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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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.


A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”