Stricker win gives him momentum for British Open

Brian Murphy
After his impressive victory at the John Deere Classic, Steve Stricker should be considered one of the favorites at this week's British Open

The same way Al Capone controlled Chicago, the same way Suge Knight controlled hip-hop – that's the way Steve Stricker controls the John Deere Classic.

Don't even think about stopping Stricker in Moline, Ill. The Midwestern boy may talk like Beaver Cleaver, but he'll carve your heart out and have it with bacon for breakfast. The Cheesehead Assassin fears no man at the John Deere, and if that means burying your golf soul in the dirt underneath the rusted-out tractors in the faraway field where nobody finds it for decades, well, so be it.

For Stricker, three consecutive wins at the John Deere is one thing. Becoming only the ninth player since World War II to win the same event thrice consecutively is another. The "Stricker Swagger" gains steam when you learn he's the only player to have multiple wins in each of the last three seasons on the PGA Tour.

That he did it with a birdie-birdie close to clip promising young rookie Kyle Stanley by one shot shows the 44-year-old has a finishing kick, and moxie, too. After all, you don't just pick up nicknames like "The Cheesehead Assassin" at the thrift store on discount.

But now comes the 64,000 Euro Question: Can Stricker's sizzling play translate to an American hope at this week's British Open?

The historic U.S. major championship drought (an unprecedented 0-for-5) is well-documented in this slice of cyberspace, and just about every punter on that side of the pond thinks Old Glory is a tattered and faded symbol of golf yesteryear.

U.S. golf arrives at Royal St. George's limping like the wounded fife player in the Revolutionary War diorama. An alternate name for St. George's is Sandwich, the name of the town in which the golf course is located. It's not hard to think the Euros might offer Yanks a "Dead Meat Sandwich" at the local deli, in honor of American chances at the Open Championship.

It's a lot to ask a player fresh off a win to make it two in a row at a major. Not since Phil Mickelson in 2006 has it been done, and asking Stricker to get on a plane – albeit, a private jet provided by the Deere organizers – roll into Sandwich with Wisconsin license plates on his golf cart and win his first major is a mighty ask.

Then again, he may be America's best shot.

Phil Mickelson has contended at a British Open only once, and seems in need of a career GPS after his disinterested effort at the Scottish Open, tying for 58th in a rain-shortened 54-hole event. Last year, seven Americans finished in the top 20 at St. Andrews, including intriguing names like Nick Watney (tie-7th), Jeff Overton (tie-11th), Rickie Fowler (tie-14th), J.B. Holmes (tie-14th) and Dustin Johnson (tie-14th).

Any one of those names is one to pin American hopes on. But Stricker has a history, too. He finished in the top 10 at both the 2007 and '08 British Opens, and anybody who putts like he does has a chance anywhere, anytime. And once word gets loose at Sandwich that The Cheesehead Assassin has a passport, knees will start to buckle.

Scorecard of the week

72-73-68-68 – 3-under 281, Hee Kyung Seo, Sunday night leader, U.S. Women's Open, The Broadmoor East Course, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Hate to be that guy, but when will the USGA learn? You schedule a USGA championship in the summertime in thunderstorm country … you get a USGA championship in the summertime in thunderstorm country.

This may be the only time in American sports history where the powers that be need to implement a West Coast bias. I've told this tale before, but during one of several lightning delays at the 2002 Bethpage Black U.S. Open, I took shelter in a trailer with a California-based USGA exec who told me: "This is why the Open should travel between two places … Pebble Beach and Olympic Club … Olympic Club and Pebble Beach."

He was being half-lighthearted, of course, but the truth is, there's nothing more frustrating than trying to spend a summer Sunday in front of the TV with your golf – only to hear the air horn of delay mocking the flow of play.

I understand the USGA wants its championships to travel around the country, but as a lifelong West Coast resident, I can tell you that we've spent all our lives cowtowing to East Coast-centric TV times and East Coast-centric coverage and East Coast-centric media coverage.

Would it kill everyone to install a West Coast bias for golf? If a Coloradan or a New Englander wants to see the U.S. Women's Open, well, then, fly to California. If the family can't afford it, well, then, watch on TV. There are many things in life we all want to do, but understand we can't do them all, right?

OK, soap box removed, put in closet.

How about this Hee Kyung Seo?

In any case, she gets Scorecard honors for turning in 36 holes on Sunday, and carding bookend 68s from 6:45 am to 7:45 pm – at altitude. What's Korean for "Ken Venturi at Congressional"?

Moreover, as nicknames go, "The Supermodel of the Fairways" – apparently, the moniker handed to Seo, an attractive 25-year-old – ranks as one of the great ham-fisted nicknames of all time. It raises the possibility of other clunky nicknames for golf characters: Can Rory McIlroy be "The Frizzy-Haired Golfing Wizard"? Can Rickie Fowler be "The Little Orange Driving Dynamo"? Can Bubba Watson be "The Overalls-Wearing Bomber Who Will Never Be Mistaken for a Francophile"?

Mulligan of the week

• Seo would have definitely captured the U.S. Women's Open had she not experienced an unfortunate incident on the 71st green on Sunday evening.

Nursing a two-shot lead, and sporting an orange-and-white checked shirt that might have been lifted from a nearby Colorado Springs family picnic, Seo had a mop-up 36-incher on the 17th hole for par.

Incredibly, she power-lipped it. Appropriately, Seo covered her face with the bill of her hat, realizing she just sent a signal flare to Cristie Kerr and So Yeon Ryu: You're still in it, ladies.

So, in the interest of mitigating her pain, let's go back out to that 17th green at Broadmoor and … give that Supermodel of the Fairways a mulligan!

Broadcast moment of the week

"Don't anoint him as the crown prince yet. He has won one major. When he starts to win two, three or four, then you can say he's the guy we've got to watch, period. But until that time comes, he's one of a group of talented players that have got an opportunity to win." – Jack Nicklaus, who won 16, or 17 or 18 majors, on BBC Sunday.

The Golden Bear continues his ways as the practical, sage legend.

Nicklaus is absolutely right, as usual. McIlroy may never win another major, and any premature anointing will have looked silly, as I was just saying to my good friend Michelle Wie.

And Rory approaches Royal St. George's this Thursday – his first start since Congressional – with all eyes on him.

It is important to remember, however, that winning a U.S. Open at age 22 is rarefied air. It puts McIlroy in the same breath as Jones, Woods and Nicklaus for accomplishments at such a young age, a factoid not to be discounted.

Equally accurate, Tiger's U.S. Open win at Pebble, 15 shots clear of second, at age 24, remains the gold standard of modern major championship wins. Also equally accurate, Louis Oosthuizen won the British Open last year by seven shots, a McIlroy-ian feat on its own – meaning Rory isn't the only player capable of dusting a field.

McIlroy was smart, and accurate, to cede higher ground to Tiger's accomplishment in a recent interview, saying his Congressional romp wasn't as impressive as Tiger's Pebble rout.

I think both can be true: Rory can be a star to watch, and Rory can also be a player to watch with a degree of caution.

Where do we go from here?

• On to Sandwich! Look for the major players. Rory will be the guy with the heavy bricks of expectations on his shoulders. Stricker will be the guy with the foam block of cheese on his head and the putter glowing white. And Mickelson will be the guy driving around the countryside, pulling up to petrol stations, asking: "Anybody know how to get to the British Open?"

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