Presidents Cup: Stricker-Spieth pairing looms

Steve Stricker hits shots on the range Tuesday at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.

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DUBLIN, Ohio –– Steve Stricker had to skip a hunting trip with buddies in order to play the Tour Championship, but at this week’s Presidents Cup, he’s expected to land the young buck that has everyone’s attention.

If things go according to plan for U.S. captain Fred Couples, Stricker, at 46 a “part-timer” and the oldest player at this week’s matches, will pair with 20-year-old whiz kid Jordan Spieth.

Stricker is excited about the very sound of that. The two played together on Tuesday at Muirfield Village in a hard-fought match against Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley (Mickelson-Bradley came away with the victory, overturning the big-money whipping they received from Stricker/Spieth at East Lake during the Tour Championship).

Stricker is steady and is generally regarded as the best putter on the U.S. side; Spieth drives it straight, exudes some good 'ol Texas grit and averages nearly four birdies a round. With both players likely to be in a lot of holes, Stricker likes the prospects if the pair get the Day 1 call in the opening four-ball session.

Spieth slowly caught the veteran’s attention this summer as he continually got himself into the mix on Sundays. Spieth won the John Deere Classic, and Stricker was listening on the radio as Spieth nearly pulled off victory at the Wyndham, too.

“I remember he made a big putt at 18 there (in a playoff against Patrick Reed). It was a progression,” Stricker said, “of seeing him constantly stand up to the pressure.”

For Stricker, this week's Presidents Cup, which begins on Thursday, is something of a bonus.

At his season opener in Hawaii in January, Stricker announced that he was cutting back his schedule in order to spend more time at home, and he really wasn’t sure what to expect. There were weeks he admittedly felt rusty, but the most significant byproduct of playing fewer events was that he always felt fresh, and was able to stay positive. He says that alone might have gained him a shot a round. In 13 starts, he posted eight top-10 finishes.

By the time August's WGC-Bridgestone rolled around, the Presidents Cup was in his sights. He wanted to play only if he could qualify on points and not rely on a captain’s pick; he played consistently well enough to finish seventh.

“He's one of my all‑time favorites,” said U.S. captain Fred Couples of Stricker, who is playing in his fifth Presidents Cup. “To be honest with you, when he set his schedule, he had a long road to hoe to get here, but he's played such phenomenal golf that he made the team, deserves to be on the team, and is actually maybe more excited than anyone but Jordan (Spieth), and that's a good thing.”

Stricker’s last go-around at an international team event was a harsh experience. He went pointless at last autumn's Ryder Cup at Medinah, losing all four of his matches, and stood by on the 18th green as Europe's Martin Kaymer made a clutch 6-footer to beat him in singles and complete a huge Sunday comeback.

Stricker, who was playing not far from his home in Wisconsin and whose normally solid putting stroke let him down repeatedly at Medinah, was crestfallen. And clearly stung.

“It was fun,” he said on Medinah’s 18th green that Sunday, "but I don’t want to do it again."

Well, here he is, albeit in a lighter atmosphere, and he is excited about the opportunity. He said he’ll always think about Medinah, and though it’s a sour memory, that's simply golf; the game is filled with them. It’s how one rebounds that matters, and how one forges ahead, striving to improve, get better and create better memories.

When asked if this week’s Presidents Cup might be his swan song in team golf, Stricker didn’t hesitate. He said he’s already thinking ahead to being part of the U.S. team that will venture to Scotland’s Gleneagles for the 2014 Ryder Cup.

“The (2012) Ryder Cup left a sour taste in all our mouths,” Stricker said. “The way we left Medinah was not a good feeling. It would be nice to get another crack at it.”

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