Saturday, March 12, 2016

Steve Stricker shares Valspar Champ. lead, seeking 1st win since '12

Semi-retirement totally didn't work for Steve Stricker.

A season ago, Stricker teed it up nine times, hoping to play well enough in limited action to stay in the world top 50 and play a schedule of leisure that included the majors, the World Golf Championships and The Players. The plan didn't work, and an offseason back surgery didn't help. So, Stricker changed his plan for 2015-16. However, the results had largely been the same, with the Wisconsin native missing his first four cuts of the year.

Now in his sixth start of the year, Stricker broke the cuts-missed skid in his last start with a T-11 at the Northern Trust Open. On Friday, he shot a day-best 5-under 66 to take a share of the lead with Will MacKenzie heading into the weekend at the Valspar Championship.

Stricker is getting back in the flow of the PGA Tour as, more or less, a three-quarter-time player.

“It’s frustrating when you’re only going to play those limited amount of times and you’re not playing that well,” he said. “If I’m going to play 12 or 14 times, whatever the number is going to be, I want to play well and I still think I can play well. But I was noticing that I wasn’t game ready.” 

What was killing Stricker last year was his trademark putting had suffered. In 2015, he carried a negative strokes gained putting for the first time, dating back to the historical record of the stat starting in 2004. He says that stroke has returned, and the results this week show it. He's only missed twice in 18 tries inside 15 feet. He'll need to continue that run on a golf course with notoriously difficult to putt greens inside 10 feet.

“I’ve putted great this year in the times I’ve played,” he said, “and hopefully that continues.”

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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