Part-time golfer Stricker advances

MARANA, Ariz. -- In December, Steve Stricker made the decision to significantly reduce his playing schedule. He said he wanted to devote more time to his family and a new foundation to help adolescents.

Coming into this week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, which he won in 2001, the 12-time PGA Tour winner hadn't played in a tournament in six weeks, his previous start being the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in early January, in which he finished second.

On Friday, Stricker advanced to the third round after beating Nick Watney 1 up in 21 holes.

"It was a good, hard-fought match on both sides," Stricker said. "We both played well. Hats off to [Watney]; he put the pressure on me coming down the stretch, and I feel fortunate, really, to get through it because any one of those extra holes could have gone the other way."

Stricker, who turns 46 on Saturday, will next face a hot Scott Piercy, who embarrassed Luke Donald with a 7 and 6 thrashing in their second-round match. Piercy, who won $2 million at the 2007 Ultimate Game match-play event in Las Vegas, had five birdies and an eagle in the 12 holes he played Friday.

Yet with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy out of the tournament, Stricker probably is the best player left in the field at Dove Mountain. As the 16th-ranked player in the world and with only one tournament under his belt in 2013, you might think Stricker would put extra pressure on himself this week, but the Madison, Wis., resident feels exactly the opposite.

"I guess I'm telling myself out there, you know what, it really doesn't matter, I'm playing 11 events," he said. "I'm probably not going to play the playoffs at the end of the year. I feel like it's taken a little bit of the pressure off me."

After a horrible slump about a decade ago, Stricker now feels he knows his golf swing well enough that he doesn't need to play 20 events to have good results.

"If you look at the history of the game, some of the greatest players in the world played a very limited schedule," he said Friday. "I'm not saying I'm one of those players; I'm just saying that they must have known something, that coming out playing 15, 16 times, whatever they did, was good."

It won't be surprising to many in the game if Stricker can advance through to the finals and win his second Match Play, even with a six-week layoff. He has long been known as one of the best putters and closers in the sport.

What if he can get on a roll after this week and win two or three tournaments? Who could blame him for changing his master plan to get the most out of his game at this relatively late stage on the regular tour?

"I don't think so," Stricker said to these questions. "I guess the thing that could make me play at the end of the year, into the playoffs, is if I was really high on that list.

"I plan on being hunting out west somewhere, so I'm making commitments during tournaments late in the season during that playoff stretch."

On Saturday, Stricker will have to play two matches to advance to the semis Sunday morning. If he can get past Piercy, he will face either Tim Clark or Ian Poulter in the fourth round.

When Stricker won the 2001 Match Play in a 2 and 1 win over Pierre Fulke in the 36-hole final, Stricker was 33 years old and in the first prime of his career with retirement well out of his sights.

Now more than a decade later, he is a far more accomplished player with the authority and the will to have the best of both worlds: the tour and home.

"I want to play well and I want to win and I want to keep moving on, and I'm a competitor and I want to do well," Stricker said. "So I feel like I can do both.

"I feel like I come out really fresh, and my attitude is really good. That's worth a lot."

In the Match Play, this seasoned outlook could help Stricker become the tournament's oldest champion. And beyond this week, he might do more for his game by doing less and finally win a major.