Stricker opens with 1-over 71 in pivotal PGA Championship
With the 90th PGA Championship the last major event of the 2008 season and a prelude to the FedEx Cup playoffs, the four days at Oakland Hills have become make or break in many ways for Edgerton native Steve Stricker.
Stricker, 41, came into the 2008 season on a tremendous high, having broken through a year ago at the Barclays, the first FedEx Cup playoff event of the 2007 season. It was the first win for Stricker on the PGA Tour in six years and catapulted him squarely into the middle of the FedEx Cup mix, where he eventually finished second.
Stricker parlayed that finish into a spot on the U.S. President’s Cup team and finished the year fourth in the World Golf Rankings.
Less than a year later, Stricker is on the bubble—10th in the world and trying to hold on to his spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, something that was a foregone conclusion at the beginning of the year.
With eight places on the team to be determined by points after the PGA Championship, Stricker at No. 8 holds a slim lead over Woody Austin. Since the points are determined by money earned—and the majors are double-point affairs—a solid week by Austin could displace Stricker and leave him hoping for one of the four picks by Captain Paul Azinger.
“I’m really thinking about it, but I’m really fighting off thinking about it,” a conflicted Stricker said of trying to earn a spot on the Ryder Cup team. “I’m just trying to try to do the things that I’m supposed to do here and thinking about the task at hand right here.
“(If I) play well here, that will take care of itself,’’ he said of the Ryder Cup. “But I am thinking about it.”
Starting in the morning wave here Thursday, Stricker did a good job of “taking care of it” with an opening-round 1-over-par 71 on a difficult layout that penalized inaccuracy off the tee and was a tough once the players reached the putting surface. So, after 18 holes, Stricker was three shots behind co-leaders Jeev Milkha Singh and Robert Karlsson.
“I played well,” Stricker said of his best opening round in a major this year. “I hit about 12 or 13 greens in regulation, which around here I thought was pretty good.
“I played pretty conservatively and played smart. When I did get in trouble, I tried to get it out in a position where I could try to get it up-and-down and I did that a couple of times.”
Stricker’s mood after the first round was contrary to Wednesday, when after nine holes in a practice round he retired to the driving range to work on takeaway and tempo—issues that had plagued him over the last 15 years.
“I hadn’t had very good practice rounds here leading up to it,” Stricker said of his preparation in the early week. “So I was kind of worried coming into today, but it firmed up a lot, so I was able to hit some 3-woods, and I drove it better.
“I like it. I like that it’s tough. I guess I enjoy playing those type of tournaments, when par’s a good score, because you can sit on a hole and just try to hit it in the fairway and then just look at the center of the green. And that’s what you have to do here.”
Now with a swing he can trust and in good position after the first round, Stricker carried momentum and confidence into today and likely into the weekend.
“I feel comfortable,” Stricker said of playing in majors. “I don’t get as uptight or nervous at majors as I once did.
“And, yeah, I guess I’m coping with the stress and the anxiety a little bit better than I was when I was younger and just playing in them. This is the fourth one this year, and I think you get kind of used to the fact that you’re playing in a major.”
And this one could have a major impact on Stricker’s season.