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Struggles don't deflate Streelman

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

LA JOLLA, Calif. – Nothing could wipe the smile off Kevin Streelman's face at Torrey Pines on Saturday.

Not the dark clouds threatening to engulf San Diego, the unforgiving undulations of the South Course or even the trio of putts that burned the lip on the front nine and pushed him out of the top 10 after the third day of the Buick Invitational. Nothing.

Because for Streelman, the thrill of playing alongside Tiger Woods in front of a 10-deep gallery was the ultimate reward for half a lifetime's worth of toil and the latest highlight of a remarkable week.

On Thursday morning the Duke graduate was thinking of heading home to Phoenix, before he was called into the event as third alternate when Australian Matthew Goggin withdrew.

Rounds of 67 and 69 on the first two days booked him a Saturday morning date with Woods and catapulted him into the consciousness of both the golfing public and the game's greatest player.

"That was one of the coolest things ever," Streelman said, as he stood by the scorers hut after completing his 3-over round of 75 to sit in a tie for 11th heading into a final day that could be heavily disrupted by adverse weather. "Tiger was fun to watch and it was good to compare myself to him as well. It was inspiring and very educational and I recommend everyone tries at least once."

Streelman hopes to try it more than once himself. The 29-year-old emerged through the nerve-shredding Q-school process to earn his card for 2008, and after cutting his teeth on the Hooters and Gateway Tours is savoring every new experience of mixing it with the big boys.

Playing in front of the sort of crowd that is reserved for a group containing Woods, he lapped up the extra attention, high-fiving fans as he strode up to the final green and responded to cheers of support with excited fist-pumping.

The gallery included friends who had flown in from New York, Tucson and, in the case of his fiancée Courtney Caples, Phoenix.

"I didn't even dream of this, playing with Tiger, talking to him and getting to know him a bit on the weekend of a tournament," he added. "It was a great experience, and I would love another shot at it.

"I loved it out there. This is what I have worked very hard for the last 15 or 20 years of my life."

After years of struggle, he finally is getting some breaks, and he is determined to make the most of it.

Aside from all the excitement of playing with Woods, one other key moment happened for Streelman this week, when he was awarded a sponsors exemption for the Northern Trust Open at Riviera in mid-February.

"I have written letters for seven years trying to get sponsors exemptions," he said. "I have never been given anything. I have had to work for everything so it was almost emotional to get it – it really means a lot to me."

If the predicted heavy rains stay away, the next step for Streelman is to try to force his way back into the top 10 and book a spot in the FBR Open, his hometown event in Phoenix, next week. He admitted to feeling nervous on the closing holes as he hovered around the 10th spot.

Yet whether Streelman gets to play in familiar surroundings in Arizona or not, there is little doubt that he is starting to feel at home on Tour.