With a spectacular bunker shot from behind the 12th green, and two clutch par putts over the final three holes, Stricker held on for a one-shot victory at the Memorial on Sunday, and rose to No. 4 in the world ranking. And while that’s not the highest he has been in the ranking, this marks the first time he has been the highest-ranked American.
Does he feel like a superstar?
Americans now hold four of the six spots between No. 4 and No. 9 in the world ranking.
1. Luke Donald
2. Lee Westwood
3. Martin Kaymer
4. Steve Stricker
5. Phil Mickelson
6. Matt Kuchar
7. Rory McIlroy
8. Graeme McDowell
9. Dustin Johnson
10. Paul Casey
“No. No I don’t,” he said. “I don’t look at myself any differently. I just go out and play, and I try to play well. And I’m on a great run these last five or six years, and I just want to continue it.”
Jack Nicklaus, the tournament host who greeted Stricker with a handshake and a hug behind the 18th green, saw it differently.
Not because Stricker became the first player at Muirfield Village to make eagles on a par 3, a par 4 and a par 5. Not because he played the front nine in 20 under par for the week, building such an advantage that he could afford a few mistakes. Not because he closed with a 4-under 68, and not because he won Nicklaus’ tournament.
“He’s a superstar in more ways than his golf game,” Nicklaus said. “I think he’s been a superstar from the way he’s behaved himself, the way he handles his game, the way he handles people and the way he handles fans. He’s always done that. And that, to me, is equally as important as how well you score. I’ve always felt that about Steve.”
Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell's 30th place at the Saab Wales Open has cost him three spots in the world rankings.
Next week's U.S. Open defending champion fells to eighth, with Stricker, Memorial runner-up Matt Kuchar and Memorial fifth-place finisher Rory McIlroy all going ahead of him.
Padraig Harrington, who returns from a knee injury in Memphis this week, dropped outside the top 50 for the first time since 1999, and is now 51st. Celtic Manor winner Alex Noren rose from 127th to 80th.
Luke Donald's 10th successive top-10 finish – he was seventh at the Memorial – has guaranteed that he will go into the U.S. Open at the top of the rankings, because few of the big names are participating in tournaments this week. There will not be enough ranking points on offer when Lee Westwood defends his FedEx St. Jude Classic title in Memphis for him to take the top spot back off Donald.
Nevertheless, the rankings saw a big shake-up this week, with Stricker passing Phil Mickelson for the No. 4 spot, and Kuchar zipping ahead of McDowell and Rory McIlroy into sixth. Also, Dustin Johnson moved into the top 10, sliding into ninth place as Paul Casey dropped from ninth to 10th. And Tiger Woods, still recovering from his leg injuries, slipped to 15th place.
The second 10 includes No. 11 Charl Schwartzel, No. 12 Bubba Watson, No. 13 Ian Poulter, No. 14 Nick Watney, No. 15 Woods, No. 16 K.J. Choi, No. 17 Jim Furyk, No. 18 Hunter Mahan, No. 19 Jason Day and No. 20 Francesco Molinari.