Steve Stricker talks Tiger Woods, Presidents Cup, defending QBE title

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Defending champions Steve Stricker and Sean O’Hair are back at the QBE Shootout in Naples.
Greg Hardwig, greg.hardwig@naplesnews.com; 239-263-4767

 

Steve Stricker is still in between. The part-time Naples resident is going back and forth between the PGA Tour and the PGA Tour Champions. And he came to Naples a couple of weeks ago in between on his golf game.

But he’s back at a place he knows well. This will be his 11th straight appearance in the QBE Shootout at Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, and he’s defending a title for the second time after winning with Sean O’Hair last year. 

“It’s always great to come here,” Stricker said Thursday. “It’s an event that I look forward to every year, kind of kick-starts my year, the year coming up, and gets me back into the game of golf and practicing.”

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Stricker won with Jerry Kelly in 2009, and has made Naples a part-time home over the past couple of years.

Stricker, 51, almost won the Chubb Classic in February on the PGA Tour Champions in Naples, but isn’t sure yet whether he will return to it in 2019. He’s planning on using his top-25 career money list exemption to play on the PGA Tour, and will go back and forth still on the Champions.

“(I’m) going to concentrate I think a little bit more on the regular tour, see how that goes to start the year,” he said. “I’m going to start the year in Hawaii, and play Sony and then Hualalai on the Champions Tour — hopefully play somewhere in that 15-event range on the regular tour and see … I’m not in any major or The Players Championship, so kind of set my sights and goals on trying to get into some of those bigger events if I can.”

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Tiger Woods put himself back into contention in some of those bigger events this year, finally recovering after multiple back surgeries to win the Tour Championship and make it on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Woods was in Australia earlier this week, where he’ll be the U.S. captain for the 2019 Presidents Cup team and said he wants to qualify for the team and be a playing captain, something Stricker — the 2017 captain — said he’d endorse.

“There’s only one other captain to do that — Hale Irwin,” Stricker said. “He’s surely capable of doing it, especially the way he played this year and especially the way he played at the end of the year.

“I think it would add an interesting wrinkle to everything. It would put probably a little bit more on the plates of the assistant captains. If he’s going to play and play three or four times, you would want him to be focused on playing. … It would be history again, you know?”

Stricker’s game has been a bit history — he hasn’t played much recently, but came down to shake the rust off a couple of weeks ago.

“I haven’t picked up a club for a couple of months since playing the Sanford Invitational the week before the Ryder Cup (in September),” he said. “I’m not really in tournament shape, but I’ve had the club in my hand for a while. It’s kind of scrubby at times, but some good things are in there, too.”

 

Scrubby may be how O’Hair would describe his 2018. The 36-year-old finished second in San Antonio, but made just 12 of 21 cuts and was outside the top 25 in five of the nine events he did make it to the weekend.

“2018 wasn’t a great year for me,” O’Hair said matter-of-factly. “I kind of got off to a slow start. I almost won San Antonio. Other than that, that was pretty much the highlight of the year.”

O’Hair took off a month in the summer, and that break he said cost him some possible FedEx Cup points that could’ve put him in better shape at the end of the year. He played in the first playoff event, but didn’t advance.

“It was obviously disappointing not to at least make it to that third event, which was Aronimink, my home golf course,” he said.

O’Hair has missed three of four cuts in the 2018-19 wraparound season, but isn’t focused too much on those results — he’s looking at the changes in his game.

“I feel like I’ve got some things that I’m working on with my game, so it’s kind of a work in progress right now,” he said. “I’ll focus on trying to get my ball-striking back where I feel I should be, and I feel like if I hit the ball the way I know how to hit it, I’ll be fine.”

Meanwhile, Stricker and O’Hair seem to be trying to figure who’s going to be riding whose shoulders this week.

“I plan on jumping on his shoulders and we’re going to be playing his shots a lot and he’s going to make a lot of putts, and we’re going to be right there come Sunday,” O’Hair said.

QBE Shootout

Where: Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort

When: Through Sunday

Info: qbeshootout.com, 254-9770

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