By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Steve Stricker wouldn’t mind if Tiger Woods returned the favor, only it’s not that easy.
Woods is back to No. 1 in the world, a return to the top that received a boost last month at Doral when Stricker worked with him for nearly an hour on the putting green.
He noticed that Woods needed a slight adjustment in his setup, and when the light came on, Woods seemed to hit warp speed. He won Doral, he won Bay Hill two weeks later and showed up at the Masters as the favorite to win.
Now if only Stricker can get Woods to show him how to win a green jacket.
The Masters is the only major in which Stricker has never been in serious contention. He was runner-up in the PGA Championship at Sahalee. He played in the final group in the British Open at Carnoustie. He was tied for the lead going to the back nine at Oakmont in the U.S. Open.
For some reason, Augusta National has his number. He tied for sixth in 2009, his best result, though he was never a factor that day.
“I’ve had a couple decent tournaments here,” Stricker said Monday. “For the most part I’ve struggled here a little bit. I’m starting to feel a little bit more comfortable going around here, but there’s still a few things I haven’t figured out — or I’ve gotten in my way a few times here, too. Just not committing to shots, not committing to lines, feeling a little overwhelmed about this place at times, I think.
“So there’s been some issues, not only physically, but I think mentally here, as well,” he said. “It’s a challenging spot and it’s a challenging course.”
Time is not on his side.
Stricker began the second chapter in his career in 2006 and since then has won nine times on the PGA Tour, reached as high as No. 2 in the world and has been part of every Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team. But no major. And no Masters.
Stricker spent last week in the thawing snow of Wisconsin, hitting out of his heated, three-sided trailer at the club, and even taking a few shots from the grass when enough of the snow began to melt. He arrived on Sunday and got in 14 holes of practice with Woods.
“We were talking about pitching and chip shots and little wedge play,” Stricker said. “We were talking about that a lot. I was asking him what he does and what he tries to do, and his action on the way back and on the way through. It’s mutual. We try to help out one another every once in a while.
“He’s ranked No. 1 now again, and it’s fun to bounce some ideas off him here and there.”
The Masters means so much to Stricker that he still remembers how he qualified for his first trip to Augusta National in 1996. But if there’s a mental block about this place, perhaps because he wants so badly to do well, some of that might be alleviated by this stage of his career.
Stricker decided to go into semi-retirement, with a schedule of no more than about 11 tournaments. He has played only four times this year — two runner-up finishes, a quarterfinals loss in the Match Play Championship and middle of the pack in Houston.
He feels fresh. He’s hitting the ball well.
“And I don’t feel like there’s any pressure on me at all, which is a good thing,” he said.