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April 7, 2008

Steve Stricker


RONALD TOWNSEND: Good afternoon and welcome to the 72nd Masters and we would like to welcome Steve Stricker. In 2007 Steve had his best year ever on the PGA TOUR, captured the Barclays and was second at the Wachovia Championship and the AT&T National. Also tied for 8th at the British Open and ended the year No. 4 on the Official World Golf Ranking and was voted PGA TOUR Comeback Player of the Year and this is Steve's eighth Masters appearance.
STEVE STRICKER: It's obviously great to be back here, from where I was four or five years ago to be coming back here to Augusta is such a special place, and it's an honor and privilege to be back here and look forward to the week.

Q. Have you had a chance to play yet or did you just get in?
STEVE STRICKER: Got in last night, going to go out right after this is done and test it out. I've heard some things already; the course is in good shape, and it's a little soft right now, but playing long. But I'll get a look at it this afternoon.

Q. When you see cloud cover and probably heard about some rain over the week and maybe some more, which is the preference for you, like it was last year, really, really firm, fast, or longer, softer?
STEVE STRICKER: You know, that's a good question. I would rather see it a little firmer. You know, the course is so long as it is, and I'm not the longest hitter out here, so I'd rather see it where I can get some roll on the fairways.
But, you know, you're just going to have to deal with what it is and the conditions, whatever they are, you're going to have to try to adapt to it and I'm sure it will firm up as the week goes on.
I looked at the long range and it didn't look like calling for any rain until later in the week, maybe Friday, some Saturday, I can't remember. But it should firm up. And you know, again, just happy to be here and it's whatever the conditions are, I'll try to deal with them.

Q. Can you talk about, what are the odds of a player going south, and then coming back the way you have in today's tour with so much talent out there?
STEVE STRICKER: You know, I don't know. There's some guys that have done it and there's some guys that haven't. You know, I would say probably more guys haven't done it than come back. But you know, speaking personally, you know, I just -- it took a lot of hard work, and I think, you know, you've got to just put the time in and the effort in and kind of make a rededication to the game and yourself, and I think guys have done that over the years. You've seen guys come back and win tournaments after they have disappeared for a while, so it's always possible.
If a player was good at one point, and he slides -- falls off the face of the earth for a while and comes back, you realize you still were good at one point; you still won a tournament, you know, previously in your career or whatever, and that's what I kept telling myself. I kept telling myself that I did play good golf at one time, and it was in there. I just had to get it out again and I think that's the biggest challenge was the mental challenge of trying to overcome those negative thoughts and try to remember where you once were.
But, it's tough.

Q. Were you afraid of being one of those guys that didn't come back?
STEVE STRICKER: I wasn't afraid of it. It came across my mind thinking about it every once in awhile, but there's so many other important things in life than playing this game. This is my job, is what I start thinking about.
You know, I have a great family and two wonderful kids and a wife, and that's just so much other things in life than golf, and that's what I kept telling myself, and it took some of the pressure off.
I was enjoying my time at home, too, so that was the other thing that was good; that I didn't feel like I had to be out here, and there's certain players, you know, that I've come across that this is all they have. You know, this golf game is all they have, and I'm not that way. I have a lot of other things and I enjoy a lot of other things other than golf, and I've got a great family.

Q. I don't know if you're aware, but they are allowing kids between 8 and 16 in this year for free with a badge-holding paying customer, and everybody knows golf growth has been pretty flat otherwise, and that seems like a pretty forward-thinking idea. Wonder your thoughts and if you're familiar with it?
STEVE STRICKER: No, I wasn't familiar with it. I think it's a great idea. I think it gives a lot of kids the opportunity to come out here and see Augusta National, to watch some great players in the world play, and they can create some of their own dreams just from watching this tournament and watching what's going on here.
So it's a great opportunity for kids, and a great family atmosphere. You know, I mean, this is one of the coolest events we play all year; when you walk in the gates on Monday and see the amount of people that we see here already today is really unbelievable.
It's really just a great opportunity for kids and parents alike to spend some time, and especially for the kids to see what it's all about.

Q. When were you last home?
STEVE STRICKER: I had a week off before Doral.

Q. Bay Hill?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, and actually I was home for about three days. I was home for about three days and went to Disney for three days.

Q. That's right.
STEVE STRICKER: During Bay Hill.

Q. Your clubs were at Bay Hill.
STEVE STRICKER: My clubs were at Bay Hill, yeah. (Laughter).

Q. They didn't play without you, did they?

Q. You've been here a few times before. Are you doing anything different this year and over these next few days practice-round-wise and to change things up or anything?
STEVE STRICKER: I'm going to try to spend a lot more time up around the greens and try to really think about where the hole locations are going to be, and try to figure out where I want to hit it for those hole locations, try to find the spots where you want to miss it, if there is such a spot and that's the hardest part around here. There isn't a whole lot of bail-out areas where you are going to end up having a real difficult chip or really paying for it.
So you just need to do your homework, and that's what I intend to do is try to spend a little bit more time and paying closer attention to the green areas and where I want to be on certain hole locations.

Q. You've had some really low scores so far this year; I'm wondering, can a person go low like that here now on this golf course?
STEVE STRICKER: I don't think so. You know, I guess it's always possible, but you know, it's very difficult, and we saw that last year, you know, with 1-over winning the tournament.
Like I haven't been out here this year. Imagine it's not much different but I don't think you're going to see a bunch of low scores, no.

Q. Have you heard that Tiger was going to win the Grand Slam this year?
STEVE STRICKER: I have heard that. (Laughter).

Q. What are your thoughts on that?
STEVE STRICKER: I think he's the only player capable of doing that. And, you know, I wouldn't be surprised if he does do it.
I think the odds are, you know -- they are not in his favor. I mean, I think he's got a good chance of doing it, and I don't think they are in his favor, if that makes sense.
But there's so many good players, and he's going to have to, you know, play so well, you know, during every one of those major events, and hopefully that no one else gets on a run of their own. There's so many capable players of doing that, getting on their own little runs and playing well.
And he's going to have to play at the top of his game to do it.

Q. What do you think as a player, and two-time Come Back Player of the Year, when people are already --
STEVE STRICKER: You won't let that --

Q. Win this week, you could make it three. (Laughter) It seems like the public and some of the media, too, are basically handing him the Masters before we have even started.
STEVE STRICKER: Well, obviously he's the favorite coming in here. I mean, the course, and his play, the way he's played this year, there's no question he's the odds-on favorite to win here.
You know, how many has he won here already, four? That shows you something right there. You know, as a player, it is what it is. You realize that he's the guy to beat. If he plays well, no one is going to beat him. I've seen him enough lately that if he's on his game, he's impossible to beat.
So it's just, you know -- I don't know. The odds-makers have got it right I guess. But it's going to be tough. He can't have any slip-ups. Etc. Just tough to win a golf tournament and there's so many good players that he's going to have to play well to do it.

Q. Seems like the intangibles would play in theory a much a part of that as anything; you could just get a bad draw on the weather, or a bad bounce.
STEVE STRICKER: No question. There's a lot of factors that go into winning a golf tournament. He knows that, too. He said it in other interviews where you've got to get your breaks and he realizes he gets some breaks along the way, and you have to have that to win golf tournaments, and that's the deal. Especially going over to the British Open; you could get on the wrong side of a draw over there and be ten shots back in a hurry. We saw it last week in Houston, you got on the wrong side of the draw, and it was a difficult day on Friday.
You've got to have some good breaks, and you have to play well, and hopefully, you know, someone else doesn't just tear it up that week, too, which is always a possibility; there's so many good players.

Q. Have some of the bad breaks, has that happened to you the past couple years? I know you missed some cuts here, but played great in other places. What's it been here?
STEVE STRICKER: It's just been bad play here. (Laughter) Hasn't been any bad breaks.
I've got to do some work here. I've got to overcome a few problems I've had in years past, and hopefully I'm playing a little bit better. I feel a little bit more comfortable about my game, so hopefully I can overcome some of those problems I've had in years past here and play well.

Q. It would seem if you looked at your bio and your stat sheet, you know, putting is always so far up there, and this is probably the one where familiarity with the same course every year and putting, would be two things that would be right in your wheel house.
STEVE STRICKER: I've never really putted that well here to tell you the truth, and I don't know if it's the whole -- the greens are very difficult, and I don't know what it is. And that's one of the issues I was going to plan on addressing this week is just spend a lot of time putting, and getting to know the greens.
You know, you could set your ball down in a million different places on these greens to four or five different pin locations, and they all react a little bit differently.
There's so much movement there, and you have to really study them I think and, you know, take the time to understand some of the little breaks and nuances of the greens. So I really have never putted that well here, and I haven't putted so well yet this year. I've been kind of streaky.
So I'm hoping, you know, it all changes this week and put some good putting rounds together and good ball-striking. You need to do it all well here.

Q. Of the first two majors, which is the toughest?

Q. Toughest test.
STEVE STRICKER: Toughest test? Good question. I'm becoming to believe that this is more like a U.S. Open course every year. You saw 1-over par win this tournament last year, and I think that's been kind of my misconception coming in here, too, because it's always been some decent scores here. Under par, you know, Tiger won that one year, I don't know, 18-under or whatever, but I think gradually the course is becoming very difficult. And they don't have the rough like a U.S. Open, but the greens are like what we played last year at Oakmont; they are that difficult.
So I really do believe it's becoming, you know, more like a U.S. Open-style -- not style, but the same score is going to win here but more like an Open. Two different types of courses; you have rough at the Open and none here, but I think this is just as difficult as an Open.

Q. I read a description of here that said off the fairway or off the tees, the fairways are generous width and not a lot of bunkers and there's really not an abundance of water hazards and OBs and all that, but that it might be the toughest course in America for a hundred yards in; assuming you buy that in general principle, could you explain why?
STEVE STRICKER: I don't necessarily agree with the wide-open-fairways-and-you-can-hit-it-anywhere theory here.
I actually believe that it's a good-driving golf course, and they have toughened it up over the years by bringing in pine trees and narrowing some of the landing areas. I mean, you can rip off a lot of holes that they have really done that to and made them a lot tougher.
But it is, I think, very difficult approach shots here, and not necessarily 100-yard-in shots. We are back there, and I heard David Toms hit 4-iron into 1 today. So a lot of these greens were not really designed to be coming in with such long clubs sometimes, especially when we get them firm.
But it's very difficult. You know, you've got to put the ball precisely in the right spot on the greens, and I think the guy who hits it -- you actually have to drive it well. But the guy who can hit his irons in the spots on the greens really has an advantage this week, because that makes putting a little bit easier, but just get it on the greens and plodding along, making pars; like at the U.S. Open, where you can just keep plodding along, making pars and maybe play well on the par 5s and make birdies. It seems like that's been the consistent factor over the years; the guy who tears up the par 5s, you know, usually does really well in the tournament.
I think Zach was 11 or 12-under on the par 5s last year, so I think that's the key.

Q. Is the first cut of rough, that started about ten years ago, is that a factor?
STEVE STRICKER: I think it's a factor. It brings in that dimension of whether you're going to get a flyer or not.
Guys have played enough out here that they understand their clubs and their equipment that they know what the ball is going to do out of there, but I still think is brings that one element into play, well, where it could jump and you could catch a flyer and you end up over the green, and most of the times on this course, over the green is just not the place you want to be.
Yeah, I think it definitely becomes a little bit of a factor here.

Q. Just curious, on the years that you weren't here, is this something that you watched every weekend?
STEVE STRICKER: For sure. (Smiling) From the time I was going up and as a child interested in golf and going, playing in college, this was the one tournament that you watched. It's great TV. It's no commercials or very few commercials and it was one of the highlights as a golfer to watch this event, even when I wasn't here.

Q. When you were in this black hole, what was your favorite Masters?
STEVE STRICKER: Good question. Who won them? (Laughing) Tiger?

Q. Tiger two; Weirsy; Phil; Tiger in '05; Phil; and you were here last year.
STEVE STRICKER: Who last year? Oh, yeah, I was here last year.
I don't know, they have all got their own little special moments. Didn't Weir play-off with Len Mattiace? I thought that was pretty interesting and compelling to watch.
Obviously when Tiger wins and Phil wins, it's always, you know, pretty cool to watch the best players in the world winning.
But I would have to say Mike Weir. I've grown up with him, played on the Canadian Tour with him back in the early 90s, and you know, a guy that I was able to be friends with and watch grow as a player over the years and see him win was pretty cool.
Q. Can Tiger go low here?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, he can go low here. (Laughter).
I haven't been out there, and I don't know what the conditions are going to be. And they change so fast here.
You know, if it stays soft, you know, there could be some good scores. But it's a difficult place. You've got to be firing on all cylinders to do it.
RONALD TOWNSEND: We'd like to thank you all. Thank you.

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