Hobbled Steve Stricker gives it a go

AKRON, Ohio -- When he turned on the TV and saw the nice weather, Steve Stricker felt a momentary twinge of regret. A major, the Open Championship no less, was being contested without him. And those sunny skies in Scotland beckoned.

But Stricker quickly returned to his long-planned vacation, the one he mapped out months ago when he made the decision to cut back on his schedule in 2013 and play the role of semiretired golfer.

Along with his wife, Nicki, and their two daughters, he was celebrating the couple's 20th wedding anniversary on a northern Wisconsin lake, partaking in various activities, among them water skiing. The Open Championship was something to simply monitor.

And yet, an injury Stricker suffered on those water skis had him wondering if karma was getting the best of him. On the Sunday of the Open, while he was on the water with his youngest daughter, Isabella, the boat went one way and Stricker's right leg went another, his hamstring none the better and making his ability to play in this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational doubtful.

"It's almost like something was telling me I should have been playing the British Open instead of water skiing," said Stricker, who had an MRI that determined there was a 3-centimeter tear in an area just above the back of his knee.

"I hit balls for the first time Sunday just a few days ago and I was like, 'There's no chance I would be able to be here really.' I was a little discouraged. Then Monday was a little better. Played quite a few holes in cart. Walking has been a challenge. I still can't walk very well. I'm laboring to walk. It affects my swing to a little degree but not horribly. I haven't been able to practice. I could be rusty. I'm a little tight. But it's forced me to have good tempo. I actually hit it good today."

Stricker shot 1-over-par 71 at Firestone Country Club to trail first-round leader Webb Simpson by 7 shots. He is tied for 31st in the 73-player field.

All things considered, that is a pretty good effort for a guy whose leg is bothering him and who hasn't practiced for most of the past two weeks.

Then again, this really shouldn't be a surprise. Stricker, 46, is making just his ninth start of the year. He has not missed a cut, he's had five top-10 finishes, he contended at the U.S. Open and he's managed to maintain a ranking of 11th in the world.

Along the way, he's earned more than $2.3 million -- pretty good for part-time work.

"My attitude is fresher," said Stricker, who is a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour. "I'm excited to be at each and every event that I tee it up in. I still work on my game at home. Just not as much. There's times now that when I'm home for two or three weeks, I can set the clubs down for a week or two and then pick them up the week prior to coming to an event. That's what I'm enjoying. I'm enjoying the downtime at home where I don't feel like I have to practice every minute that I'm home. That's been fun.

"So I've enjoyed it, and I just think getting it right in my mind at the start of the year that this is what I've wanted to do is a big step in my own mind knowing that I am doing the right thing and I feel good about what I'm doing, and that helps me the way I've played, too."

Earlier in the year, Stricker hinted that he would shut it down after next week's PGA Championship.

But at 22nd in the FedEx Cup standings, he has a good chance to make the lucrative Tour Championship if he makes a run in the FedEx Cup playoffs. And he's ninth in the Presidents Cup team standings, with the top 10 automatically making Fred Couples' team.

"I'd like to make that team," Stricker said. "That was another reason why I wanted to come here, make some points, and try and sneak up that leaderboard. I'd like to make it."

Stricker appears in good shape to do so, at least as it relates to his game. His right leg, specifically the hamstring, is another matter.