SAN FRANCISCO – It was six years ago that Steve Stricker made his way to the top of the leaderboard at the halfway point of the U.S. Open.
For the guy from Wisconsin, that was the beginning of a second career after a three-year stint of struggling with his game and losing his card.
But that Friday at Winged Foot, Stricker at 39, was back and most thought his game and demeanor was perfect for such venues that the USGA picked for its national championship.
Since then Stricker has won nine times on the PGA Tour. His history in the U.S. Open has been solid, yet unspectacular with five made cuts, but nothing better than a T-13 in 2007 at Oakmont.
After two rounds at Olympic, one of the best American players struggled for 34 holes, but put together a strong finish recording an eagle from the fairway on the par-5 17th hole and then making a birdie putt for what seemed like the first time in two days to move from 7-over to 4-over in two holes and now is in the hunt with 36-holes to go.
“I haven’t seen it go in a lot this year so far, except for Hyundai,” Stricker said of the only event he won at the beginning of the 2012 season. “Maybe a finish like this today, I holed from the fairway at 17 and then made a nice 15‑footer for birdie at 18. Maybe something like that is going to kick‑start it and get it going.”
Stricker was just five shots off the lead when the afternoon wave started on Friday and maybe seeing that putt drop on the 18th will make the difference going into the weekend. But the 45-year-old is also struggling with a missed cut at the Players, breaking his cut streak of 49 consecutive cuts that spanned back to the 2009 PGA Championship.
“I think that missed cut kind of took a lot out of me,” Stricker said trying to explain his poor play since then. “I don’t know what it did, but I felt a little down after that. It’s been hard to kind of focus. I’ve been fighting through that a little bit, too. My focus isn’t there. I’m trying hard, too. You know how sometimes in the game you’re trying, you’re trying hard, and it still isn’t there. I’m just not letting it happen like I have been for a couple years. I’m trying to force things.”
Dwelling on a missed cut and not seeing the ball drop on the greens is usually a recipe for disaster, but Stricker seems to believe that he has worked hard enough and if the flatstick can regain some of the magic he has seen in the past he can make a run.
“Last year I didn’t win until Memorial and then I won John Deere,” Stricker said. “ So I’m not worried about that, I’m more worried about getting that putter going, t today I lipped out a little five‑footer for par at six and then I hit it in there three feet at seven for birdie and don’t make that, and those are momentum killers.”