Wednesday 24 January 2018

Stricker sacrifices home comforts for fresh test

Steve Stricker Photo: Getty Images
Steve Stricker Photo: Getty Images

Bernie McGuire in Doha, Qatar

The last time Lee Westwood faced Steve Stricker was at the Ryder Cup four months ago, when he lost to the American in the singles.

Westwood is still hurting from the loss, while Stricker admits he's still stinging from the USA's one-point defeat at Celtic Manor.

The duo square off again over the opening two rounds of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in Doha.

It's the first time world No 7 Stricker has teed up in a regular European Tour event since contesting the 1995 Scottish Open at Carnoustie.

Aside from a yearly trip to the British Open and the odd PGA Tour event in Canada, plus a journey to Wales for the Ryder Cup last October, Stricker has virtually never strayed outside the United States. And why should he?

"The reason is that we have Tiger (Woods) playing at home, Phil (Mickelson) is playing there, and we've got a great tour," said Stricker.

"The money is high. And the ease of travel -- I'm not a big traveller. I don't enjoy really being away from home that much, let alone getting outside the country.

"I had the opportunity to come over here to Qatar last year and just couldn't do it. I didn't want to get out of my element. I think for the European players and American players, when they get comfortable in a position, it's hard to get out of that element and try something new.

"You tend to do stuff that is more comfortable for you and what's comfortable for me is playing in the States. So I've never really ventured out over here to play. I've been here since Friday and I enjoy the golf course.

"But I do feel like it's going to be the first day of school for me this week, as I had to go and get my credentials, learn the course for the first time, so I'm also like a fish out of water."

However, there's some comfort for Stricker, despite him suffering some jet-lag from a 20-hour journey from Wisconsin, in that he's been afforded a reputed $250,000 fee along with a plush Doha hotel room.

In contrast, Westwood is finding his status as world No 1 decidedly uncomfortable. Sure, the position as the leading golfer in the world sits well with the Englishman, but all the hype and attention takes a toll.

Westwood went to No 1 on the last Sunday in October, replacing Woods, who had reigned for 281 weeks.

"I have been world No 1 for 12 or 13 weeks now, and I can see why Tiger played such a limited schedule over all of those years," said Westwood.

"I'm not saying that I'm the profile that he is, but I've had little glimpses into how demanding it can be to be world No 1. I have great appreciation for it now.

"There's not only added demands from the media but from everywhere really. You get recognised by the public more, media -- everybody wants to talk to you, which is fair enough.

"So basically I just end up saying no to lot to lots of people. So while there's a lot more requests on time and stuff like that, you just have to be a bit harsh at times. There just aren't enough hours in the day."

Germany's Martin Kaymer can take over at the top if he wins in Doha for a second event in succession after running away with last fortnight's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, but only if Westwood is not runner-up.

As well, Kaymer would become the new world No 1 if second in Doha and Westwood finishes outside the top 22, as was the case when the England player was 64th behind Kaymer in Abu Dhabi.

Five Irish will tee-up in Qatar -- Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane and Michael Hoey.

McGinley returns to competition after sitting out last week's event in Bahrain, while Lawrie is now a full TaylorMade staff player.

Qatar Masters,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 11.0

Irish Independent

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