Stricker eyes run at first major title
In the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago, the Edgerton native posted his two worst rounds of the season. He shot 79-74 on the weekend and tied for 52nd place.
Despite four top-10 finishes this year, including a win at the Northern Trust Open, the world’s No. 2-ranked player kept fresh the memory of his last event.
“I have not forgotten about it, because those rounds were not the way I’ve been playing lately,” he said. “I lost my patience, I think. I was looking forward to this week, I think, a lot.
“I missed the cut at Houston last year, didn’t play very well and got over here early and actually played well here. I’m kind of hoping that’s what’s going on.
The 43-year-old Stricker is back at Augusta National Golf Club this week, seeking to build on the confidence he attained in the Masters Tournament last year. After missing the cut in 2007 and 2008, Stricker found himself in contention last year after rounds of 72-69-68. In the final round, he bogeyed the par-5 eighth hole and carded 71, finishing in a tie for sixth place.
The course set up firm and fast for Stricker in 2009, helping even the playing field for the guys who don’t hit it 320 yards. If the weather remains clear—sunny skies are predicted all week, aside from possible afternoon thundershowers Thursday—Stricker will get exactly what he wants.
“It’s a big hitter’s course. It’s a long course, so I need it to play fairly fast,” he said. “But I would like to have the greens a little softer.
“I don’t spin the ball a lot. It’s tough for me to get to some of these corners of pins. The way they had it set up last year, I really enjoyed. It was a little bit slower on the greens and a little bit softer I thought, and that played to my advantage.
“Right now, it’s in great shape, a lot of grass on the course. It’s really nice.”
Stricker is an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour, with four victories coming in the past 11 months. He has climbed to 13th on the PGA Tour’s career earnings list with more than $25 million. Yet, Stricker’s still chasing that elusive major championship.
“I always think and dream of winning a major,” he said. “It’s hard to dream about it and think about it and then not put too much pressure on yourself coming into a major and expecting too much instead of just trying to let it happen—just like you do at every other event, or at least I do at every other event.
“So there’s a fine line there of trying to make this your time and just try to let it come naturally. That’s the challenge, and hopefully I can be patient and just play like the way I’ve been playing the last four or five years.”
Stricker was scheduled to play a Tuesday morning practice round with the embattled Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara. But with his 2:30 p.m. (CDT) appearance in the press building, Stricker texted Woods to tell him he couldn’t make it.
“He gets up pretty early in the mornings to play,” Stricker said. “Why make it a full day?”
Woods, who is playing his first tournament in five months after the revelation of his transgressions, will be in the pairing immediately after Stricker the first two rounds. At 1:31 p.m. (CDT) Thursday, Stricker will tee off with Japan’s Yuta Ikeda and Ian Poulter.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that big of a deal,” Stricker said about being in front of Woods. “There’s a lot of strict policies here. There’s no running up and down the fairways. It’s pretty calm.
“Typically, each green is loaded with people anyway. It doesn’t matter when you go out there. It’s five people deep up at each green. So there will be a lot of people around.
“I think if anywhere you want to be paired ahead of him, this would probably be it. I don’t think it’s going to be that different for us in the group ahead.”
When play does begin Thursday, Stricker will try to put Bay Hill behind and just focus on things that have helped him succeed in recent years—like putting, where he is tied for fifth in the PGA Tour statistics.
“I’ve been on a great run the last couple of years, and I’ll just continue to try to keep doing that and keep doing the things that I’ve been doing to get me to this point,” he said. “And that’s work hard and trust my ability and go out there with positive thoughts.”