- Associated Press - Monday, November 14, 2011

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - Fred Couples got word Monday afternoon that Steve Stricker wanted to speak with him, and the U.S. captain quickly drove away. Moments later, he and Stricker were sharing a laugh on the putting green.

Stricker was in great spirits at the Presidents Cup, and his left arm felt close to the same.

“It’s been good,” Stricker said of a neck injury that caused weakness in his left arm toward the end of the FedEx Cup playoffs in September. “To be honest, it feels like it did all year long.”

About an hour later, Couples was over at the short game area at Royal Melbourne watching Hunter Mahan hit chip shots, pleased to know that weekend rest made another of his American players feel good as new.

Health no longer seems to be a big issue for the American team.

Stricker presented the biggest concern, not only as the highest-ranked American at Royal American (No. 5), but as the partner for Tiger Woods when they won all four of their matches two years ago at Harding Park in another U.S. victory.

The pain in his neck began a year ago when he was in a deer stand during the offseason, taking aim with his bow when his left arm collapsed. Exercise got it up to full strength again, and Stricker went on to win the Memorial and the John Deere Classic. But he relaxed his workout regimen, and his left arm felt so weak in September that he withdrew from the BMW Championship outside Chicago.

Unlike the rest of the U.S. team, Stricker has not played a competitive round since Sept. 25 at the Tour Championship. There were times he wondered if he should look into surgery, or try to play the Presidents Cup and risk missing chunks of the 2012 if it didn’t get better.

At the moment, that’s no longer the case _ though he did have a scare.

“I kept playing while I was at home. I would play two or three times a week because we had great weather,” said Stricker, who lives in Wisconsin. “It was never an issue. About 10 days prior to leaving for Phoenix, I started hitting balls again. The first day went good, the second day was not so good. And that concerned me.

“But I kept hitting, and it felt good,” he said. “And it’s been fine every day since then.”

Stricker went to Arizona last week with his brother-in-law, Mario Tiziani, who has played on the PGA Tour. They played their own version of fourballs, each hitting two tee shots, two irons shots, two chips, putts, whatever it was needed. It essentially was two balls by Stricker against two balls by Tiziani.

He didn’t say who won, only that he made a lot of birdies.

“I got in the habit of making birdies, which is a good thing,” Stricker said.

The International team, captained by Greg Norman, was scheduled to have its first full practice session Tuesday, as did the Americans.

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