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Veteran Stricker finally meets in-form rookie Spieth

Steve Stricker of the U.S. reacts after sinking a putt on the ninth green during the third round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at
Steve Stricker of the U.S. reacts after sinking a putt on the ninth green during the third round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LAKE FOREST, Illinois (Reuters) - It was a chance first meeting on Wednesday between two of the hottest players on the PGA Tour, a 46-year-old and a 20-year-old who will both represent the United States at the Presidents Cup next month.

Rookie sensation Jordan Spieth had just finished his pre-tournament news conference for this week's BMW Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club when he came face-to-face with tour veteran Steve Stricker who had just arrived in the media center.

The players shook hands and Stricker, who has competed part-time on the U.S. circuit this year to spend more time with his family, immediately set up a practice round with Spieth before next week's season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta.

"It's remarkable what he's accomplished at 20," Stricker, a 12-times winner on the PGA Tour, told reporters after his own news conference began a few minutes later. "I would have been just finishing my sophomore year in college.

"I can't even imagine doing what he's doing at that time ... so it's cool to see. I'm excited to get to know him a little bit. He seems like a great kid.

"Going from no (PGA Tour) status to playing on the Presidents Cup in one year. His head has got to be spinning. You know, he's been playing great all year long."

Spieth has enjoyed a sensational 2013 campaign, winning his maiden PGA Tour title at the John Deere Classic in July to secure full membership status before losing out in a playoff for last month's Wyndham Championship.

Nine days ago, he recorded his eighth top-10 of the year with a tie for fourth at the Deutsche Bank Championship, then earned one of two wildcard picks for the Presidents Cup by U.S. captain Fred Couples less than 48 hours later.

"It's been phenomenal. It's been the best year of my life," said Spieth, who became the youngest winner on the PGA Tour since 1931 with his playoff victory at the John Deere Classic.

"I've had to sit back and readjust goals this year a couple of different times. If I keep looking forward, I think that's the way to stay grounded and to stay focused and working as hard as I ever have."

BIGGEST HIGHLIGHTS

Being told by Couples last week that he had made the U.S. Presidents Cup team has been one of Spieth's biggest highlights.

"Cool phone call, one of the best ones I've ever received," Spieth said of that chat. "That was a big goal of mine when I started to realize it might be possible about a month ago, and ever since then I've been grinding to try and get that call.

"It was pretty cool, and I'm looking forward to maybe playing some rounds with guys on the team and seeing how we can best shape the pairings."

Spieth's first opportunity will come at Atlanta's East Lake next Tuesday when he will enjoy nine holes of practice with Stricker, who locked up an automatic place on the Presidents Cup team by finishing second at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Stricker has produced surprisingly consistent golf this season despite his truncated playing schedule, and has decided to cancel a long-planned hunting trip next week so that he can compete in the elite field of 30 at the Tour Championship.

"I had a good talk with (wife) Nicki on the way home right after Boston and thought it was pretty important for me to go and play and not go hunting instead," said Stricker, who sits 10th in the FedExCup points standings going into the penultimate playoff event this week.

"I still have the opportunity and the chance to win (FedExCup honors), and I didn't think I'd be in this position starting the year with the limited playing schedule. I'm excited about playing and excited about the position I'm in.

"It's our marquee event," he said of the Tour Championship. "It's the Super Bowl of our year, and for me to just kind of say, 'You know what, I'm in the top 10, I'm not coming,' to walk away from that, I think, would have been foolish."

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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