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April 6, 2010

Steve Stricker


CLAUDE NIELSEN: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, it's a real pleasure to welcome Steve Stricker back to Augusta National and the 2010 Masters Tournament.
Steve was named Comeback Player of the Year in 2006 and 2007. He's participated on The Presidents Cup team three times. In 2009, Steve had three PGA TOUR titles and was a victorious member of The Presidents Cup.
He's won his eighth career PGA TOUR event at the 2010 Northern Trust Open. Steve is currently ranked the No. 2 player in the world. And this is his 10th Masters appearance.
Please welcome Steve Stricker, and I will let you open with a few comments, Steve and we'll take questions.
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, we were just talking about how it flies by. You know, the 10th time here already, and it's just great to be back. The course is in unbelievable condition. We have had great weather the last -- since I've been here on Sunday, and the course is shaping up really nicely. It's getting a little firmer and faster, and it's getting a little shorter. Looked like they mowed the fairways a little bit more today. I expect conditions to be at a premium once the tournament starts. It's really nice.

Q. In the preamble there about your accomplishments, what was missing?
STEVE STRICKER: A major. Is that the way I'm supposed to answer that? (Laughter).

Q. I'm asking you.
STEVE STRICKER: You know, that be would nice. That would be a nice capper to it all I guess. You know, I always think and dream of winning a major. You know, it's hard to dream about it and think about it and then not put too much pressure on yourself coming into a major and expecting too much and just trying to let it happen, just like you do at every other event, or at least I do at every other event.
So there's a fine line there of trying to make this your time and just try to let it come naturally. That's the challenge, and hopefully I can be patient and just play like the way I've been playing the last four or five years.

Q. The victory you had in L.A., did that help or hurt your preparation for coming here in regards to the fact that you've got a win under your belt early on?
STEVE STRICKER: That helps, definitely with your confidence, with your self-esteem I guess, with your belief in yourself as a player. Yeah, that always helps, winning an event like that.
I haven't played that good the last couple of weeks, ball-striking-wise, but snuck out a Top-10 in there. But I'm excited to be here. My focus should be good. I had last week off and rested a little bit and I'm excited to get this going.

Q. When you elevated to No. 2 in the world, did that change outside the ropes in terms of perception, questions, anything like that?
STEVE STRICKER: A little bit. I think I get recognized a little bit more here and there. But you know, I always -- it's myself that puts the expectations on myself, and I guess I always try to live up to my own billing and expectations.
You know, I feel it outside the ropes, too. Other people are saying this week, you know, this is your time, this is your turn. So there's other people, as well, that think that it's my time.
There's so many things that have to go right. You have to play great golf. You have to get a few breaks here and there, and a lot of things have to fall into place. Again, patience I think is a key word here, especially this tournament and at this course. You know, you can't get flustered. You can't lose your patience. You need to be cautious when it calls for cautiousness, and there's times you can be aggressive, but you'd better be making sure that you're capable of hitting the shot.

Q. Steve, Tiger came in yesterday and said that he would be playing with you today in a practice round. We noticed that didn't happen; can you explain what happened?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I ran into him on Sunday and he mentioned about playing today. He gets up pretty early in the mornings to play. (Laughter) And I knew I had to be in here at 3:30, so why I want to make it a full day. I got out here at mid to late morning and just played nine holes, and so texted him last night and tried to make sure that he knew that I wasn't going to be there this morning.
You know, I'm looking forward to playing with him again and spending some time with him again. Like I said, I saw him Sunday in the parking lot and got to chat with him for a few minutes. It was good to see him and good to see him back.

Q. You've competed against and been teammates with Phil Mickelson, how aware are you in terms of what's going on in his life with his wife and his mom, and how do you feel do you think it would be to compete in majors and concentrate when things are not perfect at home?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I know the circumstances, I asked Phil I guess at Bay Hill how Amy was, and you know, he gives me the okay. But who knows what that means. I can't really speculate on what Amy is going through or what Phil is going through, but I would imagine it's very difficult to concentrate on playing well when you have a couple of people that are so close to you back home dealing with cancer.
It's got to be hard. It's got to be very hard to concentrate and play well.

Q. You're a big supporter of golf in Wisconsin; does the thought ever enter your mind to be the first person from Wisconsin to win the Masters; does that put pressure on you even more than just individually to win it?
STEVE STRICKER: No, I don't think about that. Andy North, obviously we know he's won two U.S. Opens and a great ambassador for Wisconsin and for the state and for golf in our state. He's a friend. He's a guy I look up to, but I don't think about being the first Wisconsinite to win a green jacket or anything like that.
I try to downplay all of it, I really do. I try to put everything on the back plate and do the things I do and play the game the way I play it and not try to do things outside my box. That's always a challenge. But that's what I try to do.

Q. A couple of putting questions. Are the greens at Augusta these days anymore -- they used to be so much faster and different than other courses. Do you think the gap has closed? And related, in terms of technique and strategy, how do you putt differently here, if you do?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I think the gap has maybe closed a little bit. But you still have more undulation on them than most tournaments that we play at, and the speed may be similar, but when you factor in the slopes of the greens, that's what brings these greens to a scary-fast condition. That puts premium on hitting good shots into the greens. You have to hit them in the correct spots to give yourself legitimate opportunities at making the putt.
But you know, it's a very strategic golf course, and the greens make it that way. As far as -- what was the second question, technique?

Q. The actual putting technique?
STEVE STRICKER: When the greens are fast? It all comes down to tempo, I believe. It comes down to making a smoother, shorter stroke. You can't really get too aggressive and too hitty with it. You know, I always try to smooth it out and slow it down, especially when greens get lightning fast like these do at times.

Q. Obviously the No. 1 player in the world has kind of a turbulent existence right now; do you ever count yourself fortunate to be a No. 2 -- that you can lead a pretty normal life and be under the radar a little bit?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I feel very fortunate to live the kind of life I do. I can play golf out here for a living and go back to basically obscurity in Wisconsin. And I like it that way.
I can go around town and really not too many people know who I am and take my family out and you know, there's no real cameras following me around.
That's the nice way -- it's nice that way. I imagine what Tiger has been going through has been very difficult, not only on him, but his family. Yeah, it is a nice position I'm in; I kind of slide in under the radar.

Q. Are you at all driven to be a No. 1? Is that ranking important?
STEVE STRICKER: The ranking is not important to me really. I strive to do the best I can, I guess. I work hard at trying to improve. And I just, you know, what happens, happens, I guess. I try to do as well as I can at each tournament.
I've been on a great run the last, you know, couple of years, and I just continue to try to keep doing that and keep doing the things that I've been doing to get me to this point. And that's work hard and trust my ability and go out there with positive thoughts.

Q. Watching the Tiger thing unfold over the last four or five months, what's been your emotions, watching this?
STEVE STRICKER: A lot. I guess a lot of emotions. You know, right when it first happened, I went from thinking, oh, my God, is he all right, is he going to die; the first report I heard, that he's in serious condition in the hospital, you know. So you go from one extreme to the other and reports start coming out and you start hearing all of the things that happened, and you go -- you know, I was -- I don't know if I was a little bit hurt, maybe that's not really the right word. But maybe a little bit -- I don't know. There were a lot of emotions.
We all went through them. We all went through them I guess. Couldn't believe it at times what was coming out; you know, it's been a wild, emotional ride, I think, for everybody that's been involved with the game. You know, it was great to see him the other day, it was really was. It was great to see him back and hopefully we can all put this to rest and move forward and go on like normal.

Q. If I can ask one follow-up, he apologized to the golfers yesterday; did you find that necessary or how did you interpret that apology?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I think that was very nice. If it was necessary or not, I don't know, but I thought it was nice. A lot of us golfers, everybody on TOUR has had to try to answer the questions. We're really in no position to answer those questions. I'm in the dark. Everybody's in the dark. We're all speculating. So it's very difficult to speak with any sort of -- I don't know what the word is, but speak with any sort of facts. You know, we don't know anything. He doesn't give us a lot, which is up to him, and it's just, you know, it's a tough subject. That's why I'm having a hard time talking about it now. (Laughter).

Q. I think authority is the word you were looking for.

Q. Stewart Cink was in here talking about the third shot at 15, how intimidating it is; he said it actually scared him a little bit. Are there any shots or holes that scare you out there?
STEVE STRICKER: There are a lot of holes that are very intimidating. 12, the par 3 can be very difficult. We played there today and it's 140 yards and we thought it was a little into the wind. If I was the first guy to hit there, I probably would have hit a little 8-iron, and as I watched my other two guys, it ended up being a little 9-iron.
So it can range, you know, from one club to the next on that hole, and that's a scary shot to be hitting when you're not quite sure what club it is. That hole is intimidating. You know, 11, the second shot at 11 is very difficult. I agree with him that 15; there's just a bunch of holes you have to make sure you're totally committed to the shot and know what you want to do with it before you execute it.

Q. There's a similar situation at Sawgrass they look ahead to 17 a little bit; do you think about that here, that the wind is doing this and you need to be prepared on 12?
STEVE STRICKER: I think I look forward to No. 12 more than any hole out there trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing, and really, when you get there, it can be totally different than what you think. Like I said today, that wind should have been a little hurting out of the right, and actually was helping. We all walked out there and we all hit little 9-irons. We all were kind of shaking our head there thinking it was short. It played a lot shorter than the yardage was.
It's a difficult shot. I've been there on that hole where the first guy up hit it all the way over the bunker up into the hillside up into the bushes and the next guy gets up and hits it into the water. It's very difficult . That wind does funny things down there at the bottom and it's kind of a guessing game at times.

Q. Tiger has not won a major in the last year and with his personal problems, does that combine to make him less intimidating as a competitor?
STEVE STRICKER: I don't think so. I mean, his personal life is totally different from his golfing ability. Although at times looking back, you wonder how he competed at such a high level with all of this stuff going on.
It's actually scary to think if he gets his mind a little bit freer and uncluttered that it could be better, is what I'm thinking. I mean, the guy is so talented and so mentally strong; that if he can maybe get rid of all the outside factors, that he actually could perform at a higher level. That's what's going to be interesting to watch, as a fan and as a player, just to see how he plays from here on out.

Q. My guess is that Corey will pair you and him in The Ryder Cup; how would you feel about that?
STEVE STRICKER: I would love it. I hope I'm a part of that team. I hope he's a part of that team. You know, I don't know how much he's going to play. Hopefully I can make that team and be a part of it.
I would love to have the opportunity again to make that Ryder Cup Team, to go over to Wales and play for the U.S. and to be his teammate again, I think it would be great. We had such a great time together at The Presidents Cup, and we complemented each other very well and we had a good time. I think that was the bottom line, we had a good time out there and we felt very comfortable with one another.
So put those two things together, we made a good team. So it was fun, and hopefully I get to do it again.

Q. I got all of these panicky e-mails from your fans the weekend of Bay Hill. Can you explain what happened there? Was it an aberration that you were able to forget about pretty quickly?
STEVE STRICKER: I have not forgot about it, because those rounds were not the way I've been playing lately. I had lost my patience, I think. I was looking forward to this week I think a lot.
I missed the cut last year. I kind of related to last year at Houston. I missed the cut at Houston last year, didn't play very well and got over here early and actually played well here. I'm kind of hoping that's what's going on. My focus was not that well -- yeah, at Bay Hill, it wasn't that good, and I just hit a lot of poor shots. Didn't do a lot of very good things. So hopefully I got those out of my system and I'm ready for this week.

Q. You're playing in front of Tiger the first two days. Do you like that position, is it okay or how do you feel about it?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I don't think it's going to be that big of a deal. There's a lot of strict policies here. There's no running up-and-down the fairways. It's pretty calm.
Typically, each green is loaded with people anyway. It doesn't matter when you go out there. It's five people deep up at each green. So there will be a lot of people around. I think if anywhere you want to be paired ahead of him, this would probably be it. I don't think it's going to be that different for us in the group ahead.

Q. If you were in charge of conditions and the weather, what would be your ideal setup of this course for you, and how does that compare to the conditions you got this week?
STEVE STRICKER: I like the way they did it last year. I like the way they set it up last year. It was, I thought, a little bit softer and a little bit slower on the greens. And the pin positions were fair.
When they start to lengthen it out and tuck those pins in spots where the big hitters can get to them, that's when I have a hard time here. And I've had a hard time here in other years. But it's a big hitter's course, it's a long course, so I need to play fairly fast.
But I would like to have the greens a little softer. I don't spin the ball a lot. It's tough for me to get to some of these corners of pins. The way they had it set up last year I really enjoyed. It was a little bit slower on the greens and a little bit softer I thought and that played to my advantage.

Q. If you get the fast fairways this week, would you like to see the greens slower?
STEVE STRICKER: The greens are not that fast yet. They are thick and always mow them back at you and so you don't get a lot of roll. We picked up mud on the ball the first couple of days here and there, so they are still fairly soft. I don't know what the plans are, if they are going to let them dry out a little bit so we can get a little bit of roll. But the greens are soft right now and I know they can change those overnight.
Right now, it's in great shape, a lot of grass on the course. It's really nice.

Q. The fact that the ranking is not that important, does that keep you from being No. 1 maybe?
STEVE STRICKER: I don't know. I really don't -- obviously I know the position I'm in. I know I've been playing good golf. I try to let all of that other stuff take care of itself, and then if some day, you know, if I were ever to get to No. 1, that would mean I'd have to win a major or two, win a couple more times this year probably and I don't look that far ahead to tell you the truth.
I look forward to tomorrow, really, and just take each day and do the things that I do every day. And that's come to the course, work on my game, work on the things I've been working on the last four or five years and go from there.
So I really don't look that far ahead and maybe that's what I say when I don't think about No. 1. I really don't look that far ahead anymore, and I just take it each day.

Q. Have you even jokingly told Tiger you are coming to get No. 1?
STEVE STRICKER: No. (Laughter) There have been other guys that have done that, and it's really not worth it. (Laughter).

Q. Since Cabrera won here last year, the next three major champions were first-time major champions. Do you see any pattern there or does it give you hope?
STEVE STRICKER: Yeah, I think it gives everybody hope. I think it shows the depth and the strength of golf.
It shows that the tournaments are deep in strength and in talent. It shows that anybody can really win. I mean, those players that won were all great players. But they probably flew in under the radar that week of that major.
Yeah, it gives a lot of people hope that they can come into this event and walk away with a victory. So those are good things I think for everybody else.

Q. Looking back at your history here, I guess it's a little spotty, what's your level of comfort on this course now and what did you have to do to become semi-comfortable?
STEVE STRICKER: It's a tough course. There's a lot of little subtleties, a lot of little nuances, where you have to figure it out.
I was very uncomfortable the first few years here. Like I said, I haven't played well here in the past. I had a good tournament here last year and I think I had one other Top-10 here. But there's a lot of little things you need to know. And like I was talking to Verplank today as we were going around, I told him, "It's like cramming for a test." Because no matter where you chip from or putt on the green, wherever you are doing all of that stuff from, odds are, you are not going to be there. And just moving over five feet, ten feet, changes the whole dynamics of the green when you putt or chip.
It's hard to get it all down, it really is. You can go around there and drive yourself crazy because you just feel like you can't learn it all, because there's so many different little humps and bumps and rolls, so it's very difficult. It's overwhelming at times, and I think that's what's helped me the last few years is it's just like any other tournament in regards to practice, and that's just you go out there, try to get a feel for the conditions, and then you're going to have to deal with where you are at the time of the tournament, and let your practice -- you go back to your thinking in your practice, and go back to the thoughts and the feelings that you had to equate those to when you're playing.
So like I say, it's tough. You can't kill yourself out there and you've got to be patient even while you're practicing and know that it's going to be tough during the tournament and it could be totally different. The speed of the greens could be two or three feet faster than what we are practicing now. So you've got to realize that when you're out there.
CLAUDE NIELSEN: Thank you, Steve. We wish you continued success.

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