Going into this week’s Memorial Tournament, Steve Stricker had carded two eagles in his last 592 holes this season. In a stretch of seven holes at Muirfield Village, Stricker has three. He kicked off his eagle spree with his ace on the par-3 No. 8 (his 17th hole) during the second round. The following afternoon, Stricker got off to a hot start, holing out from 114 yards with a 53-degree wedge on the par-4 No. 2. And then on the par-5 No. 5 he knocked his second shot to seven feet and rolled in the eagle putt.
What was he thinking after his hole-out on the second hole?
“Thing are going my way,” said Stricker, laughing. “That’s what I was thinking.”
In the scorching heat in Dublin, Ohio, Stricker was nearly lapping the field, holing a five-shot lead through 14 holes over Matt Kuchar, the nearest competitor. Here comes the momentum killer! On the 14th Stricker had a four-footer for birdie, but missed the short putt to get to 15-under and a six-shot advantage. Then he ran into a long back-up on the 15th tee, which didn’t help things. He made a mess of the 15th and followed the bogey with another bogey on the 16th.
“You know, I really gave myself a couple opportunities,” said Stricker during his post-round presser. “I missed a couple greens. I hit it in the rough, laid it up in the rough on No. 11 and I wasn’t able to go for the pin there. 13, I hit a good second shot in there, the ball just went forever through the green. Missed a little putt at 14. I had some opportunities there.
“I missed a little putt at 16, lipped out at 17. So there were some things there, maybe a concentration level that wasn’t there like I had at the start of the round. All I’m worried about really is the final outcome. You know, 69 around there, like I said, is okay.”
Fatigue may have also been a factor. Players, young and old, looked weary as they played the last few holes. Just walking out there in that heat took a lot of you. I mean, I’m convinced I sweated out 10lbs! Okay, maybe not really, but it was hot. And I didn’t have to think my way around a tough golf course and deal with the mental fatigue.
“My final round scoring average this year I know hasn’t been too good, so hopefully I can erase that tomorrow and put up a good one,” said Stricker. “I feel like I’m in shape and I can handle the 72-hole tournament. Even the weather today was hot. It was a little more difficult, but I still felt good at the end of it all.”
Stricker has a three-shot lead over Jonathan Byrd. The two played together in the final group at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua the first week of the season. Byrd won in a playoff against Robert Garrigus.
“I’ve been taking time off that I’m a little bit mentally fresher each and every tournament, and I think I’m actually playing a little better, to tell you the truth. I haven’t won this year, but I feel like I am playing really consistent golf.”
And here’s a really funny part of the presser I’m including for kicks and giggles:
Q. A couple years ago after you regained your touch, I remember at the British Open people were all asking about how did you do it and why and you got a little leery of the question. Do you ever look back and say, how did I get back there? In other words, why was I there and do you even think of five, six, seven years ago?
STEVE STRICKER: Why was I bad?
STEVE STRICKER: I don’t —
Q. I didn’t use the word “bad.”
STEVE STRICKER: I know, but I wanted to make sure which section of my career you were talking about. (Laughter.)
I understand why I was there. You know, my commitment to the game, my swing wasn’t good. I understand why I was there.
To get to where I am today and all the things that have happened since like the ’05 season, I can’t believe where I am today, to tell you the truth. And that’s a good thing, because I keep striving to do bigger and better things. I keep working at it. I don’t take that for granted anymore. I think I did at times early in my career.
Now today — I’ve seen all the ups and downs that can be had out here, and I appreciate where I’m at right now, and that’s why I think I work harder at it and stay patient and do the things I’ve been doing.
And that is why Stricker is awesome, not to mention one of the nicest, most genuine guys on Tour.
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)