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Golf: Cold comfort for Stricker ahead of Masters

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Steve Stricker is hoping he can come in from the cold this week to finally get to grips with Augusta National, a course he says has overwhelmed him in the past.

The 46-year-old "quiet man" of US golf has played in 12 Masters and has just a tie for sixth place in 2009 to show for it. Last year was typical when he could only tie for 47th.

This year, though, Stricker has decided to drastically cut back on his schedule and, instead of playing in the week before the year's first major, he spent the time at home up north in Madison, Wisconsin, where winter still has a grip.

"I was at home last week enjoying a couple spring-like days at home finally," he said.

"We are finally starting to break grass. We can see grass now. But it was still the same for me last week, hitting balls from inside the trailer although I threw a couple out on the grass.

"Courses are still closed up there, but it's still the same preparation for me at home and came down here yesterday."

Stricker, who has yet to win any of the majors, admits he finds it hard to pinpoint just why he has such a poor record at Augusta National.

"For the most part I've struggled here a little bit ... there's still a few things I haven't figured out.

"Or I've gotten in my own way, I think, a few times here, too. Just not committing to shots, not committing to lines. You know, feeling a little overwhelmed about this place at times, I think."

Stricker is not noted for his length off the tee either and many would see that as an obvious drawback over the mighty 7,435-yard layout, but he says that is not necessarily the case, pointing to recent Masters wins for Mike Weir and Zach Johnson.

Rather, he says, it is his lack of spin control that penalises him on some of the toughest greens in golf.

"You need to spin the ball here, and I'm not a spinner of the ball," he said.

"I bring it in with some height, but I don't put a lot of spin on it, and I think that's a negative for me here. And I'm coming in with usually a club or two more than some of these big hitters."

Still, Stricker says that he feels as well-prepared as ever before to finally post a challenge during Masters week and his early practice round on Monday has given him more reasons for optimism.

"I hit it great today and I feel great with what I'm doing," he said.

"That's been typical of when I've come out this year. It's been a little bit strange, I'm coming out really fresh, really relaxed and I don't feel like there's any pressure on me at all, which is a good thing."

Ryder Cup teammate Matt Kuchar, making his seventh Masters appearance, has no such reservations about Augusta, having tied for third last year when he and eventual winner Bubba Watson were the only two players to break par in all four rounds.

He has a win under his belt this season already, is firmly ensconced in the world top 10, and many experts feel this could be his year.

The 34-year-old Kuchar believes that the experiences he stacked away at last year's Masters could benefit him this time around.

"It just gives me confidence knowing that I can contend in major championships -- that I can be there late on Sunday," he said.

"It was my first real chance to win a major coming down the stretch late on Sunday. I had been there, kind of early on in the week, but never so late.

"So it just feels like to me, one of those steppin-gstones into continuing to contend and winning majors, just having that experience that I've been there; and the more times you're there, the more comfortable you get with it."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130408/golf-cold-comfort-stricker-ahead-masters