Spander: Stricker’s comeback lands him on Team Tiger

He’s seen as the other guy, the accompaniment to the main act, part of a twosome which some might consider a single. Steve Stricker was Tiger Woods’ partner in all four Presidents Cup team matches, an accessory, perhaps, also a necessity.

A man who almost left the game, Stricker, 42, has no ego problems. And of late, after twice winning the Comeback of the Year Award and this year having won three times and moving to third in the world rankings, no golf problems either.

The person assigned to join Tiger, especially in the alternate-shot, foursomes format, has to understand it’s not going to be a walk at Harding Park. The fans are there to see Woods. Saturday morning they were yelling, “Hey, Tiger.” No reference to Stricker.

But he and Tiger work well together. And when Tiger holes a 22-foot birdie putt 17 and then rips a 3-iron onto the green for his second shot on the 18th to set up Stricker’s eagle putt, Steve just smiles. “I have a front row seat,” said Stricker. “We all know what he does.”

What the two of them did was win the final two holes of the foursomes to beat Mike Weir and Tim Clark of the Internationals, 1 up.
When a few weeks back Stricker briefly was atop the standings of the FedEx Cup, eventually won by Tiger, Steve said, “We’re taking up space in [Tiger’s] world, but I’m thrilled to death to be playing how I’m playing.”

Especially after never finishing better than 151st on the PGA Tour money list from 2003-05.

His wife, Nicki, once his caddy, was home with their two young children. He was feeling sorry for himself, was ready to quit.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do the rest of my life,” he said once. “I didn’t have the desire that I really needed to play this game … Then at the end of the 2005 season, I went back to Tour school, didn’t make it and just kind of rededicated myself to work harder.”

Obviously, it worked far better than anyone might have imagined.

“I think we approach the game with the same mentality,” said Tiger of Stricker. “We just play it differently. I hit the ball a little farther. But our mentality and how we play and compete is exactly the same.”

Stricker, who grew up in Wisconsin but went to the University of Illinois, also has the right mental approach to be Tiger’s teammate.
“It’s been a blast,” said Stricker. “I hope he’s not sick of me.”

Nobody gets sick of winning.


Local legends make return to Harding

They had come home, in a sense, back to the course where long ago they had perfected the game. Ken Venturi and Johnny Miller were at Harding Park, for them a place of history and memories.

Each graduated from Lincoln High, a few miles away from Harding. Each had gone on to win a U.S. Open. Now Miller, 62, was working The Presidents Cup as NBC’s co-lead announcer with Dan Hicks, while Venturi, 78, was in attendance to observe and remember.

The trophy case inside the entrance to Harding’s Sandy Tatum clubhouse is dominated by the huge cup Venturi earned in the famous San Francisco City Championship of 1956, when he defeated E. Harvie Ward in a finals watched by 10,000 people.

Miller told the TV audience he used to fish in Lake Merced off the edge of the 18th hole, which for The Presidents Cup was played as the 15th hole.

“I followed him,” Miller said of Venturi who later was a commentator for CBS, “in his two careers, as a golfer and an announcer.”
Venturi, won the U.S. Open in 1964, the last year two rounds were held the final day, surviving 90-degree temperatures at Washington’s Congressional Club. Miller’s title came nine years later at Oakmont outside Pittsburgh.

It was fitting Venturi’s final tour victory was at the 1966 Lucky International at Harding, where his father once had been the pro. Miller never won at Harding but he did at Pebble Beach and Silverado in Napa.


On target

Despite an unseasonably cold, cloudy Saturday, another sellout crowd of some 28,000 — including Condoleezza Rice and former U.S. Open winner Juli Inkster — swarmed about Harding Park to watch The Presidents Cup. Support from Northern California sports fans has been overwhelming for this second of the five golf events promised to Harding Park over a 15-year span after $16 million was spent for improvements on the public course.


Who said it


Steve Stricker

Tiger Woods holed a 22-foot birdie putt on 17 in the morning after Steve Stricker’s relatively poor bunker shot and squared the match against Mike Weir and Tim Clark. Asked how he continues to come through, Woods quipped, “Luck.” Not exactly.  Stricker  said, “He kept telling me we are going to win. He was calling it all the way. Believing is one thing, and he pulled off some great shots at the end.”

Jim Furyk

“I love playing with Justin,” was Jim Furyk’s comment after he and Justin Leonard beat Ernie Els and Adam Scott, 4 and 2, in foursomes. “But we split up in the afternoon. We hit the ball so much alike. You need someone who plays totally different. Anthony [Kim] and I are two different people who get along great.” They also played strong against Scott and Angel Cabrera in four-ball.


Match to watch

Who else but Tiger Woods? Teaming with Steve Stricker, so far he is 4-0 in two foursomes, two fourballs. Today Tiger and the 23 others on both teams play singles, match play. Woods is 3-2 overall in five previous Presidents Cup singles, his losses coming in the last two Cups, to Retief Goosen of South Africa in 2005 and Mike Weir in 2007. After Saturday, he is 9-2-1 in foursomes, or alternate shot competition.

By the numbers

Total singles matches that will be played today: 12

Tiger Woods’ career Presidents Cup singles record entering today: 3-2

Vijay Singh’s career Presidents Cup singles record entering today: 1-4-2

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