Category archive: Steve Stricker

Steve StrickerDavid Cannon/Getty ImagesSteve Stricker carded four birdies on the back nine at Valhalla Golf Club on Friday, jumping on to the first page of the leaderboard at the 96th PGA Championship.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Steve Stricker will be going next month to the Ryder Cup in Scotland. The problem is, he's not entirely sure what his job will be after shooting a 3-under-par 68 on Friday at the PGA Championship.

The 47-year-old Wisconsin native, who was tied for fifth Friday when he finished his second round at Valhalla Golf Club, was asked to be a vice captain by U.S. captain Tom Watson, who made the announcement Wednesday.

At 38th in the Ryder Cup standings, Stricker could still be on the U.S. squad, but nothing short of a victory at Valhalla would get him inside the top nine who automatically qualify.

Because the PGA Championship increased its purse to $10 million -- and the winner gets $1.8 million -- Stricker has a chance to make the team on points. (In PGA Tour events, one point is given for every $1,000 in prize money earned; at majors, two points are awarded for every $1,000 earned).

Stricker also could be an insurance policy. If a player is unable to compete due to injury, Watson can replace him up until the opening ceremonies the day before the matches begin. That could be the case with Jason Dufner (currently eighth in the standings) and Tiger Woods, who potentially could be a captain's pick. Dufner withdrew from the PGA Championship on Thursday with neck problems, and Woods is coming off back surgery. Stricker is also dealing with a hip injury.

That's not the only reason Watson decided to name Stricker -- a three-time Ryder Cup participant with a combined 3-7-1 record -- a vice captain.

"What Steve brings here is a great familiarity with the players who are on the tour right now," Watson said. "He's played against them, played with them, has played with them on the Ryder Cup team and the Presidents Cup teams. So he brings a great deal of understanding of who these players are and their capabilities. That's the bottom line."

Stricker, whose first Ryder Cup came here at Valhalla in 2008, joins Andy North and Raymond Floyd as the other assistants to Watson when the Americans try to reclaim the title in the biennial matches that start Sept. 26 at Gleneagles.

The PGA Championship is only Stricker's 11th start, with a best finish of T-6 at the Memorial Tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus. He skipped last month's Open Championship despite being exempt in the year's third major.

Part-timer Stricker continues to cash in

March, 10, 2013

DORAL, Fla. -- This semi-retirement thing is working out quite nicely for Steve Stricker. Three tournaments, three top-five finishes, including Sunday's runner-up result to Tiger Woods.

Stricker earned $880,000 for finishing second.

"I just feel like there's little pressure on me at all," said Stricker, who contends he will not play more than 11 or 12 times this year. "I'm really having a lot of fun. I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I get very pumped and excited to play when I do come out."

Stricker will not play again until the Shell Houston Open later this month and then the Masters.

Adam Scott shot the round of the tournament, an 8-under-par 64, to climb the leaderboard and into a tie for third. He will play this week's Tampa Bay Championship, his last event before the Masters.

"It's really good for me going into next week, a course [Innisbrook] that I think I can do well at," Scott said. "Although I've not done that great there in the past, it will be a good challenge for me next week to try and get more out of myself."

Although Tiger Woods has won four times at Doral, he has no problem with the fact that he'll face a difference golf course when the tournament returns to the Blue Monster at Trump Doral next year.

Sometime soon, a renovation of the course will be take place under the direction of new owner Donald Trump. Yardage will be added and holes such as 1, 9, 10 and 15 will have significant alterations.

"I liked playing it before when Raymond [Floyd] did the re-do," Woods said. "I played it well after that. From what I've seen, what they are going to do, they'll make a few changes, add some length and obviously they want to make it more monstrous, not just blue."

Deutsche Bank Champ. experts' picks

August, 29, 2012
Each week of the season, our experts will share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass.

Horse for the Course

Michael Collins, senior golf writer: Jason Day
He could be this year's golfer to go from starting the playoffs outside the top 100 (113th) in the FedEx Cup standings to the Tour Championship (top 30). Coming into the playoffs, he had only 13 starts on tour this year, with three missed cuts and a W/D, but a strong Sunday finish (65) just so he could qualify for the Deutsche Bank leads him to a course where he finished third last year, and was one of only four players to shoot all four rounds in the 60s.

Farrell Evans, senior golf writer: Vijay Singh
At the TPC Boston, the 49-year-old Hall of Famer is a combined 38-under par in his two wins at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Bob Harig, senior golf writer: Tiger Woods
TPC Boston is another place where Woods has performed well over the years. In seven appearances, he's been out of the top 11 just once, and he won in 2006.

Kevin Maguire, senior golf editor: Brandt Snedeker
Looking to solidify a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team as a potential captain's pick, the man who leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained-putting posted a pair of top-5 finishes in his past two starts at the Deutsche Bank Championship. And what Ryder Cup captain wouldn't want the best putter on tour on his team?

Birdie Buster

Michael Collins: Nick Watney
In 2011 he had two victories, but before winning last week at The Barclays, he had only three top-10s this year, with eighth place his highest finish. Not the year the Butch Harmon student was planning for himself, but there's something to be said for getting hot at the right time. Even though this will be his fifth week in a row teeing it up, when you're rollin' . . . don't stop rollin'! And if Bill Haas won the big money Fed Ex Cup prize last year, it only would be fitting if his stunt double Watney put himself in a prime position to take it this year.

Farrell Evans: Bud Cauley
At The Barclays, the 22-year-old rookie out of the University of Alabama got his fourth top-10 in his past five starts.

Bob Harig: Nick Watney
He just showed how important a win is in the FedEx Cup playoffs, jumping from 49th in the standings to the top spot with his victory at The Barclays.

Kevin Maguire: Steve Stricker
A T-54 at last week's Barclays probably isn't the way Stricker wanted to start his playoffs, but the likely Ryder Cup captain's pick does own a pair of career victories in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He seems to relish playing at this time of year, so expect that to continue this week at TPC Boston.

Super Sleeper

Michael Collins: J.B. Holmes
After making seven cuts in a row, it's almost a blessing in disguise that he missed the cut at the Wyndham Championship. Holmes has played himself into a position to make the Tour Championship with a good week, and the last time he played this week's course, in 2010, he finished 10th. It's a bomber's course and he is still a bomber.

Farrell Evans: Jason Day
The 24-year-old Australian got a tie for third in Boston last year. In a disappointing 2012 season, Day comes into this week 88th in the standings. He would love to make it back to the Tour Championship, where he finished last year in a tie for sixth.

Bob Harig: Martin Flores
He missed the cut at the Wyndham Championship and at The Barclays last week, dropping him 12 spots to the 100th and final qualifying position for the Deutsche Bank Championship. He clearly needs to get something going if he wants to prolong his playoffs.

Kevin Maguire: Dicky Pride
Talk about playing with house money. Pride clinched his tour card for 2013 behind the strength of three top-10 finishes this year. He hadn't had one previously since mid-2009. And at 96th in the FedEx Cup standings, a strong week gets him into the third leg of the PGA Tour playoffs, a spot he likely couldn't have imagined at the beginning of the season.


Michael Collins: Rory McIlroy
Because he wasn't a member of the tour last year, he wasn't eligible for the playoffs. He did compete in 2010, with a 37th-place finish at the TPC Boston. He has two more years of experience and two majors under his belt, and I expect a very good week on a course that sets up well for his style of golf. With a tour scoring average of 69.02, if he just holds his average, it'll be an easy top 10. I expect much more than that this week.

Farrell Evans: Brandt Snedeker
The former U.S. Amateur Public Links champion finished second at The Barclays. He's playing this week in Boston hoping that a great tournament will get him a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Last year, the former Vanderbilt star finished in a tie for third at the Deutsche Bank.

Bob Harig: Adam Scott
Save for his near-miss at the Open Championship, it's been a quiet year for the Aussie, who won his first PGA Tour event nine years ago at TPC Boston. A victory this week puts him near the top and in the running for the FedEx Cup.

Kevin Maguire: Jason Day
Never underestimate motivation. The Aussie, who's finished T-3 and T-2 in his previous two outings at TPC Boston, is currently on the outside looking in at next week's BMW Championship. Without a strong finish, his playoffs could end Saturday. Don't expect the new dad to get some extra time off on the holiday weekend.

MELBOURNE, Australia -- They have played together in each of the past two Cup competitions, so it would make sense for Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to be partners during the Presidents Cup.

[+] Enlarge
AP Photo/Andrew BrownbillTiger Woods paired with Steve Stricker both at the 2009 Presidents Cup and the 2010 Ryder Cup. But a third straight team competition pairing isn't guaranteed, or so it seems.

But it's not a given, at least not for all four matches.

Dustin Johnson could be part of the Tiger mix when U.S. captain Fred Couples announces his first-day pairings on Wednesday. Or maybe not. But it is clear that Woods has enjoyed playing with Stricker over the past two years; they've gone 6-1 as teammates at the 2009 Presidents Cup and 2010 Ryder Cup.

"Hopefully we'll get put out there together,'' Woods said at Royal Melbourne on Tuesday, when the entire U.S. team assembled for practice rounds. "I know that we feel very comfortable with one another, and we were talking about it today -- there's a certain comfort level about each other's games, and we know each other's games for the years that we have been on these Cups. And knowing how to read each other's putts. I think that helps, too.''

Stricker has not played since the Tour Championship in September; he has been dealing with a disc issue in his neck, for which he received a cortisone shot. There had been some concern that he would not be able to play, but Stricker said he feels fine and that his game is coming around.

"I never got too far away from it at home,'' he said. "... We had good weather all fall. It seemed like I played two or three times a week, just playing and going out with friends or something. Then I worked pretty hard the last 10 days at home, hitting a lot of balls. Then went out to Phoenix for a three-, four-day period just to play before coming over here.''

Woods could also be paired with the long-hitting Johnson, who acknowledged the possibility, but hedged.

"I don't know if we are supposed to be saying who we are playing with,'' he said.

Much of the pairings speculation has centered on whether Woods will face Australia's Adam Scott in any of the matches. Scott, of course, employs Woods' former caddie, Steve Williams, who has been the subject of considerable talk in recent weeks.

International team captain Greg Norman suggested such a matchup -- whether in the team formats or singles -- is almost inevitable, although the captains go back and forth pitting their players against the others, so it could be avoided.

Scott said he had no problem playing against Woods.

"If Greg thinks it's the right match to put out there, just go out there, like I said, and try to win a point,'' Scott said. "I don't think there's too much point worrying about it. I have to play four hard matches and none of them are going to be easy.''

Woods tried to downplay the possibility from the standpoint of his comments last week at the Australian Open; Woods said he and Williams had shaken hands in response to racially sensitive comments the caddie had made at an event in China.

"It's already done,'' Woods said. "I addressed it last week and I said life goes forward, not backwards.''

Bob Harig covers golf for He can be reached at

As far as awards go, this one might not occupy the most prominent spot on Steve Stricker's mantle. He could even feel a bit sheepish, especially among his peers, for being lauded by the media.

One of golf's nice guys was honored this week by the Golf Writers Association of America with its Jim Murray/ASAP Sports Award. It recognizes a golfer for his positive dealings with the media.

Stricker, ranked seventh in the world and a nine-time PGA Tour winner, beat out Stewart Cink and Tom Lehman, both of whom certainly qualify as well.

Others to win the award in its 10-year history were Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Juli Inkster, Nancy Lopez, Nick Price, Jay Haas, Fred Funk, Gary Player and Padraig Harrington.

The common theme among them all is their cooperativeness, especially during a time when media demands are more intense than ever.

Nicklaus is the first to admit that during his prime, he did not have the media requests of a top player today. In addition to the network rights-holders, there are newspapers, Internet outlets, local television stations and bloggers.

Stricker, 43, has been a stand-up guy, especially during a career resurgence that saw him win the PGA Tour's comeback player of the year award in consecutive years as well as six victories since 2007.

As a top-ranked player, he has become a go-to guy for media folks looking for insight. And he flat-out had to be worn out last year by all the Tiger Woods questions, given his friendship and Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup partnerships with the 14-time major winner.

Even at last month's Chevron World Challenge, where Stricker was trying to chip off the rust from a seven-week break, he found himself paired with Woods during the opening round -- and then answering numerous questions about Woods' game afterward.

Perhaps beyond that, Stricker seems to understand that by answering questions thoughtfully and thoroughly, he is also helping promote his sport -- while also maybe giving a boost to that week's sponsor.

Then again, maybe he's just too nice to say no.

Regardless, his efforts are appreciated.

Bob Harig covers golf for He can be reached at

We're planting a seed in the desert

February, 15, 2010

After spending much of his career as the underappreciated PGA Tour journeyman, Steve Stricker finds himself in an unfamiliar position this week as the overall No. 1 seed at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. The high ranking is an unlikely scenario for the 2001 winner of this event -- when he was the 55th seed overall and the 13th seed in his bracket.

Trivia question

Steve Stricker is the top overall seed this week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. How many times has the top seed failed to advance to the "final four" of the event? (Answer below.)

Stricker is just the fourth different No. 1 seed all time in the tournament: Ernie Els held the distinction in 2001, Vijay Singh in 2005 and Tiger Woods nine different times. Tiger is the only No. 1 seed to win, doing so three times.

Golf fans know that this isn't the NCAA tournament when it comes to low seeds advancing deep into the tournament. At the Match Play, very low seeds often advance and a few have won the whole thing.

• There have been more winners of this tournament from overall seeds of 14 or worse (six) than of better than 14 (five).

• As many overall seeds of 50 or higher (3) have won the event as No. 1 seeds.

• A No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, yet the equivalent of a No. 16 won this tournament in 2002: Kevin Sutherland was the 62nd-seeded golfer in the event when he was victorious.

• The "Final Four" of the event has represented this trend as well. Last year, only one overall top-10 seed, No. 8 Geoff Ogilvy, made the final four. Since 2005, there have been 15 double-digit overall seeds in the final four, and just five single-digit overall seeds.

• Three different times in the event's history, every seed in the final four has been 20th or lower most recently in 2006, when -- guess who -- 52nd seed Ogilvy won.

Speaking of Ogilvy, the defending champion enters this event with a 17-2 career record in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. In just four career starts in the event, he's ascended to fifth on the career wins list. Two of the four men ahead of him on the list, Woods and Davis Love III, are not in the field this year.

The only other multiple champion of this event is Woods, who has won the tournament three times. While Woods has been the overall top seed for each victory, Ogilvy has taken distinctively different routes. Ogilvy won as the eighth seed last year, and as the 52nd seed in 2006. He enters this week as the No. 10 seed overall and will face Alexander Noren of Sweden in the first round.

Regardless of who wins, golf fans can only hope the event is as closely played as the other tournaments so far this year on tour. Five of the first six events of the year have been decided by 1 stroke, and the only one that wasn't -- Steve Stricker's win at Riviera -- was decided by 2.

Compare that to 2009, when just three of the first six events were decided by 2 shots or less. Tournaments have been decided by a combined total of 10 more shots through six events last year than this year.

With his win last week, Dustin Johnson might have ascended to the top of the "young guns" pack among Americans on the PGA Tour. Johnson, who is just 25, became the first player since Woods to win in his first three seasons on the PGA Tour (a note -- Retief Goosen joined the PGA Tour in 2001 after winning the U.S. Open, and subsequently won the next two seasons).

Johnson is the second American currently in his 20s to have three or more PGA Tour victories. Sean O'Hair, 27, has won three times -- the '04 John Deere, '08 Transitions and '09 Quail Hollow. Australian Adam Scott (six wins) is the only other player in his 20s with three or more PGA Tour wins.

Johnson joined a collection of great names as back-to-back winners at Pebble Beach. The others to do it: Sam Snead, Cary Middlecoff, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Mark O'Meara. Sam Snead also won the event in back-to-back years, but it was before the tournament was held at Pebble.

Since 1936, there have been nine occasions in the United States when a major championship was contested on a course that also hosted a PGA Tour event that same season. Woods (2000 and 2008), Jack Nicklaus (1972) and Ben Hogan (1948) are the only players to win both the PGA Tour event and the major championship that were held on the same course in the same year. Johnson will try to join this amazing list later this year.

The play of David Duval was one of the great stories of this past weekend, as he posted four rounds in the 60s and finished tied for second. Duval of course also finished T-2 at last year's U.S. Open, but before then hadn't even finished in the top 10 since 2002.

The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was Duval's first event with four rounds in the 60s at a 72-hole event since the 2001 Buick Challenge when he lost in a playoff to Chris DiMarco. Duval did open with four rounds in the 60s at the 2002 Bob Hope Classic and 2002 Invensys Classic at Las Vegas, 90-hole events. At the Hope he closed with a 70 and in Las Vegas, Duval posted a final-round 71.

It seems like ages ago when Duval was the world's No. 1 golfer and the apparent top challenger to an era owned by Woods. From 1997 to 2001, Duval won 13 times on the PGA Tour, and finished in the top 10 in 47 of 112 events (or about 42 percent of the time). He made the cut in more than 85 percent of his PGA Tour starts.

Trivia answer

Question: Steve Stricker is the top overall seed this week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. How many times has the top seed failed to advance to the "final four" of the event?

Answer: Six times in 11 years, including last year, when Tiger Woods was eliminated in the second round by Tim Clark.

Duval's been winless since then, and has finished in the top 10 just four times since '02 -- or 2.7 percent of the time. His cuts made percentage -- 34.9 -- is lower than the top-10 percentage he enjoyed in his prime.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008, and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he studied convergence media. Send comments and suggestions to

Is Stricker now the best without a major?

February, 8, 2010

Having won four times in the last two years, tallied four straight top-10 finishes on tour and finished in the top three in six events since the end of last May, Steve Stricker has sparked conversation that he is one of the most under-the-radar stars in sports in the last few years. His unlikely ascension to second in the Official World Golf Rankings has many tabbing him to win his first major in 2010.

But is Stricker the best current player never to have won a major? This week the tour visits Pebble Beach, site of this year's U.S. Open, so why not visit the thought?

Trivia question

Steve Stricker, who entered the final round at last week's Northern Trust Open with a commanding 6-stroke lead, saw his lead dwindle to 2 shots before holding on for the win. Who was the last player to lose a PGA Tour event after holding a 6-shot lead entering the final round? (Answer below.)

A year ago, we compiled a formula that measured the careers of the best players never to have won a major and called it the "Almost Index." At the time, Stricker ranked fifth by that measure, behind Sergio Garcia, Kenny Perry, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy. The formula took into consideration PGA Tour and European Tour career accomplishments, with a heavy emphasis on finishes in majors. Because we always show our work at Numbers Game, the formula breaks down as such:

(2 + [PGA Tour top-10 pct.]) + (1 + [European Tour top-10 pct.]) + PGA Tour wins + (Euro Tour wins x 0.5) + ([Top-10 pct. in majors x 100] x .25) + (major points x 0.1) = Almost Index

Major points are collected as such: Players are awarded points for every major in which they finish in the top 10, on a scale from 1 to 9. A second-place finish is worth 9, a T-2 is 8.5, a third is 8 and so on, with the scale ending at T-10 (0.5 points).

Stricker had an Almost Index score of 17.144 in August, and has seen it bumped to 18.457 after last week's win at the Northern Trust Open. Look at the numbers of the five aforementioned golfers (who still rank as the top five in the Almost Index) before last year's PGA Championship and where they sit heading into this weekend's event:

Almost Index: Then and now

Player Before '09 PGA Today
Sergio Garcia 30.649 30.227
Kenny Perry 22.434 22.360
Lee Westwood 21.997 23.122
Steve Stricker 17.144 18.457
Rory McIlroy 17.332 17.413

This is no mathematical bible for identifying the best golfer never to have won a major, merely a guide and a conversation starter. But now you too can impress your friends with statistical nerdery and a bit of substance to support the notion that Stricker has yet to attain one of the most reluctantly owned titles in pro sports.

While we're on the topic of majors, this week's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am undoubtedly will spark all kinds of U.S. Open predictions. Since 2000, the site of the U.S. Open has twice been the site of a PGA Tour event earlier in the year: at Torrey Pines in 2008 and at Pebble in 2000. In each of those instances, the winner of that tournament went on to win the U.S. Open later in the year. And on both occasions, the man who won those tournaments was Tiger Woods.

The defending champion for this week's PGA Tour event is Dustin Johnson, who enters Pebble Beach fresh off a Sunday 66, which staked him to a T-3 finish at Riviera. But in theory, last weekend could have gone much better for Johnson, who held his first career 36-hole lead before shooting a 74 in Round 3. Eight of Johnson's 14 rounds this year have been in the 60s, and he remains one of the biggest hitters on tour, currently sitting at fourth in driving distance (298.8 yards).

Johnson led the field in driving distance in this event last year, en route to his second career PGA Tour win. In three of the past five years, the winner of this event has finished in the top four in driving distance among members of the tournament field. Phil Mickelson was fourth when he won in 2007 and third in 2005.

Speaking of the world's new No. 3 golfer, it's another week, another California course at which Mickelson has had prior success. Phil has won at Pebble Beach three times, but he missed the cut as the defending champion in '08 and didn't fare much better last year (T-55). This comes after finishes of third, first, T-38 and first in a four-year span from 2004-07.

Mickelson's Achilles' heel in last week's event was a four-hole stretch, from 13 to 16, that he played in 6-over for the tournament. He hit only 2 of 8 possible fairways, half the greens in regulation, and failed to save par either time he hit into the bunker on 15. Phil's wildness off the tee is nothing new, but he has been especially shaky to start this season. He has yet to hit more than eight fairways in a round (through two events) and altogether has missed more of them (58) than he has hit (54).

Padraig Harrington -- currently ranked 10th in the world -- will try to rebound this week after missing the cut at Riviera. His 72-73 snapped a streak of six straight top-10 finishes in official PGA Tour events for Paddy, dating back to the WGC-Bridgestone last August.

This will mark the fourth consecutive year Harrington has played in the Pebble Beach event. Since contending finishes in 2007 and '08 at Riviera (T-3rd, seventh), success has been fleeting for Harrington during February's California swing. In four starts, he has missed the cut three times and finished T-24.

Trivia answer

Question: Steve Stricker, who entered the final round at last week's Northern Trust Open with a commanding 6-stroke lead, saw his lead dwindle to 2 shots before holding on for the win. Who was the last player to lose a PGA Tour event after holding a 6-shot lead entering the final round?

Answer: Sergio Garcia, at the 2005 Wachovia Championship.

Ten years ago, when the U.S. Open was played at Pebble -- and the field was playing for second, light years behind Tiger Woods -- Harrington was tied for third through 54 holes and wound up tied for fifth. At the time, it tied for his best finish in a major championship.

One can imagine that Harrington hopes to play like the Woods of 2000 this week at Pebble Beach -- and beyond.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008, and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he studied convergence media. Send comments and suggestions to

Grooves controversy much ado about nothing?

January, 31, 2010

The biggest news last week at La Jolla unfortunately didn't have anything to do with what happened Sunday -- it came Thursday, when Scott McCarron brought the grooves rule front and center to the general sporting public. The golfing public and PGA Tour professionals alike are now grappling with the question of whether taking advantage of a bizarre loophole is right or not. But how much of a difference has the rule actually made?

Trivia question

When Phil Mickelson won last year's Northern Trust Open, he became the third player to win all four current California Tour events. Who are the other two players to have won the Farmers Insurance Open, Bob Hope Classic, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Northern Trust Open in their careers? (Answer below.)

The short answer is that it hasn't made a difference yet. Take a look at the difference the grooves rule has made at the three PGA Tour spots so far this year that have been full-field events. On approach shots of 75-100 yards, the average proximity to the hole was only greater on one of the three courses. Take the results from the three courses together, and it comes to an average of 9.3 inches closer to the cup on approach shots on which the clubs in question are most likely to be used.

Average proximity to hole on approach shots (75-100 yards)

Course 2009 2010
Torrey Pines South 21'7" 24'1"
Waialae CC 19'1" 15'11"
Plantation Course at Kapalua 18'9" 17'1"
*Average difference: 9.3 inches

This is obviously just a quick snapshot, and more evidence will be needed to fully substantiate the rule from either side, but it gives you an idea of the negligible amount of impact the rule has had on the course so far.

It's no secret that California's own Phil Mickelson has had great success at Riviera, especially in recent years. This week Phil will try to become the first player ever to three-peat at the event. But contrary to his current billing as the King of L.A., there was a time when Mickelson didn't succeed in this event. From 1993 to 2001, he played at Riviera seven times and never finished in the top 10. Mickelson played just seven of 21 rounds below par during that span. He didn't play in the event again until '07. Compare the two eras:

Phil Mickelson -- Professional career at Northern Trust

1993-01 2007-09
Starts 7 3
Wins 0 2
Worst finish CUT 2nd
Rds. under par pct. 33.3 (7 of 21) 83.3 (10 of 12)
To par +14 -43

Since 2006, Mickelson has been the defending champion at an event 11 times, and he has started in nine of those events. Only twice did he defend his title successfully -- at the '06 Bell South Classic and last year at the Northern Trust. His Riviera success aside, Phil hasn't fared well since 2006 when he is the defending champion at an event. In only one of those nine starts did he even finish in the top 10.

Phil Mickelson as a defending champion since 2006

Starts 9
Wins 2
Top-10 finishes 3
Missed cuts 1

Quick, name the third-ranked golfer in the world. It's Steve Stricker (by a hair over Lee Westwood), and he makes his continental-U.S. PGA Tour debut this week at Riviera. Stricker enjoyed the most success of his career in 2009, winning three times, recording six top-three finishes and landing in the top 10 in 11 of 22 starts.

Stricker has played in at least 20 events in every year but one since 1994 (he had 17 starts in 2006). Only one other time, in 1998, did he finish in the top 10 at least 10 times -- and he didn't win a tournament that year. After winning the 2001 Accenture Match Play (his first start of that year), Stricker went 113 PGA Tour events without finishing in the top three. Since the 2006 Shell Houston Open, where Stricker finished third, he has finished in the top three 14 times in just 83 starts.

Stricker was the runner-up at this event last year, losing to Mickelson by 1 shot. He played well the year before, finishing tied for 11th. Stricker enters the event having fired nine straight competitive rounds of par or better at Riviera, a far cry from his first four starts at the event. In those starts, he never finished better than 42nd, turned in only three rounds under par and played to a collective total of 23 over.

Steve Stricker -- Career at Northern Trust Open

First four starts 2008, 2009
Best finish T-42nd 2nd
Rds. under par 3 6
Scoring avg. 72.92 68.75
To par +23 -18

It could be argued that the field for the PGA Tour event in each of the past two weeks was weaker than that of its European Tour counterpart. The European Tour is currently in its "desert swing," which consists of the Abu Dhabi Championship, the Qatar Masters and this week's Dubai Desert Classic.

While the highest-ranked player in the field at the Bob Hope Classic was Mike Weir at 37th, Abu Dhabi attracted seven of the world's top 20 golfers. Last week, the Qatar Masters had nine of the Official World Golf Ranking's top 20, while the Farmers Insurance Open had just three. The winners were higher-profile, too: Ben Crane and Bill Haas were the stateside winners; in the desert, it was Martin Kaymer (currently ranked sixth in the world) and Robert Karlsson, who was Europe's No. 1 player in 2008 before an eye injury derailed his '09 campaign.

The trend starts to change this week, though, as more top-20 players are in the field at the Northern Trust (seven) than in Dubai (six). Padraig Harrington and Jim Furyk both make their 2010 tour debuts this week in Los Angeles, while Steve Stricker and Stewart Cink return for the first time since playing in Hawaii at the beginning of January.

John Daly made headlines this past Friday when he apparently let his emotions get the best of him, telling a Golf Channel producer he was quitting the game. Although every golfer can empathize with the impulse to quit, most of us who want to throw our clubs in the pond on No. 17 don't have sponsors' exemptions lined up at events around the globe.

Trivia answer

Question: When Phil Mickelson won last year's Northern Trust Open, he became the third player to win all four current California Tour events. Who are the other two players to have won the Farmers Insurance Open, Bob Hope Classic, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Northern Trust Open in their careers?

Answer: Billy Casper and Johnny Miller

Although Daly remains relevant because he draws a crowd, it has been a long time since he was relevant on a PGA Tour leaderboard. In the past five seasons, Daly has competed in 70 tour events and has either missed the cut or withdrawn from the tournament 46 times -- or 65.7 percent of the time. In that span, he has never finished in the top 10, and only three times has he finished in the top 25.

His most recent top-10 finish was the WGC-American Express Championship in 2005, when he lost in a playoff to Tiger Woods. Since that day, Tiger has won 25 tournaments.

Big John may have quit that many times.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008, and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he studied convergence media. Send comments and suggestions to