Stricker relishing Phoenix contention

05 February 2021 20:26:17 GMTPlus10

USA's Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker says he is enjoying the challenge after he posted a first-round 65 to leave himself within two shots of the lead at the Phoenix Open.

Stricker is set to skipper the US Ryder Cup Team at Whistling Straits later this year and those responsibilities mean his playing days are limited.

The 53-year-old is a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour but has not claimed success since 2012. However, he rolled back the years in the opening round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, finishing on -6 to leave himself within touching distance of the leaders.

Stricker, who is now ranked 459th in the world, is currently fifth on the leaderboard and just two shots behind joint leaders Mark Lubbard and Matt NeSmith, while Sam Burns and Nate Lashley are tied for third on -7.

The Wisconsin veteran is currently 167th in the FedExCup rankings and admits he is playing this week partly to keep tabs on the world's greatest players.

Stricker accepts he would have been playing exclusively on  the PGA Tour Champions this year had the Ryder Cup not been held over to 2021, and only one top-10 finish in 19 starts at this venue would have tempered his enthusiasm.

But Stricker found some form at TPC Scottsdale, making nearly 100 feet of putts and finding seven birdies.

Speaking to the PGA Tour after his first round, Stricker said: "I know if I can do my thing and roll the ball like I did.

"It's harder, but I enjoy the challenge."

Stricker added: "Well, it's only one round. That's what I would say, I guess. But it shows that I'm still out here trying to compete with them, trying to play, trying to beat them."

Stricker is 501.00 to win the Phoenix Open. Xander Schaffuele, who is -5, is 12.00 and Jon Rahm (-3) is 7.50.

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