It was a disappointing weekend for Steve Stricker, who had a share of the 36-hole lead at the Valspar Championship before shooting 72-73. Not that a T-7 on the PGA Tour for a 49-year-old who is four years removed from winning his last event can be considered that disappointing.
Stricker's performance backed up a T-11 in his previous event at Riviera and showed he isn't content to just fade away to the senior tour when he turns 50 next February. Essentially a part-time player since 2013, Stricker expressed his excitement to play more events this year at the Sony Open in January.
"There's some tournaments that I really miss playing," he said. "So that's the fun part again, that I can try to go back out there and try to play well to get back in those events again."
After back surgery in December of 2014, Stricker played just nine events last year. Now fully recovered, Stricker has already played six times in two and half months to start 2016, including his recent strong showings. And not surprisingly, the putting that was a major part of his 12 career PGA Tour titles has been the backbone of his success.
For the season, Stricker, the man famous for giving Tiger Woods putting tips, leads the tour in strokes gained/putting at 1.273. That's more than 30 percent higher than that of Adam Hadwin, who is No. 2 on the list at .932. And Stricker's strokes gained average is more than 50 percent higher than No. 3, Jason Day (.820). With Innisbrook's slower-than-normal greens giving tour pros fits all week, Stricker was third in strokes gained/putting at 1.432 and he led the field in putts from over 10 feet made (10) and make percentage (23.8).
To put Stricker's season numbers in perspective, his previous career high in the stat was .770 in 2011 when he was second on tour. He hasn't played enough the past three seasons to qualify, and he credited a recent adjustment in his takeaway to getting back to putting as good as he ever has.
On the flip side, Stricker's strokes gained/tee-to-green ranks only 150th in 2015-16. Even if he keeps his red-hot putting up, he'll need to make a similar breakthrough with his ball-striking if he's going to achieve his goal of not just being a vice captain at the Ryder Cup this fall.