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Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker turns back the clock with his first PGA Tour top-10 since 2017

February 07, 2021

Christian Petersen

Under normal circumstances, Steve Stricker wouldn’t be playing many PGA Tour events these days. He’s 53 and a factor on the PGA Tour Champions, and he knows full well that he is no longer the player he was a decade ago. Father Time, as they say.

But these are not normal circumstances. Stricker will lead the U.S. Ryder Cup team in September at Whistling Straits, and for the first time, the American captain will have six picks at his disposal to help fill out his 12-man roster. So Stricker is playing against the youngsters to get an up-close look at candidates trying to make his team later this year.

At this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, he beat nearly all of them.

Stricker posted four straight under-par rounds at TPC Scottsdale to finish the week at 17 under, good for a tie for fourth and just two shots back of champion Brooks Koepka. It’s the 12-time tour winner’s first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since the 2017 Dean & Deluca Invitational at Colonial Country Club.

“I haven’t shown that in the past, but I’ve been playing better lately,” Stricker said. “Feeling a little bit better physically, too. So it’s nice to see some of that work is paying off.”

Despite being in Competition Mode, Stricker couldn’t fully take off his captain’s hat.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Stricker, who was grouped on Sunday with Koepka. “I catch myself, though, rooting for guys like Brooks, and then I’ve got to pull myself back and say, ‘Wait a second, I’m trying to win this thing, too.’ ”

The performance, which began with a Thursday 65 and finished on Sunday with four birdies in his last six holes to shoot four-under 67, is certainly a surprise—but it’s not completely out of nowhere. He finished T-17 at the Mayakoba Classic last November and did make the cut at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open.

Now, before anyone gets the wrong idea—no, no, no, it’s not anywhere close to time for player-captain talk. One good week on tour does not make you a Ryder Cup captain, particularly in a year when the entire team is likely to be inside the top 30 in the world. (Stricker, by the way, came into this week at No. 460). But it does indeed give him some team-room trash talk fodder: Remember that time at Phoenix, when I beat all of you?