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Steve Stricker's footsteps fine to follow

The most compelling aspect of the Tim Tebow phenomena is that in the copycat NFL, where teams routinely imitate each other in all three phases of the game, an unconventional quarterback for the pro ranks is running a college offense and having success. By the end of the Broncos' overtime wild-card playoff win over the Steelers on Sunday, it was difficult to underestimate the talents of the 24-year-old 2007 Heisman Trophy winner.

A day after Tebow ended the Steelers' season with an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas, Steve Stricker, in more muted tones, won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Maui. It was the 44-year-old Wisconsin native's ninth win since he turned 40, and the most of any player since 2009. For some time now, the former University of Illinois golfer has been one of the steadiest performers on the PGA Tour, but he's been routinely overshadowed by more glamorous players with higher Q ratings.

Unlike Tebow, Stricker is not unconventional. In many ways, he personifies the model tour player: he is so well-rounded and surgical on the golf course that he can often make the game look bland and ordinary. Though he hasn't been mired in an avalanche of skepticism like Tebow has endured in his short NFL career, Stricker has been mostly cast in a supporting role to other American superstars such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and even Jim Furyk.

Where Tebow has become his sport's lovable underdog, Stricker has become the player's player, who like Tebow, has learned to succeed by fashioning an approach to the game that's unique to his strengths and weaknesses.

After Stricker's 12th career win on Monday at the Hyundai, Martin Laird, who finished three shots back in second place, called Stricker perhaps the most underrated player in the world.

It's a tag that comes easily to Stricker, a mild-mannered fellow with few pretensions. How many current tour pros have chosen to spend their winters in the icy Midwest hitting balls off a mat from a heated three-sided mobile home? How many athletes in any sport have won two comeback player of the year awards?

"I just try to do my own thing," Stricker said after the Hyundai. "I tried to compare myself to guys when I was playing well back in the mid '90s, and you know, I got into some bad things. I'm happy with what I do."

With the first full-field event of the season to begin Thursday at the Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Stricker is the favorite to win his second event in a row. And after fighting through neck problems which nearly kept him out of last year's Presidents Cup, he shouldn't stay long on anybody's list of underrated players. By the Masters, he'll be everybody's top choice for best player without a major, if he's not already posted up in that position.

Over the past few days, several reporters have called Stricker's mantra of "I just try to do my own thing" his winning formula. But don't most PGA Tour winners play their own game? Up to a point, all players have to make a go of it with their particular God-given talents, but what's unmistakable is that most tour pros at some point in their careers find themselves comparing their games and habits to what the best players are doing. It's a natural, competitive instinct to emulate what works.

Only a handful of players were truly committed to the gym before Tiger started showing up at tournaments looking like a strong safety. Now most pro golfers have some workout routine as a part of their exercise regime. Players know that if they get stronger, they may hit longer drives, which could give them more scoring opportunities.

Stricker is very fortunate to have survived his growing pains. As he stated in his interview after the Hyundai, that desire to try what's en vogue or what seemed at the time to be the right thing to do nearly drove him off the PGA Tour for good after a few rough years following his win at the 2001 Accenture Match Play Championship.

Imagine where Tebow would be if the Broncos had forced him to run Tom Brady's offense?

This week in Honolulu, Stricker will be confronted with a fresh crop of young players hungry to keep him from winning two weeks in a row. J.J. Killeen, Harris English, Jason Kokrak and Brian Harman are just a few of the young guns poised to make 2012 another breakout year for rookies after a record six newcomers won on the tour last year.

There is also a strong contingent of veterans in the field. There are 32 players over 40, including major winners Vijay Singh, Corey Pavin, David Toms and Davis Love III. The Sony always attracts a strong field. Recent winners have included Ernie Els, Toms, Singh and K.J. Choi.

The defending champion, Mark Wilson, was the best player on tour in the first few months of last year, but after winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open a couple of weeks after the Sony, his results were mixed for the rest of the year. He is hoping to again use this event to jump-start his year.

No matter how well any of the past Sony champions play in the event -- there are eight in the field -- Stricker is the man to beat. No longer should he be considered an underrated player simply because he stays under the radar. His businesslike approach is a good example for young kids who believe that hubris and pompous goals are the stairway to riches on and off the golf course.

We judge players too harshly for not winning majors. Stricker has only nine top 10s in 53 career majors, with his best finish coming at the 1998 PGA Championship in Seattle, where Singh beat him by two shots.

If Stricker doesn't manage to take a major before his career is done, he will still have been one of the best players of his era. Nevertheless, even if he does snag one of the big four, there will always be people who think of him as an underrated underdog with a steely reserve who did his own thing.

In these first few years of his career, it would be good for Tebow to glance at what Stricker is doing on the golf course. It could give him some assurance about what he's committed to doing on the football field.

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com.