|Stricker is at least thinking of British Open|
|Wednesday, June 25, 2014 8:19 PM|
BETHESDA, Md. — Steve Stricker hasn’t booked his flight to the British Open and probably won’t.
He’s at least contemplating a return to golf’s oldest championship.
“Ask me tomorrow, I could be going,” Stricker replied during the U.S. Open. “Ask me another day, I could be going home. I’m leaning toward not going. I’m thinking about throwing in Greenbrier and then the John Deere. It’s a long trip and I’m not too fired up about it. But then I look at it and it’s a major. And I should be going there.”
Stricker operates under a different set of rules these days. It’s unfair to label him as an American who doesn’t want to travel. He reached a stage in his career where he doesn’t always travel inside his own country.
Feeling as though he owed it to his family to be at home more often, he drastically reduced his schedule last year and became a part-time player. He plays the John Deere Classic the week before the Open because it’s the closest he has to a hometown event — and because he won it three years in a row.
Even so, there’s part of him that sees a major championship going on and feels as if he belongs.
“When I watched on TV it was like, ‘I should be there.’ Then I look at it like I’m not a full-time guy on tour and I shouldn’t worry about,” Stricker said. “I play the things I want to play. My kids and wife might come to Greenbrier. They wouldn’t come with me to the British.”
With a tie for 21st in the U.S. Open, Stricker has moved up to No. 124 in the FedEx Cup. He has never missed the Tour Championship since the FedEx Cup began, a streak that is almost certain to end. With only limited starts remaining — at least three, maybe four — he’s not yet a lock to qualify for The Barclays.
And if he does make it into the playoffs, odds are against him staying very long.
“It’s not a priority of mine,” Stricker said. “If I’m exempt for The Barclays, I’ll probably play. But I do have an elk hunting trip I’ve scheduled.”
He was supposed to go last year but when he was runner-up at the Deutsche Bank and tied for fourth in the BMW Championship, it was worth playing the Tour Championship for a shot at the $10 million bonus.
That won’t be the case this time.
“Last year I missed out on it,” he added of the hunting trip. “This year, I’m going to be a part of that.”
EARLY START: The U.S. Women’s Open has been held before the men’s U.S. Open only three times, all of them in the South — 1996 and 2001 at Pine Needles, 1999 at Old Waverly in Mississippi.
Starting in 2018, the USGA will try to give the women a permanent spot on the schedule ahead of the men.
USGA Vice President Dan Burton said last week the 2018 Women’s Open at Shoal Creek will precede the U.S. Open, with practice rounds starting on Memorial Day.
“Making this permanent change allows us to elevate the visibility of the Women’s Open and provide optimum agronomic and playing conditions on a much broader variety of golf courses around the country,” Burton said. “We believe this will make our best championship in women’s golf even better.”
The next three Women’s Open will be in July in Pennsylvania (Lancaster CC), California (CordeValle) and New Jersey (Trump National).
OPEN SPOTS: The Quicken Loans National, also known as the “Return of Tiger Woods,” also is a big week for major champions like Angel Cabrera and Geoff Ogilvy.
This is the first of three PGA Tour events that in effect serve as British Open qualifying.
The R&A has gone away from the 36-hole qualifier that it once staged in Dallas during the Texas swing in May. The leading four players from among the top 12 at Congressional who are not already exempt get into the Open, which is next month at Royal Liverpool.
Cabrera and Ogilvy have played every year since 2004.
The leading four among the top 12 from The Greenbrier Classic also get into the British Open, while only spot is held at the John Deere Classic.
On the European Tour, three spots are available from the Irish Open, French Open and Scottish Open. Edoardo Molinari, Matthew Baldwin and Danny Willett secured spots at Royal Liverpool last week in Ireland.
Woods raises the energy level on PGA Tour
BETHESDA, Md. — Nobody has fielded more questions about Tiger Woods over his career than Ernie Els, at times to the point that it exasperates him.
Wednesday wasn’t one of those days.
Els hit his tee shot to start his pro-am round at the Quicken Loans National,and without prompting said, “It’s good to have him back, man.”
This from a guy who has finished runner-up to Woods more often than any other player, including three straight tournaments they played in 2000 by a combined 28 shots.
Then again, the Big Easy has known Woods longer than any other player. They were together in the clubhouse at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1996 when Woods sought his advice on whether to turn pro. Els understands what he brings to the game.
“This will get interesting now,” Els said before heading down the fairway. “He’s got records he’s chasing. I saw him from a distance and his swing looks good. I wish I were playing with him so I can see where he is.”
That’s a question that won’t be answered until today, when Woods returns after a 3-month hiatus from back pain and caused him to have surgery March 31. His opening round at Congressional will be his first competition in 109 days and Woods really hasn’t been competitive this year in the four tournaments he played.
The return of Woods was noticeable by the energy at the tournament. Ticket sales more than doubled on Friday when Woods announced he was ready to return to competition, particularly at a tournament that benefits his foundation.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem attended the opening ceremony and was asked on his way to the parking lot why it was important to have Woods back.
“Do I need to answer that question?” Finchem replied.
There were more fans for a Wednesday, more cameras, more interest, more speculation.
The 120-man field is stronger than in recent years and not just because Woods is back.
Jordan Spieth finished sixth last year when he was not even a PGA Tour member. Now he’s No. 9 in the field, among five players from the top 10 at Congressional. He is joined by Jason Day, Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley and Els, who is playing Congressional for the second time since winning the ‘97 U.S. Open here.
The defending champion is Bill Haas, who feels more like an afterthought and doesn’t mind in the least.
Brooke Henderson wins Canadian Women’s Tour event
NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario— Brooke Henderson won a Canadian Women’s Tour event Wednesday, three days after the 16-year-old star tied for 10th in the U.S. Women’s Open.
Henderson, from Smiths Falls, had a bogey-free 6-under 66 on the Legends on the Niagara’ Battlefield Course to finish at 9-under 135 — five strokes ahead of Stephanie Connelly.
With the victory, Henderson earned a spot in the Canadian Women’s Open in August at London Hunt.
She also won a Canadian Women’s Tour event in Quebec in 2012 at age 14.
Michael Block wins PGA Professional
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Michael Block won the PGA Professional National Championship in a playoff Wednesday to lead the 20 qualifiers for the PGA Championship.
The 38-year-old Block, the PGA head professional at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, California, beat Jamie Broce with a 3-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole.
Block is the former University of Missouri player who earned $75,000.
Block closed with his second straight even-par 72 at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club to match third-round leader Broce at 2-under 286. Broce, the University of Toledo coach, shot a 75. He bogeyed the final hole, lipping out a 4-foot par try.
Broce had three birdies and six bogeys in the final round.
The PGA Championship is Aug. 7-10 at Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky.
Stuart Deane of Arlington, Texas, was third at 1 under after a 71.
Frank Esposito of Monroe Township, New Jersey, had a 69 to finish fourth at even par.
Karen Paolozzi closed with a 74 to tie for 49th at 10 over, the best finish by a female player in the history of the tournament. Suzy Whaley is the only other female player to make the cut, tying for 64th in 2005.
Becca Huffer wins Michigan Women’s Open by 2 shots
WELDON TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Becca Huffer has shot an 11-under three-round total of 205 to win the Michigan PGA Women’s Open Championship by two strokes.
The ex-Notre Dame team captain from Denver had a 2-under 70 on Wednesday’s rain-delayed final round to claim the top prize of $5,500. She birdied the last two holes to break a 3-way tie.
The event was on the Mountain Ridge Course at Crystal Mountain Resort in Benzie County’s Weldon Township, about 25 miles southwest of Traverse City.
First-time pro player Ashlan Ramsey of Milledgeville, Georgia, and amateur and University of Wisconsin player Kimberly Dinh of Midland, Michigan, tied for second at 9-under 207.
Ex-Michigan State star Allyssa Ferrell of Edgerton, Wisconsin, finished fourth with a 5-under 211 and Ashley Tait of Littleton, Colorado, was fifth at 4-under 212.