Steve Stricker set to return to play after illness, but 'strength is still an issue'

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A month ago, Steve Stricker said he was "excited to see what this next chapter will bring."

Now he's finally turning to that chapter.

Stricker will return to competition Friday at the PGA Tour Champions' Insperity Invitational after months of recovering from a mysterious illness that hospitalized him and dropped his weight 25 pounds less than a month after he captained Team USA to a historic Ryder Cup triumph.

The 55-year-old Wisconsin native is a seven-time winner on the Champions tour, but the game that helped him notch those victories is now going to be different, even though he's regained his health.

"I've put on a lot of my weight," he said. "Strength is still an issue. My clubs aren't going as far as they used to and I don't know if that's just because I'm a year older or all the things that have happened to me since, but probably a combination of both of them.

"Yeah, I feel great. On a day-to-day basis, I feel fine. It's just the whole strength thing and the stamina. The practice has been — I'm not able to practice as much as I used to I feel like yet, so I'm still working on building up that strength and that stamina."

Full-field tee times from the Insperity Invitational

Part of the reason he's teeing it up this week is to see where his game is at. He's been working at building back up his strength, but wants to see how his training will translate in competition, noting "it's a different gig out here."

Stricker details debilitating illness as he returns to PGA Tour Champions

"In the long run, I'm just trying to get better each and every week," he said. "I don't feel like I can't get back to where I was last year or the year before or even before that. I'm working hard at it, I'm working out, I'm trying to get stronger. Now I can focus a little bit more on my golf, which I haven't been able to do, so I can do that and put it all together."

But that doesn't mean he's going to lay an egg this week.

"I come in here hoping to play well, I'm going to try to play well," he said. "That's the competitiveness in me, I guess."

The other reason Stricker was eager to start his next chapter is that he missed the competition and his friends on tour. His competitors missed him, too. Even Padraig Harrington, although Stricker delivered a 19-9 rout to Harrington's European squad.

"I haven't seen him since the Ryder Cup," Harrington said. "I did a couple of weeks afterwards, but I haven't seen him since he's been ill, so I'll catch up this week. Of course, we'll have a bond. He's got one over me."

Even though the Ryder Cup was an iconic moment for Stricker, it took up a big chunk of his time the past few years and he's happy to put that part of his story in the "rearview mirror and concentrate on golf again." He plans to play next week at the Mitsubishi Electric Classic and then the following week at the Regions Tradition, the senior tour's first major of the year.

"I'm excited about that part of it," he said. "This is the start of it really. I was hoping to be out here in January, but life throws a curveball every once in a while. But I'm excited to be here now."