A mysterious virus landed Steve Stricker in a hospital and led to a lengthy recovery late last year and early 2022.
John Huston has been recovering for several years from an ailment that led to a brain procedure.
When Stricker says of PGA Tour Champions players, “We’re all fighting something here,” he often means more than a technical swing or putter crash.
That makes success even more rewarding.
Stricker had a round of 65 at 6-under on Saturday and Huston finished at 5-under as they positioned themselves to chase down leader Padraig Harrington on the final day of Sunday’s Ascension Charity Classic at Norwood Hills Country Club.
Harrington was five-under and opened up a one-shot lead over Stricker and Bernhard Langer and two shots over Huston, who found himself leading briefly before finishing with a bogey.
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Houston was diagnosed with cervical dystonia several years ago, which led to a procedure called deep brain stimulation. The fact that her game had problems took a backseat to just getting to a point where she could play.
His improved performance, he said, isn’t so much about the technical aspects of his game as it is about feeling better.
“It’s definitely more physical,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain the whole dystonia thing. It’s like trying to drive a race car with a flat tire and trying to keep it straight. He has come a long way. It’s kind of a miracle, really.”
With that in mind, the 61-year-old was able to take a late-day push in stride. The other three top contenders were charging when he bogeyed No. 18, but being near the top is a reward for a player who hasn’t won on tour in 10 years.
The battle for Stricker’s health was more recent. He got sick last fall and was out of action for months while losing a significant amount of weight.
“Since I’ve come back I’m really not that flexible from last year to this year,” he said. “It’s another year of age and just the stuff I’ve been through, so I’m continually trying to be more mobile. … I feel like I’m getting better all the time.”
Despite Harrington’s solid round, which included eight birdies and three bogeys, the field remained very compact with 10 players four shots off the lead.
For Houston it has been a long road. Over the past five seasons, he has only had one top-10 finish, which came this season. He wasn’t sure he would ever be able to play, let alone competitively, after the procedure.
He said that it took considerable time to regain full coordination and that he recently started to get a better feel for the game.
“At this stage,” he said, “the first thing is that you have to be able to get out of bed. Then it’s okay, maybe I can go play.”
When the contenders wake up on Sunday, the weather could be considerably different. After two warm and sunny days, rain and wind could affect the game, so the conditions could create some challenges.
“The wind is going to be in the completely opposite direction,” Stricker said. “It’s going to be a learning curve for everyone, and it’s just one of those days. Probably if it’s raining you’ll have to keep your wits about you and manage your game.”
Harrington got off to a fast start with four birdies on the front nine and looked like he could get away. But his round was volatile. He balanced birdies on the back nine with three bogeys.
“I wasn’t as good as I expected to be, but (there are) things to work on tomorrow,” Harrington said. “I certainly did make some defensive changes at times and I hope that gets removed. Sometimes when you’re up front, you’re taking care of yourself and protecting yourself too much.”
Among other big names, Ernie Els is four shots behind Harrington, David Toms and José María Olazabal are six behind and John Daly fell eight shots behind the leader.
Harrington leads 11 under par after the second round of the Ascension Charity Classic
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