JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Steve Stricker’s roll through the PGA Tour Champions in the last 12 months has been termed “Tiger-esque” more than once.
Okay, let’s not get that carried away – because Stricker surely isn’t.
Perhaps because he understands the context and the setting of playing on the Champions tour (the courses aren’t too long, the 54-hole tournaments have no cut and there certainly isn’t the same pressure of facing a putt to win the U.S. Senior Open as there is the U.S. Open), Stricker is able to view his last 12 months with a healthy dose of perspective.
For example, is he a better player now, with nine victories since the fall of 2022 and 19 consecutive top-10 finishes (currently the fourth-longest streak in Champions history) than when he was on the PGA Tour?
“I don’t think so,” he said on Wednesday after playing in the Constellation Furyk & Friends Pro-Am at the Timuquana Country Club. “All of our abilities tend to deteriorate over time. I’m not hitting it as far, probably not as good a putter or chipper as I was when I was playing full-time [on the PGA Tour].”
Still … what he has done since he won the Furyk & Friends in his last start last season is mindboggling, whether it’s on the Champions Tour, PGA Tour, or a mini-tour.
Stricker is ‘driven’
Stricker will try to become the eighth player in Champions tour history to win seven or more times in one season when he opens his title defense on Friday in a group with tournament host Jim Furyk and Davis Love III.
Furyk’s two-shot victory over Harrison Frazar to win the 2022 Furyk & Friends ended one hot streak where he won three and finished third in a four-tournament stretch.
Stricker elected not to play in the 2022 Schwab Cup Playoffs and still finished third. Hunting season beckoned and family ties (such as caddying for his daughter in the Wisconsin state high school championship) pulled him away, perhaps understandable because it was a rough year. He didn’t play until May 2022 because of an illness that remains mysterious and once he recovered, he played 12 of the last 17 tournaments.
Completely healthy, Stricker began the 2023 season by winning the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii and it’s been a one-man horse race since: six victories, three Champions majors (the Regions Tradition, the Senior PGA and the Kaulig Championship, which earned him a spot in the 2024 Players Championship) and nearly $4 million in earnings, already a single-season record.
When Stricker successfully defended his championship in the Sanford International last month, it was his fifth victory in eight starts. The worst he’s played are a pair of ties for eighth.
Despite Stricker’s mild-mannered nature, Furyk said there’s an inner fire that burns deep and has resulted in 17 PGA Tour Champions titles, to go with 12 PGA Tour victories.
“He’s still very driven, still works hard on his game, has kept himself in shape and has no weaknesses,” Furyk said. “He has some power, he has a lot of accuracy, very good short game … his strength is that he doesn’t have any weaknesses.”
Mike Weir termed Stricker’s run “incredible.”
“He’s dominated this year,” Weir said.
Only Langer can catch him
Stricker also plans on closing out the Schwab Cup race. He’s got a lead of $2,065,705 over second-place Bernhard Langer, with two regular-season tournaments to play. Stricker tentatively said he will play the first Schwab Cup playoff in Richmond, Virginia, and then the Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix, Nov. 9-12.
But if he wins this week and Langer finishes outside the top 10, it could be all over.
The wins and top-10s tell the story about Stricker. The underlying reasons can be seen in almost any statistic:
- Stricker leads in scoring (67.35), birdies per round (5.18), eagles (11), putts per greens in regulation (1.681) and percentage of one-putt greens (39.3 percent).
- He’s hitting enough fairways (14th on the Champions Tour, 73.1 percent), is second in greens in regulation (77.7) and fifth in three-putt avoidance.
- On the rare occasions that Stricker doesn’t hit a green, he’s getting up and down, leading the Tour in scrambling (making par 75.5 percent of the time when he missed in regulation) and is second in sand saves (66.7).
That’s just showing off.
“You put those two stats together [greens in regulation and scrambling] and it usually adds up to some pretty good scores,” he said in his typical understated fashion.
Stricker simply having fun
Weir said Stricker’s short game would stack up among the best on the PGA Tour – right now.
“How well he wedges it and putts it, all those little things around the greens,” Weir said. “Jordan Spieth comes to mind.”
Stricker said it all boils down to having fun.
“I didn’t have this many opportunities on the regular Tour,” he said. “You get in there quite a bit and have that opportunity; you can get a little more comfortable with the situation and then it’s kind of fun to see if you can pull off the shots coming down the stretch – that part’s been a gas.”
Not so much for everyone else on the Champions – only 12 other players have won this season and only Langer can catch him for the Schwab Cup.
“If I play well and play my game, I could have an opportunity to be in contention the last day,” he said. “There are always things we can improve on but I’ve been putting well, my short game has been pretty good and when you do that, you can kind of scrape out some rounds when you don’t hit it so well.”
If that happens to Stricker this week, that would be news.