- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Steve Stricker has fine memories of the Washington area.

He would like to create another at this week’s AT&T; National at Congressional Country Club to help shake a recent slump.

Stricker, who collected his first PGA Tour victory in 1996 at the Kemper Open, helped reignite his career two years ago with a tie for second on the same course. It was one of seven top-10s that season for Stricker, who went on to a superb 2007 that featured his first win in a stroke play event in more than a decade.

His run continued into the early months of this year until he missed four straight cuts in April and May.

“I just kind of hit a wall,” Stricker said. “Mentally, I got a little fatigued, I think. My tempo kind of left me for a little while there. I’m starting to get that back, but I think for so long, for a good solid year-and-a-half, two years, I was playing at a pretty high level. It’s pretty tough to maintain.”

But it’s also possible to regain. Stricker tied for 29th at last month’s U.S. Open, providing a hint the slow stretch might be over. The chance to play at Congressional, where he was runner-up to K.J. Choi in last year’s event, also might provide a boost.

“I’ve always kind of known there’s still going to be bumps in the road,” Stricker said. “I’m not a Tiger Woods. I’m still going to have some bad tournaments along with some good tournaments. I realize that more than ever now. I’m just working hard to get it back again.”

Funk on the mend

Plenty of ink was spilled in recent weeks of Tiger Woods’ reconstructive knee surgery, a development that cost him the rest of the season.

Of course, knee injuries are not the sole province of the world’s best player. Just ask Fred Funk, who underwent surgery in mid-May.

“I didn’t get hardly any attention compared to Tiger,” the 52-year-old joked. “I’ve been a little down. The small little knee problem he had, just because he wins a U.S. Open on one leg.”

The former University of Maryland golf coach had surgery after the Players Championship, repairing one slightly torn ligament and another completely torn off the bone. But he hit balls a week later and has played three events since then.

“It’s gotten a lot stronger,” said Funk, who this season won the MasterCard Championship on the Champions Tour and has one top-10 finish in 11 events on the regular tour. “It’s still probably at best 60 percent, and it’s still achy, but he said it’s going to be achy because it’s real arthritic in there.”

Focusing on the field

Last year’s event was much ballyhooed, in large part because of Woods’ presence. But a notable field surrounded him, a significant departure from what the Booz Allen Classic often attracted at TPC at Avenel.

But with Woods out for the rest of the season, this year’s 120-man field isn’t as top heavy. Only two of the world’s top 10 golfers are in attendance, while six of the top 30 will play.

“It could be a coincidence,” said Stricker, the No. 7 player in the world. “It could be the fact Tiger’s not playing could be a part of it. It falls the same on the schedule, doesn’t it? I don’t know. The only thing that jumps out at me is that Tiger’s not here, and maybe guys aren’t coming here because he’s not playing.”

In and out

Five players, including Aaron Baddeley and Chris DiMarco, withdrew Tuesday. Two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen was among the alternates added to the field.

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