Steve Stricker's return to prominence in professional golf could take yet another step forward Sunday. Possibly even a major step.
Starting the day barely in the hunt at 1-over-par, Stricker fired a 7-under-par 64 in Saturday's second round of the British Open at Carnoustie Golf Club. The course-record-tying performance boosted him into sole possession of second place at 6-under 207 -- three shots behind leader Sergio Garcia.
"It was quite an experience," Stricker told reporters. "It was a lot of fun and it gives myself a chance going into tomorrow."
That's quite a turnaround for Stricker, whose professional golf career appeared to be coming to a close on several occasions after winning two tournaments in 1996. By 2003, he had dropped to 189th on the PGA Tour money list and was having to call sponsors, begging for an opportunity just to get an invitational to play in tournaments.
"It would mean a lot," Stricker said of winning a major. "Obviously, this is why all of us are here and wanting to win. These four tournaments throughout the year are ultimate goals for everyone to win, just to have the opportunity. I'm very anxious and excited for tomorrow. You just can't think about that, though."
Stricker was the PGA Tour's comeback player of the year in 2006. Recently, he finished tied for 13th in the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club and was second in the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club.
The turnaround came, Stricker said, after rededicating himself to the game and changing his attitude late in the 2005 season. That came after some soul-searching where he pondered if he even wanted to play professional golf anymore.
"I'm very comfortable with my game and what I'm doing out on the course," Stricker said. "It's not such a life-or-death situation -- the game isn't anymore. I'm more at ease out there and I think that's resulted in some better play."
Stricker's putter was stellar on Saturday. He holed putts of 10, 25, 40 and 20 feet on the front nine, which saw him birdie five of the first seven holes. The American added birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 and made par on the final four holes to shoot the lowest score in an Open since Colin Montgomerie shot 64 in the second round at Muirfield in 2002.
However, Stricker said the thought of breaking a record didn't even enter his mind.
"I was just trying to move up the leaderboard as much as I could," Stricker said. "Course records are nice and all, but the real deal is the tournament and that's why we're here."
Already struggling in his quest to win his third consecutive British Open, Tiger Woods had a disconcerting moment in Saturday's third round when he struck a spectator with a wayward approach shot on the par-5 sixth hole.
The unlucky woman was 63-year-old Jennifer Wilson of Antrim, Northern Island. She suffered a cut on her head that required two stitches after she was carted away by medical staff.
Woods, who went on to make par on the hole, apologized and autographed a golf glove for Wilson.
"It was terrible," Woods said after his round of 2-under 69 that left him tied for 15th and eight strokes off the pace. "I wasn't trying to hit it over there, that's for sure. I saw the ball bounce out and figured it had to have hit somebody and unfortunately, I went over there and the lady was bleeding all over the place. I felt really bad.
"I've done that before. You don't ever feel good about it. You have kind of a pit in your stomach and hopefully you didn't hurt someone too bad. She was smiling -- I don't know how she was smiling -- but I just apologized the best I could."
Woods wasn't the only player to hit a person Saturday. Garcia plunked a photographer in the back of the neck with a 4-iron shot on his way to making a par on the par-4 17th hole.
"I knew right away that I hit him. It's never a good feeling," Garcia told reporters. "The good thing is that when I got there I shook his hand. He told me he was fine."
Garcia said he signed a golf glove and ball for the man.
After drawing plenty of attention early in his career, the career of Justin Rose appeared to be headed in a downward spiral. That has certainly changed this year as Rose has himself in position for a third consecutive top-10 finish at a major.
Rose carded a 4-under 67 in Saturday's third round and enters the final round tied for 15th and one shot out of the top 10. Earlier this year, Rose tied for fifth at the Masters and tied for 10th at the U.S. Open.
"It's just another step in the right direction," Rose told reporters. "It's another little piece of confidence that you can draw on -- another good performance, but it's only three rounds through, so obviously tournaments are four days long and I've got a job to do.
"I'm certainly not relaxing in the fact I've got myself into contention. I think it was the next step. Tomorrow is another go and another step forward."
Ernie Els emerged from Saturday's third round of the Open thinking about what might have been. Despite recording a 3-under 68 to move into a third-place tie at 3-under 210, the multiple major winner found it difficult to shake off one faulty swing.
Els hit his tee shot out of bounds on the par-5 sixth hole and wound up making triple bogey on what has been one of the easiest holes this week at Carnoustie.
"I just made a terrible swing and just played a bad hole," Els said in his post-round press conference. "I don't know how I did it.
"If I could just have that one swing over on (No. 6), I'll take six right now. But eight, it's hard to come back from there."
Els was solid after that. He made five birdies and seven pars to finish his round and remain in contention.
July 22, 2007
With stellar play on the back nine at Royal Birkdale, Padraig Harrington shot a 69 in the final round to earn a four-shot victory and become Europe's first back-to-back British Open champion in more than a century. He earned nearly $1.5 million and climbed to No. 3 in the world rankings. "I'm really thrilled with the way I felt today on the golf course," Harrington said. "I hit the ball as pure as I could and just felt really good."
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