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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

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In Sports

Three-time John Deere Classic champion Steve Stricker hopes to hold a green jacket this week. (PHOTO: Greg Boll, John Deere Classic)

Stricker heads to Augusta searching for first major title


Last April, the world of golf celebrated the 25th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus' improbable win at the Masters Tournament, the 46-year-old Golden Bear winning his 18th and final major championship in the most improbable fashion – besting two of the top players in the world in Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman.

Can 2012 produce a similar storyline for one of Wisconsin's own, with 45-year-old Steve Stricker?

It would be Stricker's first major, but the story wouldn't be any less dramatic.

Heading into Thursday's first round however, the world's fifth-ranked player isn't on the short list of pre-tournament favorites. His age seems to be the overriding factor, along with a troublesome neck injury.

The injury may have affected his schedule to this point, but not necessarily performance. He has only played in five events, but won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January and posted top 10 finishes at the WGC-Accenture Match Play and WGC-Cadillac Championship.

He finished tied for 36th at the Shell Houston Open last week.

Stricker enters the Masters ranking second on the PGA Tour in scoring average, third in greens in regulation and fourth in birdie percentage. On the other hand, the usually steady putter ranks 72nd in total putting and 102nd from three to five feet – troublesome numbers heading onto Augusta National's slick greens.

After his victory in January, the Madison resident was asked if he thinks time is running short to win that elusive major.

"Yeah, I think about it," Stricker admitted. "But I also think about that I've played so well over the last six years that there's no reason that I can't continue to keep playing well. I'm not seeing any really changes in my game, and that's the nice part. I'm not hitting it shorter this year. I actually feel like I'm hitting a little bit longer. You know, so it's – I keep telling myself there's no reason why I can't continue on to do what I've been doing."

While that approach has worked at regular tour stops, Stricker hasn't finished in the top 10 in a major since the 2009 Masters, where he tied for sixth.

"I've always done the same thing," he said of preparing for majors. "I don't know if it's - it must not be a good recipe. I haven't won one. But it is a recipe."

All eyes this week will be on Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and world No. 1 Luke Donald, who is also seeking his first major. Lee Westwood and Hunter Mahan, also ahead of Stricker in the world rankings, have yet to capture a major.

In fact, of the top 10 players in the world, only McIlroy (2nd), Martin Kaymer (6th), Woods (7th) and Charl Schwartzel (8th) have major titles.

Yet it seems as if more pressure lies on the likes of Justin Rose, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Nick Watney and Sergio Garcia than a man who has won eight times in the last four years.

It's a role that suits Stricker.

"I just try to do my own thing," he said. "I tried to compare myself to guys when I was playing well back in the mid '90s when I was playing well, and you know, I got into some bad things. I'm happy the way -with what I do. Jimmy (Johnson), my caddie, says, do what you do, or let's just do what we do. And I think that sums it up the best. We just go about and do our thing. It may not be the flashiest thing at times, but I do other things well. I chip and putt well, I'm driving the ball well.

"Everybody has got a little bit different game, and that's the way I just kind of look at mine and do the things that we know how to do the best."

Stricker opens up play Thursday at 7:56 a.m. alongside major champions Padraig Harrington and Stewart Cink and you can track his progress here.


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