Stricker shares the lead and looks like he’s never been out

THE WOODLANDS, Texas (AP) — Steve Stricker played his first round in 201 days and looked like he was as healthy as ever, opening with a 5-under 67 on Friday to share the Insperity Invitational lead on the PGA Tour Champions.

Stricker dropped just one shot on a windy day at The Woodlands and was level with Steven Alker and Ernie Els, who drove into a hazard and bogeyed on the final hole.

Stricker, captain of the USA’s Ryder Cup-winning team at Whistling Straits last year, suffered a medical condition six months ago that left him hospitalized for almost two weeks and caused him to lose 25 pounds .

It was the first time he had played since tied for seventh on Oct. 10 at the Furyk & Friends Invitational in Florida.

“It was a bit up and down, I’m not going to fool you,” Stricker said. “It was a few blows, a few wayward blows with which I ran away. I just don’t have my legs yet, I think that’s how I really feel, but I managed to get by there.

Stricker opened with back-to-back birdies, three bogey putts on the par-3 third hole, and that was the last bogey he made. He birdied the 17th hole to get a share of the lead.

Alker also dropped just one shot, while Els birdied the par-5 four.

Eight players were at 68, including Charles Schwab Cup leader Miguel Angel Jimenez. Fred Couples was part of the band at age 69.

“The wind was a factor today, that’s why the scores aren’t low-low,” Els said. “I think 67 was a really good score. Obviously, it’s in the lead, but it’s hard to go very low because it’s very windy.

Stricker was most concerned about his stamina after being out for so long and still 10 pounds lighter than before he fell ill. He trained hard for three days before the tournament, and he thinks that only added to the fatigue he felt at the end.

There was also the matter of not competing for the longest period of his career.

“I didn’t commit to a lot of shots. That was the hardest part,” he said. “I didn’t feel very comfortable with it, I didn’t really engage sometimes. And when you don’t engage, you usually hit bad shots. And I did, but I ran away with them and survived to fight one more day.

“It was good to get out there, finally, though.”

Stricker said he only got emotional at the start of the tour, mostly seeing so many friends after such a long time away and feeling their support.

“You get this whole wave of support from people. And then John Cook (with Golf Channel) asks you a question right after you first broadcast your first tee shot and it kind of hit home what I went through for a period of six months” , Stricker said. “But again, I’m glad to be here and feel better.”


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