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Nearly identical, Stricker, Kuchar together again at Memorial

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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DUBLIN, Ohio -- If Dolly the sheep wore golf spikes, this would be a lot easier to explain, but we'll give it a shot nonetheless.

If a high school kid was ever assigned a comparison/contrast assignment on Steve Stricker and Matt Kuchar, there wouldn't be much in the latter half of the composition.

They might be separated by 11 years in age, but it's like Kuchar was cloned from Stricker's DNA, from their lanky physical build, easygoing demeanor, career trajectories to the shot-making assets they carry in their bags.

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Indeed, from a purely professional standpoint, these guys could have been separated at birth.

"I had Jim Furyk tell me a couple weeks ago after I snuck into another top 10, he says, 'You know, another 10 more years like this and you'll be the Steve Stricker of the PGA Tour,'" Kuchar laughed. "I said, 'I wouldn't mind that very much at all.'"

Likely the two best Americans on the planet at the moment, and surely the most consistent, Stricker and Kuchar are running first and third on the leaderboard after 54 holes of the Memorial Tournament.

Nobody would be at all surprised if it came down to the tour's most persistent pair on the back nine at Muirfield Village on Sunday, and in fact, they were set to be paired together in the final round before Jonathan Byrd birdied the 18th hole to swipe a spot in the last twosome with Stricker.

They're birds of a feather, anyway.

Stricker, 44, shot a 3-under 69 in the third round Saturday and took a three-stroke lead at 12-under over Byrd and a four-shot margin over Kuchar, his Ryder Cup teammate last fall. The fact that they're right in the hunt this week is hardly surprising, given their ridiculously comparable results.

"Both very consistent, very similar players," Lance Brooker, Kuchar's caddie, said.

Similar sells it short.

Just from a shot-making context, neither one is big on horsepower off the tee, so overpowering a course isn't really an option. They do their best work from up close, like an assassin, carving guys up with shorter blades. No question, Stricker and Kuchar are among the best putters and wedge players around.

As evidenced by where they finished in scoring average in 2010 -- Kuchar was first at 69.61 and Stricker was second, .05 shots behind. As for their annoying tendencies to get in other guys' wallets, Stricker leads the tour in most cuts made in succession at 33, followed in second by Kuchar at 28. Even off the tee, only three yards separate them in distance. Both are ranked in the top 12 in putting.

It's been a year since either one missed a cut.

"A couple years ago, he would have been the guy that I said, 'I'd like to play a game like he does,'" Kuchar said. "I'm not going to overpower courses, but Stricker seems every week to be up there, whether he's leading the tournament or seems to just always be in contention."

We could go on and on here, because it's mirror-image fare. But it doesn't stop with the 14 clubs, inside-the-ropes stuff, or the fact that Kuchar and Stricker are ranked Nos. 7 and 8 in the world and separated by a microscopic .0047 in their ranking average, or perhaps one finishing position in one tournament result over a season.

Matt Kuchar says he wouldn't mind being the Steve Stricker of the PGA Tour in ten years. (Getty Images)  
Matt Kuchar says he wouldn't mind being the Steve Stricker of the PGA Tour in ten years. (Getty Images)  
"Similar people, too," Stricker said.

No doubt, the pair stands among the most approachable players in the elite ranks, and neither exudes a snooty air. Earlier this year, Stricker was given an award for being the most press-friendly player on the PGA Tour. As far as being Mr. Congeniality, Kooch isn't far behind.

Some of that surely stems from their humbling career paths, which share similar orbits, too: Both started their careers in promising fashion, cratered, then clawed their way back into the world-class ranks. Even their slumps were somewhat serendipitous.

Stricker was an established tour winner who hit rock bottom in 2005, when he lost his exempt status, then had to recommit to the game and retool his swing. After winning in 2002, Kuchar fell off the tour in 2005 and had to play on the Nationwide Tour while rebuilding his swing. He was the PGA Tour money leader last year and won the Vardon Trophy, awarded to the leader in scoring average.

"Our careers have been pretty similar," Stricker said.

Yeah, like a photocopy. They were even first and third in top-10 finishes last season.

There's one part of Stricker's game that Kuchar would just as soon not emulate. Three years ago, Stricker won the Comeback Player of the Year Award for a second consecutive season.

"I don't know if I am glad to not have never had that title," Kuchar laughed.

Stricker still isn't sure how he won it in consecutive seasons, and whether somebody had campaigned on his behalf as a joke.

"That shows you how far down in a hole I was to win it twice," Stricker said, smirking.

Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise -- everything about them seems to happen in twos.

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