SILVIS, Ill. -- Like statistics in most sports that aren't timed, PGA Tour statistics -- especially when considered individually -- don't always accurately reflect a golfer's performance.
When it comes to Madison's Steve Stricker, however, one number in 2015 stands out as something more than a curiosity because it relates to his putter, the club that has always separated him from the pack.
Stricker's strokes gained-putting number is minus-.304, which means he is losing three-tenths of a stroke to the field on the greens in every round.
Since the PGA Tour started tracking strokes gained-putting in 2004, Stricker has never finished a season worse than plus-.142. He has finished among the top 10 in that statistical category five times and twice was No. 2.
On the eve of the John Deere Classic, a tournament Stricker has won three times, he expressed mild concern with the club that has helped him earn nearly $41 million over his career.
In six starts this year, Stricker has finished no higher than a tie for 27th and has missed two cuts, after missing just one in his previous 82 starts.
"You know, it's been the putter more than anything this year," he said Wednesday. "I've hit the ball actually OK the times that I have played and just have had a hard time making some putts and getting any momentum going at all.
"That's been the culprit of some of my mediocrity. It's been a bit of a challenge. I've been feeling things in my putting that I haven't felt before, so I'm trying to get back to the basics and things I've done over the years."
Eventually, even great putters stop making putts. Once-smooth putting strokes develop imperceptible hitches, nerves begin to fray and short putts start sliding by the hole instead of slamming into the back of the cup.
Stricker, 48, has been making pressure putts for decades, but he doesn't think his age has anything to do with his putting mini-slump.
Rather, he thinks back surgery in December indirectly affected his putting. Earlier this year, he concentrated on regaining strength and speed in his swing and didn't work as hard on putting as he normally does.
"I think I take it for granted sometimes," he said. "This year I've been so focused on my swing and my back and I kind of overlooked the putting part of it. I putted decent at the Masters, (my) first tournament of the year, and from there it hasn't been very good."
Stricker missed the cut at The Greenbrier Classic last week and blamed it on his putter.
"I didn't see anything go in," he said. "I putted poorly. I hit the ball nicely at Greenbrier and just made nothing."
He's hoping that TPC Deere Run, where he has played lights-out golf for a decade, will cure what ails his putting stroke.
"I'll hopefully get on some greens that I've had some success on and have made some putts on and hopefully get some to go in this week," he said.
According to the PGA Tour, Stricker's unofficial handicap here, calculated by using his 20 most recent John Deere Classic rounds, is plus-8.8. That means he would have to give nine strokes to a scratch player in an 18-hole match.
He is 115-under-par since 2009 on a course that has a 75.8 course rating and a 144 slope rating.
Stricker said he played a nine-hole practice round after he arrived late Monday afternoon and "hit the ball great."
"So, yeah, it definitely puts a spring in my step when I come back here and I look forward to seeing if I can't get something going," he said. "I get jacked up to come and play here, and I look forward to teeing it up (Thursday)."
As for expectations, Stricker has none.
"I could get in there and contend, or I could miss the cut," he said with a laugh. "That's the gamut I'm facing. It's really a wait-and-see. I have no idea.
"Usually, I come in here with some decent results and I haven't had any this year. That's a little bit of a challenge mentally on what to expect, because I really don't know. So it'll be fun."
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