and gets back out here.

How have all these wild reports about Tiger over the last two weeks affected you?

When it first came out, at first, I was pretty scared for him, seeing he was seriously injured. As it turns out, all the things that have happened since, it’s been a bit of a downer for me. He’s not a bad guy. He’s just made some bad decisions, and, hopefully, he can get it straight. I’m his friend, and I’m going to continue to be his friend. I just hope he gets it straight and can save that marriage and his family life because it’s very important. It was a bit of a shock to the system, but I wish him the best, and I am going to be there for him no matter what.

Nothing seems to be slowing you down this off season. You and Jerry Kelly are making a strong run at the Shark Shootout. Jerry’s a good friend of yours, but people think of you two as the odd couple because you have such different personalities. He’s fiery and you’re so calm. Are you the odd couple here at Tiburon this weekend?

I guess on the course we may be a little bit of an odd couple, just because he shows his emotions a little more than I do, but we are both very competitive. We are both family guys. Jerry is one of the best family guys I know. He really takes care of his family, and he loves to be around them. I’m the same way. In that respect, we are the same way.

We know you like to spend this time of year deer hunting. Are you having as good a year with a bow in hand as you have had with a golf club in hand?

Not too many highlights in my hunting season this year. I still haven’t shot a buck yet. It’s been a strange year up there [in Wisconsin ]. The corn stayed up all the way through December. They just took it down by the farm I hunt. The corn created a place for all the deer to go into. We didn’t see a lot of deer because they were hiding in the corn. The next couple weeks, hopefully, we’ll get one.

No trophies? Does that make hunting any less fun? Or do you still relish the time away in the woods to re-charge your batteries for next year?

I enjoy just going out. I don’t have to shoot anything, just having a good time. There’s a strategy involved. You try to get close to these animals. I bow hunt. That’s pretty much all I do. For me, I have to get within 30 yards to have a shot. So you’re learning their patterns, what they do, and you’re trying to set up and get close to them.

Do you still hone your swing hitting balls into the snow from out of that heated trailer at Cherokee Country Club in Madison?

Before going out to Tiger’s event last week, I spent a week in there each day, just getting back at it. We didn’t have any snow yet, but we just got snow a couple days ago. It’s a good place for me to go and practice and get ready to play.

How does the confidence gained this year factor into what’s possible for you next season?

My confidence is obviously very good. I had a great year, winning three times, being paired with Tiger and playing well with him and holding up my end of the deal at the Presidents Cup and being part of that winning team. It all adds to a player’s confidence level. I’m very excited about this year. I feel like my swing is still good and where it needs to be. I’ve been hitting some good shots the last couple weeks, so I’m excited about getting going next year.

You were strong under pressure in big season-ending events, winning the Deutsche Bank Championship during the FedEx Cup playoffs and at the Presidents Cup. How does that bode for you in a bid to win your first major championship?

I had a couple good majors last year, too. I had a good Masters. I’ve had some good majors. I’ve had a couple opportunities to win in them. I’d love to get back in there again. I feel like my game has gotten a little stronger each year and my confidence level is getting a little bit stronger each year. You just have to get yourself in those positions in majors and see if you can do that. Hopefully, I can do that this next year.

Is winning a major a larger goal for you this year or is that something you feel like you just have to allow to happen?

I try not to put too much emphasis on having to play well in the majors. They are tough enough as it is. There are a lot of nerves to handle, conditions are usually a little different than what we play in normal PGA Tour events. It’s something I just try to let happen, and if I play well, hopefully, try to take advantage.

What effect will the new rules governing grooves have on your equipment next season?

It only affects my wedges. My irons are conforming, the ones I have been playing the last four years. I don’t think I’ll be changing those. Basically, I am playing two new [Titleist] sand wedges with conforming grooves. There’s a little bit of a difference. I am not quite used to them yet. The chipping is a little different. The ball comes off a little bit faster with a little less spin, probably. It’s something I am going to have to continue to work on. Everybody is going to have to work on it, too. It’s not a huge difference, but enough to make a difference.

You are known for your strong wedge play. Do you think the new grooves’ rules will benefit players with strong wedge games?

I think so. I don’t feel like I am going to be at a disadvantage. Everyone is in the same boat, whereas before some guys could put some higher-spinning clubs in play. I knew guys who had more aggressive grooves than other guys – still within legal limits – but some would spin more than others. Now everyone is on the same page. So I have full confidence in my ability to learn a few different shots and maybe do a little more with loft than spin. But I was never a guy who spun the ball anyway. So I don’t feel like it’s a huge change for me.

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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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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.”