Steve Stricker withdrew last week from the BMW.
Michael Cohen/Getty Images
Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ATLANTA (AP) — Steve Stricker is concerned about losing strength in his left arm, and it didn't help Tuesday at East Lake that he was hitting balls next to Bubba Watson.

He watched Watson pound one drive so far that it hit the net on the back of the range on the fly.

"If my neck didn't hurt, I could get that," Stricker said with a grin.

Stricker withdrew from the BMW Championship last week after two rounds because of neck pain that affected his left arm and made it difficult to hold onto the club. He had a cortisone shot on Monday - his first one - and felt he was fine to play in the Tour Championship.

The shot was between the C6 and C7 vertebrae, and he played nine holes in Wisconsin that afternoon.

"I don't feel better yet," said Stricker, who was told it would take three to five days for him to feel a difference.

"The crazy thing is there's no pain. My neck is a little stiff, that's all. But there's just a weak, heavy feeling in my left arm."

He spent most of his time hitting drivers on the range, with his worst miss being a hard draw for not getting through on his left side. He hit four drives on the 10th tee, taking his hand off the club on one shot that sailed into the right rough.

"I feel it here," he said, rubbing the back of his left shoulder. "I think it affects my move back to the ball."

Stricker said he first realized something was wrong with his left arm last December when it collapsed while pulling back his bow while deer hunting. He thought he took care of it through exercise, and he won two more PGA Tour events this year. But he noticed his left arm getting weaker as the season went on.

He has not finished in the top 10 in the six events since winning the John Deere Classic.

"The doctors are moderately concerned this is back again," Stricker said.

His plan is to have an MRI on Tuesday after the Tour Championship and "come up with a game plan from there."

Still to come this year is the Presidents Cup on Nov. 17-20. Stricker also had planned to play a Fall Series event to stay sharp.


PAYNE STEWART AWARD: David Toms was presented the Payne Stewart Award on Tuesday, in honor of the three-time major champion who died in a plane crash on his way to the Tour Championship in 1999.

The award is for a player who shares Stewart's respect for golf tradition, commitment to charity and presentation of himself and the sport through his dress and conduct.

Toms, whose 13 wins include the PGA Championship in 2001, has a foundation that works with at-risk children, and he is building a golf academy for less privileged kids.

He also has raised more than $2 million through a charity golf tournament that raises money for children who have been abused or neglected.

"Something like this is different," Toms said. "It's different than winning a tournament. It goes beyond that. And to be a part of this award is truly special."

Toms said his only regret was not getting to play on a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team with Stewart, although he saw how much Stewart enjoyed life during the King Hassan tournament in Morocco. Toms said Stewart was in the locker room, wearing a strange hat and dancing to music in the presence of royalty.

"He went on to win the tournament that week, and it made an impression on me what he was all about," Toms said. "I wish I would have got to play with him a lot longer. But just to be associated with the award with his name is a great honor."


PLAYER OF THE YEAR: It's difficult enough to find a favorite for PGA Tour player of the year going into the Tour Championship. Keegan Bradley has two wins, including the PGA Championship. Luke Donald is No. 1 in the world. Steve Stricker, Webb Simpson, Nick Watney, Bubba Watson and Mark Wilson all are going for a third win at East Lake.

"I think a win this week would sway a lot of people's minds," Donald said.

Tougher still might be finding the player of the year on the European Tour, although its season still has nearly three months left.

Thomas Bjorn has won three times. Rory McIlroy had a record-setting win at the U.S. Open, while Darren Clarke had a sentimental win at the British Open, his second win of the year. There's also Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Donald, who has three European Tour wins and is atop the world ranking.

"It's finding that balance between how important is winning that major compared to the consistency of a year," Donald said. "What does player of the year stand for? Does it stand for having that one great week in a major, which is extremely important? Of is it weighed by being very consistent week in and week out?

"I don't know what everyone's thinking," he said. "It could a number of different ways."

Perhaps the real measure is who gets put on the cover of the European Tour media guide for 2012.

"I'm sure they'll just fill it up with the major trophies again," Donald said.


BACK TO BERMUDA: The PGA Championship was at Atlanta Athletic Club last month, which should help freshen some memories. Without that tournament, some players at East Lake for the Tour Championship will have gone four months without playing out of Bermuda rough.

Either way, the first three playoff events were played out of a far different grass in northern courses of Plainfield (Barclays), TPC Boston (Deutsche Bank) and the BMW Championship (Cog Hill).

Nick Watney said the biggest adjustment is on getting a flyer out of the rough.

"It's not a matter of 'if,' it's a matter of how much," Watney said. "I hit a flyer nine times out of 10. So for me, it's about trying to play the correct amount of a flyer."

He did OK the last time, winning a World Golf Championship at Doral.

Dustin Johnson grew up in South Carolina and now lives in South Florida, so he's accustomed to this strain of golf. That doesn't make it any easier for him.

"I've played it my whole life, but it's still hard to chip out of," Johnson said. "It's just tough to judge chipping."


DIVOTS: Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis will represent the LPGA Tour in the Three-Tour Challenge, to be played Nov. 8 at the Rio Secco in Las Vegas. Teams from the PGA Tour and Champions Tour will be announced later. The PGA Tour (Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Boo Weekley) won last year. ... Ernie Els has decided to play the Open in two weeks. Els has a sponsorship deal with SAP, whose founder and chairman, Hasso Plattner, owns Cordevalle. ... Matt Kuchar is the only player with a mathematical chance of capturing the $10 million FedEx Cup without winning a tournament all year.


STAT OF THE WEEK: For the second straight year, only one major champion (Keegan Bradley) made it to the Tour Championship.


FINAL WORD: "If you're not in the top 50 in the world golf ranking, this is the next best thing you can do." - Charles Howell III, on getting to the Tour Championship. That assures of him of playing three majors and one World Golf Championship event next year.

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