Steve Stricker After FedEx Cup playoff win at The Barclays, Steve Stricker ready for Deutsche Bank

Following a win last Sunday at The Barclays Classic that gave him his first PGA Tour victory since 2001, it would be difficult to blame Steve Stricker for cutting loose.

And that's exactly what Stricker did. When Stricker flew home Sunday night, family and friends greeted him at the airport and the celebration moved to the Stricker household.

"It's been a long time coming," Stricker told reporters Wednesday, noting that he usually doesn't drink, but consumed eight beers Sunday night. The party "didn't last very long because everybody was working the next day and all that, but that was a nice gesture of all my family and friends to be there.

"It was a special three days, and it's been busy to say the least."

Stricker will now refocus on the task at hand as he suddenly finds himself leading the FedEx Cup points standings. Entering this week's Deutsche Bank Championship, Aug. 31-Sept. 3 at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass., Stricker has 104,950 points to lead second-place K.J. Choi by 2,050 points in the race for the $10 million deferred prize in the PGA Tour's version of the playoffs.

While last Sunday's victory for the emotional Stricker pulled at the heartstrings of fans familiar with his comeback from the abyss of the golf world, the Wisconsin native said he was actually starting to wonder if his emotions were getting in the way of him being able to win.

"I was starting to believe that it may be a problem - that maybe that's why I wasn't winning some of these events - because I was getting too emotional out there, and maybe that is the case," Stricker said. "It's just who I am, I guess, but this one does mean a lot more. Maybe that's what came out. After the struggles that I've had and really not winning a stroke-play event for 11 years, it was just a pretty special and sweet moment."

Deutsche Bank Championship's dream threesome

The Deutsche Bank Championship couldn't have scripted a better grouping for the first two days of the tournament, as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh will play together as numbers four through six in the FedEx Cup standings.

"I think it's great, and also just the fact that everybody in the world is going to want to go and watch that pairing," said Steve Stricker, who will be grouped with number two K.J. Choi and No. 3 Rory Sabbatini. "I think it's just a unique feature of this playoff format. I think it brings a lot of excitement and anticipation from the players and the fans alike."

Stricker said that after he won last week at The Barclays, he was considering the possibility that he might be in the same group with Woods this week. Question is: Was he disappointed or pleased not to be grouped with the world No. 1-ranked player.

"A little of both," Stricker said. "You know, it would have been a great experience - a neat experience - but I don't need that right now, either, to be playing with him. I'm just trying to focus on my game again.

"It's tough playing with him. It's a circus. He deals with it every day, but for a guy who doesn't play with him very often, it's very distracting."

One-man playoff?

While the FedEx Cup playoffs started with 144 players in the field for The Barclays, Rich Beem told reporters Wednesday in a press conference for this week's Deutsche Bank Championship that the success of the playoffs actually boils down to just one guy.

"There's only one person that really matters in this playoff system, and that's Tiger Woods," Beem said. "If Tiger is not playing, you're not going to have a whole lot of validity, it doesn't seem like. Unless Tiger shows up, I think that not only the fans but I think the media is going to put a lot of scrutiny on it. If he's not playing, then how serious can we be about this?"

Woods, who led the FedEx Cup standings through the regular season and earned the top seed for the playoffs, is playing in his first playoff event after skipping The Barclays.

Els heads home

Saying he wanted to be at his home near London for family reasons, Ernie Els has pulled out of this week's Deutsche Bank Championship.

"I have been on the road now for almost eight weeks and it is important that I return home where my children will be preparing for their return to school," Els told the Associated Press. "I regret having to miss such a prestigious and important tournament and I wish everybody there an enjoyable and successful week."

Els finished fourth at The Barclays. He is 10th in the FedEx Cup standings and said he plans to return for the final two legs of the playoffs: Sept. 6-9 at the BMW Championship at Cog Hill in Lemont, Ill., and Sept. 13-16 at The Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Course in Atlanta.

August 30, 2007

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