It's official. Steve Stricker is now the No. 2-ranked golfer in the world after his Northern Trust Open victory at Riviera Country Club. He edged past Phil Mickelson, who had a disappointing week after a hyped buildup. Which makes Stricker, then, the No. 1 active player in the world while Tiger Woods sits out.
One of the great things about Stricker is his honesty. He went into the final round at Riviera with a six-shot lead. That was the same-size lead that Greg Norman had at the 1996 Masters, where he lost to Nick Faldo. And yes, Stricker was thinking about that.
From Bob Butitta in the Ventura County Star:
“You play scared; at least I did for a while,” Stricker said. “If I
don’t win the tournament, you’re looked upon as the guy who didn’t
finish it off. Those thoughts run through your head.”
The thoughts got even stronger as Stricker played the first five
holes 1 over par, while Luke Donald went 3 under over the same stretch. With his lead down to just two strokes, Stricker told his caddie it was time to get aggressive. The Wisconsin native proceeded to close out his front nine with
birdies on the very difficult eighth and ninth holes, upping his lead
to four strokes. Over the final nine holes, Stricker made enough big shots to hold
off Donald and Dustin Johnson to claim his eighth career PGA Tour
title. Stricker finished at 16-under 268, two strokes ahead of Donald
and three in front of Johnson and J.B. Holmes.
The victory was his fourth win in his last 15 starts. Five years ago, he was slumping and ranked 337th in the world. He said he isn't concerned about what it would take to surpass the idle Woods and reach No. 1. From Randy Youngman in the Orange County Register:
"We all know who the best player in the world is," Stricker said. "You know, he does what he does, and I do the things that I do …
just try to do the things I'm good at. That's sometimes not
the flashiest thing in the world. It may be grinding it out, making
putts or getting it up and down, but it's my way, it's my style."I never really set a goal when I was 337th. But I did
set goals (back then) to win again and just to work harder at my game.
To be in this position now is truly unbelievable. I would never have
dreamt (this). I think if I had set this goal about six years ago, if I
had told anybody they would have said I was crazy."
On AOL Fanhouse, Mick Elliott wrote that Sticker is "golf's new smart pick." Elliott's take:
Steve Stricker, a Wisconsin native who is every bit as comfortable sitting in a tree
stand dressed in hunter's camouflage as he does hitting golf shots,
sighted a coyote last week while touring Riviera Country Club outside
Los Angeles during the PGA Tour's Northern Trust Open. "We go
hunting for those things all the time in Wisconsin," Stricker observed.
"And that thing was about 30 yards away from me. We don't have them
that dumb up there." It would have been a great opportunity
for Stricker to have suggested golf should wise up, too. After Sunday's
final-round 70 and 16-under par finish earned the 42-year-old Stricker
his fourth victory in 13 months, it's time to give him his due. The world's best golfer actually playing golf is the unassuming
Cheesehead with the unspectacular game. All he does is hit fairways,
find greens and make putts. He's a wallflower in a game captivated by
flash. But guess what? With Tiger Woods, at least for the present, a non factor, that makes Stricker golf's main man.