Putting leaves Stricker in second

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At the start of play at Congressional yesterday, Steve Stricker stood three strokes behind leader Stuart Appleby and was only one behind second-place K.J. Choi. He managed to catch and pass Appleby but could not chase down Choi.

It was a familiar finish for Stricker, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour who has finished second twice in his past six tournaments. He also was runner-up at the Wachovia Championship in May.

“It’s not a great feeling, but you can still take a lot of positives away from it,” Stricker said shortly after finishing the final day of his 6under 274 with an even-par round. “It’s a tough enough game, let alone beating yourself up for finishing second.”

Given Appleby’s monumental meltdown, the softspoken Stricker had every reason to be optimistic. After bogeying the opening hole, Stricker either birdied or made par on the next nine. While Stricker stayed steady, Appleby dissolved in the stifling heat, bogeying six holes and double-bogeying another to finish 6 over for the day and tied for third overall.

Had Stricker fared better on the greens down the stretch, he may well have eclipsed Choi and taken home a win. But Stricker twoputted each hole on the final nine, posting bogeys on Nos. 11, 14 and 15 and escaping with a par on No. 16, where his putt seemed to jump and then die on the green. Congressional’s greens softened after four days of horrid humidity, making for a tough afternoon.

“[The greens] were very difficult, but I imagine everyone had the same problems,” Stricker said. “When they get a little soft and you get a lot of play on there, they become very hard to putt.”

While he was noticeably disappointed with the wear and tear on the poa annua, the 40-year-old Edgerton, Wis., native refused to make excuses.

“I am no greenskeeper,” Stricker said with a laugh. “I teed off in the first group in the afternoon on Thursday, and the greens were perfect. It’s just the way it is.”

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