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Stricker busy as ever away from golf

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ARDMORE, Pa. (AP) - Adam Scott and Steve Stricker don't have much in common except for how infrequently they play golf tournaments.

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Scott began to scale back on his schedule two years ago, devising a plan that would help him practice more, play less and be ready for the biggest events. Stricker, who turned 46 in February, decided this year to spend more time at home in Wisconsin. The U.S. Open is only his seventh tournament this year, and he might only play three more.

``I congratulated him on his semi-retirement,'' Scott said. ``Welcome to the club.''

Stricker would love to part of another club to which Scott belongs - a major champion.

Since returning to the top of his game in 2006, he has given himself a couple of reasonable chances. Stricker was the 36-hole leader at Winged Foot in 2006 until a 76-73 weekend dropped him into a tie for sixth, three shots behind. He was tied for the lead after 63 holes at Oakmont a year later, only to shoot 42 on the back nine to tie for 13th.

He also played in the final group at Carnoustie in the 2007 British Open. He tied the major championship record at Atlanta Athletic Club in the 2011 PGA Championship with a 63 in the opening round, though he couldn't keep it going.

At 46, and playing a limited schedule, Stricker is running out of time.

And that's OK with him.

``I'm kind of past that,'' he said Tuesday. ``I think that the decision that I made earlier this year about playing less has taken some of the pressure off me. I'm completely fine with my career and what I've done. And don't get me wrong - I'm still very competitive and I still really want to win. I still want to play well. But I'm just enjoying it.

``I'm enjoying coming out here and playing and not really having any expectations at all.''

He is far from a forgotten figure. He has a pair of runner-up finishes this year - to Dustin Johnson at Kapalua and to Tiger Woods at Doral - and is No. 13 in the world. He remains No. 8 in the Presidents Cup standings, so his form is not far off.

What makes him intriguing at this U.S. Open is his wedge game.

Stricker is vastly improved off the tee, turning that into one of his strengths. As for his putting? Not only is he regarded one of the best in the game, he's so good with the flat stick that even Woods sought him out for advice in March - and then beat him to win the World Golf Championship at Doral.

But it's the wedge play that typically allows Stricker to set up birdie putts. And there are a lot of wedges to be struck at Merion, a course that starts and finishes with holes that are long and strong, and features a stretch of short par 4s in the middle where birdies figure to be made.

``I like the setup,'' Stricker said. ``There's a lot of short irons when you get into certain parts of the course, but there are also a lot of long clubs into some of these holes. I think that still the advantage kind of goes to some longer hitters here, just because we're not getting any roll in the fairway at all. But I like that there's a lot of short irons. There's a good mixture of long and short. You don't really get to play to your medium game too much, unless they move up some of the tees on the par 3s.''

One thing he can count on is being fresher than anyone else in the field. Stricker hasn't played in a month. He tied for 37th in The Players Championship, where he was coming off another monthlong break since the Masters.

That's not to suggest he's been lounging around the house all day.

``I'm busier now than I ever have been for some reason,'' Stricker said. ``I don't know what it is - I guess kids. People know that I'm playing less, so they're asking me for things and to do things. I'm staying extremely busy.''

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2014
The Associated Press
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