Stricker Claws Back; Trails Tiger & Company by Five

With only two holes to play before the end of his second round on Friday, Steve Stricker stood at 7-over par with an excellent chance of missing the cut at the U.S. Open -- and leaving his heart in San Francisco.  

But the mild outward manner of the gentleman from Madison, Wis. belies an internal competitiveness that burns deep.  It's a nondescript yet powerful will-to-win that has served Stricker well in high pressure situations both on the PGA Tour and in national team events, such as the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.

So it wasn't surprising when the "real" Steve Stricker - winner of two PGA Tour Comeback Player of the Year Awards - snapped out of his recent golfing slumber, carved out an eagle 3 on the Olympic Club's par 5 17th, backed it up with a closing birdie on No.18, signed for a 68, and found himself at 4-over par for the tournament, in something like 30th place midway through Day Two.

Then, as afternoon playing conditions got progressively more difficult, the John Deere Classic's three-time defending champion sat and watched as his name moved up the leaderboard. By day's end the former Illini star found himself in a 10-way tie for 18th place, five shots behind co-leaders Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, and David Toms, all at 1-under for the championship.

If Stricker is able to summon his best on Saturday - in other words, truly make it "moving day" - he could work his way into position to win his first major championship and put an historic exclamation mark on an otherwise stellar career.

Stricker was among 15 players already committed to play in this year's John Deere Classic to make the cut Friday at 8-over par or better. While players of far greater celebrity, riches,  reputation, and world rankings were packing their bags, up-and-comers such as Michael Thompson (T-4 at 1-over) and Blake Adams (8th place at 2-over) and veterans K.J. Choi, Fredrik Jacobson (bothT-9 at 3-over), and Charlie Wi (T-18 at 4-over) were picking out their outfits for Saturday's third round.  Meanwhile, 2006 JDC champ John Senden, Kevin Chappell, and Jason Bohn were T-29 at 5-over and extending their stays in the City by the Bay.

Other TPC Deere Run-bound players who made the cut were 2007 JDC champion Jonathan Byrd (T-42 at 6-over); Alex Cejka, Zach Johnson, and Rod Pampling (T-51 at 7-over); amateur star and sponsor exemption Jordan Spieth of Texas, and veteran Joe Ogilvie (T-59 at 8-over).

The big story of the day, of course, was that Woods continued to show flashes of his old magic - and did so more consistenly.  The 14-time major champion shot even par 70, which may not seem impressive.  But en route to that number he demonstrated more and more of his old Tiger-ness, pulling off shots so sublime in both strategy and execution that they made most fans look past his unsmiling on-course demeanor and forget about the bad old days of personal scandal and un-Tiger-like performance in golf.

A three-time U.S. Open champion, Woods, 36, made three straight bogeys on holes 5, 6, and 7 but negated them with birdies on 3, 10, and 13 to finish at even par 70 for his round.  

Furyk, 42, who won his lone U.S. Open title in 2003 at Olympia Fields outside Chicago, made three birdies to two bogeys and parred the other 12 holes.  Toms, 45, winner of the 2001 PGA Championship, bogeyed two of the more difficult holes on the course - Nos. 1 and 6 - but made up for the mishaps with birdies on No. 11 and 13 to shoot even par for the day on the heels of an opening round 69.

Meanwhile, several other notable young but accomplished players are just a few shots off the lead going into the weekend.  Among them are 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell at 1-over; Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar, Jason Dufner, and 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel at 3-over; and three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els, reigning BMW Championship champion Justin Rose, and self-proclaimed underachieving Spanish star Sergio Garcia at 4-over along with Stricker.

In other words, Tiger will have to earn his 15th major. 

No review of what happened Friday would be complete without mention of the astonishing Beau Hossler, the 17-year-old high school golfer who actually took the lead for a few minutes before unraveling on his second nine.  Hossler followed his opening round 70 with a 73 and stands T-9 at 3-over par. 

Among the stars who won't be seen over the weekend are defending champion Rory McIlroy, 2011 FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas, Japanese phenom Ryo Ishikawa, Dustin Johnson, former British Open champions Louis Oosthuizen and Stewart Cink, reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson, World No. 1 Luke Donald,  and former PGA Championship winner Y.E. Yang. 



July 1 - July 7

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