Steve Stricker and Ernie Els Flying Under The Radar Heading Into The Masters

April 2nd, 2010-  By Bryan Cross

When Steve Stricker finished out on the 72nd hole earlier this year at the Northern Trust open, it was his fourth victory on the PGA Tour in his last 15 start dating back to 2009.  The win catapulted him to second in the world golf rankings, and title of the best golfer not to win a won a major yet.  In an ordinary year, his storyline would be among the the ones at the forefront, but this is not an ordinary year at the Masters.  With Tiger Woods making his return to the golf course, all other headlines have seemed to fall by the wayside.

“I’m sure we’ll get a ton of Tiger questions, and rightly so,” Stricker remarked. “It’s been a huge story.”

Ernie Els won a PGA tournament for the first time in two years, only to follow it up with a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in his very next start, marking for the first time since 2003 that he won back-to-back events.  It seems to have been lost in translation.

“People are not going to be talking about who’s in form until probably Thursday morning when we start the event,” Els said of the subject. “It’s going to be all about Tiger and him coming back and everything. So I think we will all be sideshows until Thursday morning. And I think we’re fine with that. Everybody is fine with that.”

Both Stricker and Els are among the betting favorites to win the Masters this year on USA Online Sportsbooks, along with Woods, who is the overall favorite despite the four-month long absence.

Stricker at least, is fine with not being questioned by the media about himself, as he says it takes some of the pressure off, as all eyes will be on Woods beginning with his press conference on Monday.

“It’s a good thing, especially for me,” Stricker remarked. “I don’t care to be looked at as a favorite or a top player. I would rather do my own stuff, my own business, and slide under the radar.”

However, if Stricker plays well throughout the tournament, he will no doubt be a hot topic to be discussed on the weekend.  Same for Els.

Else has come very close to breaking through and capturing the green jacket, most notably in 2004 when he finished runner-up to Phil Mickelson.  After notching the win at Bay Hill last week, Els is excited about the potential of 2010.

“I think it could be one hell of a year,” Els said. “There’s a really good group of players playing well, and I think that bodes very well for the first major and the rest of the year. It’s not going to be a walkover for anybody.”

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