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February 19, 2002

Steve Stricker


JOEL SCHUCHMANN: I¹d like to welcome defending champion, Steve Stricker. Steve if you wanted to get us started with some opening comments.

STEVE STRICKER: Opening comments. Well, I'm happy to be back. I really don't feel like a defending champion since we are a long ways away from where we were at last year.

Obviously, I'm excited to be back here to play, to play in a match-play event, something that we don't do very often. And excited for the week to get going.

Q. Can you take us through last year and the emotions you felt in winning each match, how it came down?

STEVE STRICKER: Really didn't have any expectations going into that week. My confidence kind of grew with each match. And I really -- I enjoy match play, so maybe it was a little bit more excited to play every day. You know, you're never -- you're never out of a hole, it seems like, if you keep plugging away and grinding. It's just something that we don't do very often. I remember last year being excited, and like I say, I had a good opening match against Padraig Harrington, and I gained a lot of confidence from that.

I think the just inJustin Leonard match, the way I beat him, really gave me a lot of confidence. Like I say, just kept growing with confidence as each match went on and kind of snowballed, I think, as the week went on.

Q. What's the state of your game this year?

STEVE STRICKER: It's a little early. I feel like I really haven't gotten into any rhythm at all. I've been back in Wisconsin the last couple of weeks, and I've been working hard on my game in a dome, not really outside. But been working on positions and trying to get things where I want them.

But again, early in the year, I felt like it could be any type of situation -- I come in here not expecting a lot, again. My confidence probably isn't real high at the time, but, you know, like I say, this type of format, this type of event, things can change in a hurry, and you know, you win a match or two, and start to feel a little bit more comfortable, things can turnaround in a hurry.

I've got an open mind. I'm feeling rested and relaxed, so it's -- I really don't have any expectations or don't know what to expect, and I think that goes along with pretty much everybody in the field. You know, I mean, it's an event where anybody can knock off anybody at any given time, so there's really no certainties here, and you've just got to play hard because every match is going to be a tough one.

Q. Did it weigh on you at all, trying to get into that 64, stay in the 64, for that matter?

STEVE STRICKER: Not at all. I played my schedule. I played the first four events of the year. I thought about it. I didn't alter my schedule to try to do that. I just figured if I'm going to get in it, I'll be here but I -- I didn't alter any of my plans to, you know, to try to make the Top-64. I felt fairly confident that the number was going to get in, talking to -- talking to my agent and then trying to figure out what number I was going to be at.

Q. When did you -- because it is such a complicated system, when did you feel comfortable that you were going to be in?

STEVE STRICKER: Probably about a week before the deadline, when the rankings came out I was 60th, but at that time I heard that a couple of guys were not going to play. Actually, we had about six more spots and I wasn't playing, so it was probably pretty hard for me to drop those six spots not playing .

Q. Talk about your season after the win. Obviously, the win, reading your transcript after the win, you were excited, jump start, you were really looking forward to the season, but did it turnout the way you thought it would? Where is your game really going from last season to this season?

STEVE STRICKER: I really didn't get into contention. I got into contention at the Masters and I played well there. There was not enough times to get into contention for what I really wanted to do last year. It got me going, it got me pointed in the right direction, but there was still some things that I didn't like about how I was swinging, how I was playing. I was able to work on them throughout the year, but it was -- it was a fairly consistent year, but nothing really spectacular after that.

I've kind of made it, you know, kind of a bigger commitment this year, to really work on things and get things where I want them and not just be happy about where they are at, and trying to be more assertive and doing things with my swing and trying to fix the things that I need to fix.

So, I've been working on that at the start of this year, and I haven't seen a lot of progress to date. But I have a feeling if I just keep working on the things that we're working on, things are going to payoff, maybe down the road.

That's where I'm going, I guess. Just keep working and try to keep improving.

Q. Do the seedsings, do they mean anything here, given such slight margins between the players?

STEVE STRICKER: You know, like I say, every match is going to be tough. I mean, obviously, you know, the Top-10, 15 players in the world, it means something. But even though their matches are -- some of those guys are going to get knocked off. That's the way it's going to be. Just because if they come out a little lackluster or a little down or something and the guy they are playing comes out on fire, there's a guy that has got the lower seed, he really has nothing to lose. It's just going to happen.

It's just a fine line between players, you know, between the Top 15 players and the next 49 of them. It's just tough to pick a winner, I think.

Q. Did you consider yourself a good match-player before you won last year?

STEVE STRICKER: You know, really, I didn't have a whole lot of experience. I played in a Presidents Cup, a Dunhill Cup, but, you know, we do so very little of it, you never really get the feel for it. I always felt like I was a good match player, but again, you don't know because we never play it. So, obviously, last year, it gives me the confidence, feeling like I am a good match player.

Q. Tiger was saying out there that there are guys who definitely play match-play game, mentally, physically, whatever, and kind of dealing with their opponent. Did you find yourself doing that last year at all?

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah. I mean, there's difficult different -- different ways that you go about playing in match-play, versus a medal-play tournament.

Maybe it's just my game in general, you though, that lends itself to match-play. Kind of up and down. You know, I could hit it off-line and end up making a par, or a birdie out of the woods, and that really gets your opponent thinking, "What do I have to do to win a hole?"

So, there's a lot of things that go into it. Maybe it's just my game in general that, you know, was working well last year, and like I say, I made a lot of saves out of some trouble last year that, in match-play, really gets your opponent down. It's almost, if you tie a hole out of the woods, it's almost like you won a hole sometimes. It works on a guy's mental funk. Like I say, there's a lot of different strategies involved in match-play.

Q. Who would you be most likely to bet on making the Final Four? Marquette (ph), Wisconsin or yourself this week?

STEVE STRICKER. I'm actually a big fan, they have probably got more of a chance of than me of making the Final Four at this point?

Q. How do you figure that?

STEVE STRICKER: Well, they have got a lot of offense. Right now, sometimes my offense isn't so strong. But like I say, anything can happen, and get things going and win a match or two and you never know.

Q. How is your defense, though?

STEVE STRICKER: My defense is always good. (Smiles) defense is strong. I don't know, should be interesting.

Q. Looking back, this win, you've had a year to absorb it, what did it mean to you? What was the most important part of it for you personally?

STEVE STRICKER: I think just winning again. You know, it was a while since I had won back in '96 was the last time I won. Just fighting through all of those mental struggles that you have when you're trying to win. I think was the biggest part, knowing that I could do it again.

I would love to win a medal-play event again. Right after I won this last year, that was one of my goals, is to get in contention and win a medal-play event again.

But it just gives me the confidence, knowing that I can do it. You know, it's been, by far, my biggest win, I think, to date. Something that because of where it was, too, added a lot. You know, overseas in Australia and away from home, that kind of adds a lot to it, too.

Q. After weeks of playing stroke-play events, what's it like for you, or any player, to come into a match-play event? This will be the only one you will play this year, unless you get into special-type events. What is it like, different atmosphere, different attitude?

STEVE STRICKER: It's a little bit of a different atmosphere. Although, when you try to trick yourself and just try to play the normal game, I mean, deep down, you still need to make pars and birdies if you're going to do -- have any success here this week.

You've still got to try to get the ball in the fairway, get it on the green and make some putts. But you know deep down that you're only playing against one other opponent. Sometimes pars are good. Sometimes a bogey could be good. So you've just kind of got to assess the situation and see how your guy is playing, see how your opponent is playing.

But again, there's kind of a little bit of uncertainty in the air, too. I think when you talk to anybody, knowing that they could be done after one match, which is kind of odd. We don't experience that too often.

There's just a lot of things up in the air here, this week, and a lot of anticipation, I think, on the players parts.

Q. Well, last year, as you progressed, did you ever think, "Man, this is unusual, I come into this event --" I don't know what you were anticipating, but the more you played, the more you accomplished. What is your different thought about that?

STEVE STRICKER: Like I said, last year, I think I just got the confidence going and started to feel more and more comfortable with the situation, with match-play.

You know, after a while, I think if you start to play well and you start rolling in some of your matches, like last year, I felt like I was kind of indestructible at times. If I hit it in the woods, I felt like, you know what I'm still going to make a par somehow, and end up tying the guy and force him to make a birdie to win.

I think you get a different type of attitude as it goes on if you're playing well; that you're going to be tough to beat. That's what happened with me last year. You know, obviously it always doesn't work out that way, but that's what -- the guy that ends up doing well here this week, that's what he's going to do well. He's going to think well and he's going to make a lot of pars when it doesn't look like he's going to make a par, and that really plays on the other player, like I said. You know, he just starts to get good feelings and get a roll going.

Q. Do you feel like you can play a little more aggressive this in this, just because the worst that can happen is you can lose one hole?

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I think you do. I think you've got an aggressive mindset. So, you have to be cautious and watch what your player is doing at times, too.

My dad always told me that in match-play, you've just got to play the course and not really pay attention to your opponent, and you'll be all right. But deep down, you still need to play and make pars and birdies. Sometimes when you do worry about your opponent, it can get you into more problems.

So, you know, the ultimate line is still playing the course and making a good number.

Q. Can you think of an example last year in any of your matches where maybe you pulled off some great recovery shot, where if you were playing stroke-play, you might not have even tried that shot?

STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, there's no question. There was a few times where I'm in the woods over there, that you'll take a bigger gamble, because like you say, the worst you can do is, you're going to lose the hole. You know, you end up making the shot and all of the sudden, it turns out to be a positive for you. It's like if you tied the hole, you feel so good that you tied the hole, that it's almost a win. And for the other guy, he's thinking, "you know, what do I have to do to win the hole?"

So there's a lot of little mind games that are going on between the two players that, you know, they are not really saying to each -- anything to each other, but going on in their minds to each other, there is a lot going on.

Q. Do you recall a shot against Pierre in the final --?

STEVE STRICKER: I don't really remember anything specific. But I was in the trees a couple of times and I ended up making pars throughout the week. I remember walking off that hole feeling like I won the hole.

End of FastScripts....

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