SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ per month for 3 months
SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ per month for 3 months

Monday's roundup: Stricker plans return at Masters

Doug Ferguson, Associated Press

Steve Stricker intends to play the Masters next week, his first competition since back surgery four months ago.

Stricker recently returned from Naples, Florida, where he tested his swing and his strength. He had surgery two days before Christmas on a bulging disk in his lower back that was causing recurring hip problems.

"I was playing, walking, just to see what I had," Stricker told The Associated Press by phone Monday. "It's the first time I played since December, and it was good. It felt good. Just a little stiffness here and there. I walked the last three days just to play like I would be playing."

The 48-year-old Stricker last played Dec. 7 at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished 14th in an 18-man field at Isleworth. He has been playing a reduced schedule since 2013 and last year failed to reach the Tour Championship for the first time in the FedEx Cup era.

The original plan was to play the Shell Houston Open this week to warm up for Augusta National. His doctor and physical therapist told him, however, that returning from surgery might take its toll during the second straight week.

"I think the biggest concern was putting in back-to-back weeks, with the second week being a little more fatigued," Stricker said. "I still feel it's a bit early to be pushing it a lot, so I want to take it cautiously."

Stricker qualified for the Masters by being ranked in the top 50 at the end of last year. He finished the year at No. 41, and has since fallen to No. 75. That's his lowest ranking since he was out of the top 100 a week before the 2006 PGA Championship.

He played his last three days at Calusa Pines, where he said the greens were firm and fast, and a good way to prepare for the Masters.

"I didn't fix a ball mark in three days — not because I missed the greens," he said with a laugh. "I just couldn't find any ball marks."

Stricker plans to visit Augusta National this week for practice rounds. He said he would be in Indianapolis for the Final Four to watch Wisconsin play Kentucky on Saturday and then return to Augusta on Sunday.

Woods falls from top 100

For the first time since 1996, Tiger Woods is not among the top 100 golfers in the world ranking.

Woods, who hasn't played since he withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open on Feb. 6, falls to No. 104 this week. The last time he was out of the top 100 was on Sept. 29, 1996, when he was at No. 225. The following week, Woods won the Las Vegas Invitational as a 20-year-old for the first of his 79 PGA Tour victories.

It is not clear when Woods will return. He said in February that his scores were not acceptable and he would not play until his game was in tournament shape.

Woods is not required to announce if he is playing the Masters until the tournament starts April 9.