SAN FRANCISCO – Steve Stricker saw what it takes to win the U.S. Open the last time it was played at The Olympic Club.
Now he gets to see if he has what it takes to win a major.
Stricker tied for fifth at Olympic in 1998 and is a bit nostalgic about that final round he played with Lee Janzen, who went on to win the U.S. Open. Most vivid was Janzen's tee shot getting stuck in a tree on the fifth hole, and then falling out as Janzen was on his way back to the tee to play his third shot.
"I was able to have a front row seat on his U.S. Open win, and all the things that took place during that round," Stricker said Tuesday. "The experience coming down the stretch with him, and obviously me trying to hang in there and finish in the top 10, but just what it took to win a championship. And Lee's a friend of mine, so it was kind of cool to be with him that day."
It wasn't long before Stricker went into a tailspin and lost his PGA Tour card. His return was so remarkable that he's the only player to be voted PGA Tour comeback player of the year in consecutive seasons. He has reached as high as No. 2 in the world. He picked up his 12th victory at Kapalua to start this year.
But at age 45, time is running out on Stricker validating a strong career with a major.
"My chances are probably dwindling a little bit, but I still feel like my game is pretty good," Stricker said. "I do a lot of good things still. I keep the ball in play. Besides the last month or so, I've been playing fairly smart, but the last month has been a little different. I've thrown some shots away and really not taken care of my game the way I normally do. So hopefully, with what's on the line this week, I'll be a little bit sharper mentally and get things going."
The most surprising part of this miniature downturn is his chipping and putting, always the strength of his game.
Stricker spent last week in Wisconsin working particularly hard on his short game, and it should help being at Olympic. All the greens have been resurfaced, eliminating the poa annua grass typical of U.S. Opens in California. They can be difficult to putt, especially in the late afternoon.
"It doesn't even feel like we're in California with the greens that we're putting on," Stricker said. "The greens are so good, so true, not an ounce of poa annua in them. The whole course is in great shape. There's nothing wrong with it."
Even though Stricker is at No. 11 in the world, he still considers himself one of underdogs this week. At the least, he's trying to convince himself of that — and for good reason. Olympic has a history of treating the underdog well: Jack Fleck, Scott Simpson, even Janzen.
"I feel like the way I played the last few tournaments, I'm not carrying a ton of confidence in here, but I've been playing well in spurts," he said. "I played well the last couple of days here. I feel good coming here. I worked pretty hard on my game at home the last week. So I would like to think that I can get off and have a good tournament."
He still points to the obvious favorites — Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood — but is not ruling himself out by any means.
"I feel like I can hold my own, and I've played well in prior U.S. Opens," he said. "So I feel like if I play my game and I'm capable at what I'm doing, I can get myself in there."