IT’S HARD to imagine a better opportunity for the players to ease their way into the Open Championship than yesterday, writes John McHenry.

Before the tournament started, they would have worked out a number of weather-related strategies but yesterday’s benign conditions meant everyone could more or less take dead aim.

Sure, there were still many obstacles to be avoided like the penal pot bunker that Colin Montgomerie found on his way to a double bogey on his very first hole, but that was more an error of judgement than anything else.

One man to take full advantage of yesterday’s conditions was the evergreen Steve Stricker. He had not competed in the Open Championship since 2013, and only qualified for it with a second place finish in the recent FedEx St Jude Classic, but yesterday the affable American rolled back the years, proving once again for all to see that he is still very much a force in this game despite a reduced schedule in recent years — to spend more time at home in Madison, Wisconsin, with his wife and two daughters.

At 49 years of age, Sticker has experienced all sides of professional golf, the good and the bad.

First there were his slumps in form, the worst of which he readily associates with the moment he started to compare his ability to that of Tiger Woods, realising that his game was nowhere near good enough.

Then there was his incredible renaissance over the past 10 years, during which time he has amassed over $35m (about €31.5m) in earnings on the PGA Tour and a career high of being ranked the second best player in the world.

Two years ago he once again threw a curve ball by deciding to dramatically cut his playing schedule by almost half, despite the fact that it would mean curtailing his ability to play in the bigger events consistently. But it seems Steve Stricker is very much at peace with himself and such is his standing in the game and with his sponsors like Titleist, Avis, and the New York Stock Exchange that they have supported his decision and stayed with him.

In an era of so much media attention and scrutiny, it is refreshing that Stricker continues to be very much his own man. He sees nothing wrong with being different from the other touring golf pros and he clearly is content with the fact that he just doesn’t fit comfortably into their jetset image.

His winning formula is that he does what he wants to do. In turn it allows him to enjoy his golf and win a lot of money without becoming too public a figure.

That said, now that Stricker has put himself in a position to compete for the Open Championship this week, don’t expect him to back off just to avoid the pressures that go with winning a major. It may well compromise his private time but you feel that even then he would take all the commotion that comes with a victory in his stride.

After all he is playing the game for all the right reasons, something which many of the current crop of superstars would do well to remember.

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