Potential date with history no distraction to Stricker

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July 11, 2012
Craig DeVrieze, special to PGATOUR.COM

SILVIS, Ill. -- In the end, it may not amount to a whole lot more than a prominent paragraph on a Wikipedia page.

It would be a paragraph, however, containing the names Young Tom Morris, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods, Hall of Fame company Steve Stricker proudly would keep.

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The soft-spoken 45-year-old Wisconsinite can join that group - so far the only four men to have won the same PGA TOUR event four times in succession - should he continue his mastery of TPC Deere Run starting Thursday at the John Deere Classic.

With the most dramatic 72nd-hole birdie in the tourney's 41-year history, Stricker last year joined a list of 17 men who have won a TOUR event three times running. And when he steps to the first tee at 12:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m. ET) Thursday, Stricker will be standing on a golf course he's simply dominated the past three years -- a 7,258-yard, par-71 layout he has played in a composite 68 strokes under par over his last 12 rounds.

"It has been a great ride here," Stricker said. "I don't know any other way to say it. Even though there is probably a little more on the line, I actually feel somewhat relaxed. I enjoy coming here and I think I know what to expect."

Comfort level notwithstanding, Stricker, as well as anyone, knows a rendezvous with the aforementioned Hall of Fame foursome won't come easy.

Last year's one-stroke victory over Kyle Stanley was as hard-earned as any of his 12 career PGA TOUR wins. Stricker saw a five-shot lead with nine holes to play turned into a two-shot deficit with two holes remaining. But a steely birdie at the par-5 17th and a miraculous 3 from a fairway bunker at the treacherous, water-fronted par-4 finishing hole booked the three-peat. Stricker later said he hadn't thought it mattered until it looked like the chance had been lost.

Now comes the chance for that very rare four-peat, a date tournament officials for months have been billing as the potential "Stricker Slam."

The only thing more difficult than achieving that Slam, perhaps, would be calculating the odds against. Because the variables to factor into the equation may be more plentiful than Stricker's 78 Deere Run birdies and eagles since 2009, a Quad-Cities mathematics professor said the odds may vary from 1-in-156 to 1-in-592 million.

Plainly put, it's hard.

"As much as anything, it's hard to win a golf tournament," said David Duval, a 13-time winner who will be among the 155 golfers looking to deny Stricker's date with destiny this week. "And then to happen to win the same one in consecutive years or in three years it just becomes exponentially more difficult."

Stuart Appleby's nine career TOUR victories include back-to-back-to-back wins at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions from 2004-2006, making him the only man not named Tiger Woods who has had a crack at a four-peat since 1980.

Interview: Steve Stricker

Steve Stricker meets with the media and talks about going for his fourth consecutive win at the event.

"Does it get harder? Absolutely," Appleby said. "You have got to be extremely talented to do what Tiger's done with repeats throughout multiple tournaments. It's hard to be at your A game, really, at all times. To pull it back to the same spot, the chance of doing that is really hard."

Woods has won the same event three times successively four times in his storied career and is the only player in history to four-peat twice, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by masterCard from 2000-2003 and the Farmers Insurance Open from 2005-2008. Stricker was paired with Woods for the first two rounds at The Greenbrier Classic last week in West Virginia and said this week's opportunity definitely came up in conversations between the two friends and frequent Ryder and Presidents Cup teammates.

"I talked to him about it and in his own little way -- and we all know what that way is -- he told me to get it done," Stricker said. "He threw me a jab and said, 'You know only one of us has won four in a row.' So he gets his point across."

Stricker, whose understated personality virtually personifies this smalltown Midwest event, gets his point across, too. Typically with accurate iron play and an Oddysey White Hot putter that has been blisteringly hot at Deere Run. His calm demeanor, however, may be his main weapon as he pursues a piece of golf history.

"You know, I don't feel the pressure that I have to go out and win this week," he said. "Although I want to and I'll try my hardest. I have won here three times, and I can always look back at that and say I have done something pretty unique and pretty cool."

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