No more trouble and strife as Stricker's passion for golf renewed

THE folklore of golf thrives on stories of redemption and Steve Stricker's victory at the Barclays in New York on Sunday - his first win in six years - added a human dimension to a tournament which completely overshadowed the hype surrounding the FedEx Cup.

Without a PGA Tour card as recently as two years ago, Stricker hadn't won in America for 11 years. During that time, he'd wondered if he should continue as a professional golfer, only to work out there wasn't anything else he could do for a living which would give him a fraction of the satisfaction.

In a compelling climax to the Barclays which featured a host of quality players, including Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, Stricker held off a stirring challenge from KJ Choi by carding four birdies over the closing five holes to card 69 and the 16-under-par winning score of 268.

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It was a display which turned the clock back for a golfer who first made his name as a brilliant putter - a player good enough to win a World Championship event, the Accenture match play title, in Australia in 2001.

Stricker is still a fantastic putter - he led the putting stats at Westchester Country Club - and has played well enough this year at 40 to rise to No 5 in the world.

A natural match-play golfer because of his sure touch with the putter, Stricker also finished runner-up behind Vijay Singh in the US PGA championship at Sahalee near Seattle in 1998 and twice earned spots in the top five at the US Open. Until Carnoustie, when he played in the last group with Sergio Garcia, however, the Wisconsin golfer had dropped off the radar at the Open.

Stricker didn't make a cut in any of the majors between 2003 and 2006 when he lost his way off the course as well as on it. His wife, Nicki, who once caddied for him, became a mother and Stricker found it difficult to adjust to life on the road without her.

Deterred by a pull hook in the mechanics of his game and a sense of disorientation in his private life, Stricker spoke candidly at Carnoustie, where he equalled the course record of 64, of his personal struggles. "When she's not there driving with you like she had been all those years, and she's taking care of the kids, and you're leaving, it tests you a little bit," he confessed. "It finds out where your heart is, and that's why I struggled."

When his game went into freefall, Stricker lost his card on the PGA Tour and admitted he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. In the end he worked out he was a golfer who needed to re-dedicate himself to the game, work harder and show the desire which is part and parcel of every successful professional.

Pounding yellow golf balls in the snow and living in a trailer at his father-in-law's course in Wisconsin during the winter of 2005 handed Stricker a ticket back into the game.

"There was no real defining moment except that I put in a lot of hard work at the end of the 2005 season," he recalled. "I went back to Tour School and I think that was a big wake-up call. I put a lot of effort there and I think I missed my card by a couple of shots. I caught on to many things during that winter in Wisconsin hitting a lot of balls. I caught on to some things and when I came out in the 2006 season, I felt like the things I was working on were helping and working."

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After winning nearly $2 million in 2006, Stricker was hungry enough in 2007 to chase down Tiger Woods at the Wachovia and Choi at the AT&T as well as finish 13th at Oakmont in the US Open. Stricker arrived in Angus with form and motivation. Even though he hadn't played on the linksland of the British Isles for five years, his 64 in the third round was no great surprise. After all with seven top-ten finishes and earnings of nearly $4m in 2007, Stricker was having the season of his life.

It was more of a puzzle, why he putted so poorly in Sergio's company on the Sunday afternoon and swiftly fell out of contention for his first major title. Whatever ailed him under pressure at Carnoustie, where he finished eighth, the American was able to put right in New York when another shot at victory came along.

"There are guys that are in that position [with a chance to win] a lot and it becomes second nature for them," observed Stricker, who wept copiously after his victory. "I'm not one of those guys. But I did feel much more comfortable. It shows you there's progress.

"Earlier in the year I wouldn't have been able to make the three birdies coming in."


1 Tiger Woods (USA) 21.95 pts

2 Jim Furyk (USA) 8.66

3 Phil Mickelson (USA) 8.64

4 Ernie Els (Rsa) 7.69

5 Steve Stricker (USA) 6.54

6 Adam Scott (Aus) 6.53

7 Padraig Harrington (Irl) 6.23

8 Kung Ju Choi (Kor) 5.81

9 Geoff Ogilvy (Aus) 5.79

10 Vijay Singh (Fij) 5.78