Stricker hears the leader's roar as he makes U.S. Open cut

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Ron Green Jr./Special to the Gazette
Saturday, June 18, 2011
— On the U.S. Open scoreboard, Steve Stricker is 13 strokes behind runaway leader Rory McIlroy.

But the Edgerton native has been closer than that—playing directly in front of McIlroy’s pairing the first two days at Congressional Country Club.

And while Stricker tacked a second-round 69 onto his opening 4-over-par 75 to easily make the 36-hole cut, he lost ground to the leader, who created roar after roar on a warm, sunny Friday, filling Stricker’s ears with the noise of what someone else was doing.

“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Stricker said of McIlroy’s start. “To be (11)-under, it’s pretty incredible. But there’s a long way to go yet.

“You have to just keep hanging in there and trying to shoot under par. He’s got to come back. The way he’s playing now, it doesn’t seem like he’ll do that, but you’ve got to play them all, keep fighting and see what happens. It’s pretty incredible what he’s done so far.”

Stricker and his playing partners David Toms and Retief Goosen were on the ninth tee Friday morning when McIlroy holed a 113-yard wedge shot for an eagle at the par-4 eighth hole. Stricker had just walked off the green when McIlroy spun the ball back into the hole.

Stricker didn’t have to guess who had done it.

“We all said it was probably him with the way it was going,” Stricker said. “Players get in those kinds of grooves, those kinds of rolls where they start to make everything, and shots go in from the fairway. We kinda had a feeling it was him.”

For Stricker, Friday was an improvement in every way over his opening round. He made a couple of quick birdies to get under par and generate some momentum.

His ball-striking has been solid—Stricker has hit 18 of 28 fairways and 23 of 36 greens— but he had 34 putts in the first round, an uncommonly high number. He was better Friday with 27 putts, but little has come easily to Stricker through two rounds.

“(I had) a little better day. It could have been even better if I could make some putts I normally make or should make. In that regard, it’s a little bittersweet. But all in all, I’ll be playing the weekend, so it’s a good thing,” Stricker said.

“I got it in play a little more off the tee, hit some good iron shots, gave myself some good opportunities. Played a little bit better, a little smarter, I guess.”

Stricker, like others, fell victim to the 523-yard, downhill par-4 18th hole. He flared his tee shot into the right rough, and rather than gamble at hitting the peninsula green from more than 200 yards out, Stricker played short with his second and wedged his third to within five feet of the hole—only to miss his par putt.

“I could have tried to hit something (to the green), but I have enough confidence in my wedge game, and I hit it in there to five feet. I lipped out. I did everything I was supposed to do there, just didn’t make the putt,” Stricker said.

Stricker has climbed to No. 4 in the world rankings—tops among American players— through his consistency and one of the game’s best putting strokes. At Congressional, however, he hasn’t found his comfort zone on the greens.

They’re softer than typical Open greens because of rain this week, and they’re getting bumpy in high-traffic areas around the holes. It has kept Stricker off balance.

“I can’t quite figure them out,” he said. “Sometimes they really break. Sometimes they don’t.

“I’m struggling on reading the greens. I had a lot of putts (Thursday) in going over the round. Hopefully, I can shape that up for the weekend.”

While McIlroy was making noise behind him and pulling clear of the field, Stricker has focused on himself, achieving his intermediate goal of making the cut after a rough start.

“I was paying attention to my own thing and knowing what I needed to do to get it back to play the weekend. That’s what I needed to do,” Stricker said.

“My goal was to shoot under par so I could play the weekend, so I really wasn’t worried about (McIlroy). He was too far away (at least in strokes) to think about.”

Last updated: 4:04 pm Wednesday, December 19, 2012

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