Phil Mickelson may be 0 for his U.S. Opens, but Steve Stricker has never even won a major. And while pundits wax sentimental about the jet-setting Father of the Year traversing the country ahead of his quest to put his five runner-up finishes in the national championship behind him, Stricker quietly goes about his business of becoming the oldest U.S. open and first-time major champion.
"There’s a lot of people in the mix, a lot of emphasis has been put on Phil ... he’s been close so many times," Stricker told NBC News ahead of his 3:09 p.m. ET Sunday tee time. "When it comes down to the end, just see where you stack up against everybody else."
Stricker decided at the end of last year that he would cut his playing schedule to maybe a dozen events per season. Ever the family man, the 46-year-old Stricker said he wanted to spend more time with his wife and two daughters, who were with him for the week.
Golfing part-time has worked out pretty well for the Wisconsin native, who’s chalked up two second-place finishes in three starts. He’ll start out in the final round of the Open just one shot off Mickelson’s lead -- at this point, he won't veer away from a strategy that has served him well.
"Just like any other day here at a U.S. Open," Stricker said. "Just be patient, play to my strengths, try not to make a mistake."
Conceding that "everybody’s going to make mistakes," Stricker said the key was to minimize them and "keep moving ... and do the same thing I’ve been doing the previous three days."
What Stricker has done is hit 74 percent of fairways and 78 percent of greens in regulation while relying on his steady putting to keep up with younger, stronger players. He knocked in a critical par putt on the 18th hole Saturday to put himself in position to pull off the upset Sunday. He finished his third round with an even-par 70 to put him at even for the week.
Tiger Woods’ unofficial putting coach (who might have helped his pal out this week if he weren’t so busy being in contention) has had a pretty good career up to now. He has 12 PGA Tour victories, earned two Comeback Player of the Year awards, and played on Ryder and Presidents Cups.
A major trophy would be icing on the cake for the unassuming Stricker.
"It would be unbelievable," he told reporters Saturday. "But I'm out not trying to think about that yet. I'm just trying to execute the shots that I know how to do and take one shot at a time and go from there."
One thing can be assured from laid-back Stricker; he will not get caught up in the hype surrounding the other fan fave on the field, the birthday boy, Philadelphia Phil.
"I have to ... pay attention to my own game and my own plan," he said. "Going out and seeing if I can play solid and put some birdies on the board and see what that does for me."