Stricker the Yin to Tigers Yang

By Rex HoggardSeptember 27, 2010, 3:05 am
Ryder CupATLANTA – This week, the Red, White and Blue nation will look to Corey Pavin, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to stem an American overseas victory drought that stretches back nearly two decades.

But in the simplest terms, if Team USA is going to steal one across the pond for the first time since the 1993 Ryder Cup it likely won’t be the game’s titans or America’s tactician that lead the way. It may well come down to the magical motivational powers of an unassuming Cheesehead.

Sean Foley has been charged with fixing Woods’ wayward action on the fly and it will be Pavin’s job to insulate his besieged star from the rigors of an away game, but ultimately America’s cup fortunes will rest with Steve Stricker, the understated undercard in last year’s power pairing at the Presidents Cup.

Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker
Steve Stricker could be the perfect team member to solve the Tiger Woods Ryder Cup equation. (Getty Images)

At Harding Park Stricker and Woods, every bit an odd couple personality-wise, went 4-0 in team play, rolling through all of International captain Greg Norman’s comers and staking the U.S. side to a five-point victory.

Last week at East Lake Stricker played the role to perfection, warning that a 4-0 week at Celtic Manor would be a tall order and even going so far as to dismiss the certainty of Tiger-Steve Part 2, which is about as likely as an Indian summer in Wales.

Know this about the 2010 Ryder Cup, Stricker and Woods will be paired together, it will rain and the European crowds will wear the visiting team out with choruses of “Ole, Ole, Ole.” Whether that serenade echoes through the cold Welsh air late next Sunday will depend on Stricker’s ability to rekindle that Harding Park magic.

And if Stricker does turn out to be the tonic that cures Woods’ competitive ills he will be the Man of the Match, regardless of record or outcome, particularly considering Woods’ historic team woes in the biennial grudge match.

The world No. 1’s Mendoza Line team record (7-12-1) in the Ryder Cup is one of the game’s great mysteries, like fliers and lag putting, and illustrates how difficult it has been for American captains to find Woods a functional partner.

In 11 Ryder and Presidents Cups Woods has had 17 different partners and of the players he played with more than once just four of them – Stricker, Jim Furyk, Davis Love III and Charles Howell III – have played better than .500 ball.

“When you become his partner you are immediately pulled into a difficult situation,” said Furyk, who is a combined 5-3-1 in Ryder and Presidents Cup play paired with Woods. “It’s an intense atmosphere. He’s used to it, but once you’re paired with him you have to learn to deal with it.”

Furyk may have been the first to overcome the Tiger effect, going 2-2 with him at the K Club in 2006.

“Our first match together I played awful. I was hurt, but he had the other two guys 1 down with his own ball, minimum,” said Furyk of his opening-day fourball victory over Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie. “I got back to the team room and joked, ‘I don’t know what’s so hard about playing with him?’”

But what seemed so easy for Furyk has been like long math to others. In 2004, Woods and Mickelson went 0-2 on Friday and haven’t played together since, ditto for Justin Leonard (0-1-1 in Presidents and Ryder Cup play), Fred Couples (1-2) and Mark O’Meara (1-2). One would think all that would be required of a Woods partner is to show up on time. One would be wrong.

Part of the problem seems to be the pressure a Woods pairing brings to a partnership.

Hunter Mahan has never been paired with Woods in a cup match, but he did have a similar encounter with Mickelson in his first cup (2007 Presidents Cup) and can relate.

“With Phil (at Royal Montreal) I worried myself into a frenzy. I wanted to win every match,” Mahan said. “(At Celtic Manor) I would not put Jeff Overton with Tiger. (Overton) is high energy. He might burst playing with Tiger.”

Most attribute the problem to simple chemistry. Similar games may be an advantage, but in the final analysis if Player A and B are type A and B personalities the pairing hasn’t worked.

But that only partly explains why Stricker and Woods clicked so well last year. Stricker is a dedicated family man who spends much of his offseason in a hunting blind and probably doesn’t even own a red golf shirt. Woods is intense and demonstrative and ventures to Wisconsin only for the occasional PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

So why the Harding Park homerun?

“He doesn’t see me as a threat to him. He sees me as a friend,” Stricker said. “When I was younger I wanted to always beat him, but I’m passed that point. I know where I stand in the pecking order in all this.”

Of course Stricker’s Ben Crenshaw-like short game last fall also had a lot to do with the duo’s success. Competitively the two are a ham-and-egg special, Stricker a fairways-and-greens specialist with a deft short game to Woods’ bombing, explosive style.

“Man, I helped out on two holes pretty much, well, three holes all day. Otherwise I was cheerleading all day,” Woods said of his partner on Saturday last year at Harding Park. “It's easy to play with the guy because we all know what a great player he is, and he putts it great, he gets it up-and-down great, and it takes a lot of pressure off me, I'll tell you that.”

In a counter-intuitive way Woods may also feed off Stricker’s stoic Midwestern sensibilities, a perfect yin to Woods’ steely-eyed, fist-pumping yang.

“I feel like I could be a calming influence to him,” Stricker said. “Hopefully he feels comfortable with me.”

And at Celtic Manor, more so than Foley’s counsel or Pavin’s protection, Woods needs calm. Woods needs Stricker.

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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.

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Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.

Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.

The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.

Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.

"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"

The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin: