ARDMORE, Pa. — Now Steve Stricker has to close the deal. A good supply of frozen yogurt might help get it done.
Running out of time to win a major, the 46-year-old’s steady game — and family-first schedule — has him in the frame of mind to finally clear that hurdle. He’s only one stroke off the lead after shooting an even-par 70 Saturday in the third round of the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
“It would be unbelievable, but I’m out (there) not trying to think about that yet,” Stricker said. “I’m just trying to execute the shots that I know how to do and take one shot at a time and go from there.”
After Stricker-like consistent rounds of 1-over, 1-under and even par, he trails only Phil Mickelson. It’s not an unfamiliar position: Stricker has been in the serious mix five times on Sunday in majors, but he’s usually faltered over those final 18 holes. His best U.S. Open finish is a solo fifth place at Pinehurst in 1999.
Stricker thinks it might be different this time. He said his play this week has justified his decision to cut back on his PGA Tour schedule to spend more time with family, as well as more time practicing for the bigger events.
“I just figured that I’m in a good place mentally,” he said. “I feel like I’m doing the right thing by not playing. I’m enjoying my time at home, so it all makes sense in my mind and I guess that’s the most important thing. And I’m happy the way I’m striking it. Couple loose shots today that I’m not so happy with, but overall it just justifies what I’m doing — and especially when I play well.”
The family is with him at Merion, and what a Father’s Day it would be if he won. His wife, Nicki, used to be his caddie, and daughter Bobbi Maria has brought along a friend. It helps ease the tension of a championship atmosphere.
“Believe me, they’re loving every minute of it,” Stricker said. “The girls are all up until 11:30, it seems like, every night. No curfew here. And frozen yogurt at night. They’re loving life.”
As for the Merion course, Stricker downplays any natural advantage his game might give him. He’s known for his good driver, solid wedge game and his putter, but even a complete all-around game would find its match in the high grass and hard-to-read greens.
“It’s the longest short course I’ve heard of,” Stricker said. “They’re saying how short it is, but there’s some really long holes for me out here. ... There’s some holes out here that I have to really work hard to make pars on.”
Stricker’s double bogey at No. 9 was the only blemish on his card Saturday. He finished by making a tricky putt for par at No. 18, a hole so daunting that no one made birdie on it in the third round.
“That was a big putt,” he said. “Keeps my momentum going for tomorrow.”