(Reuters) - Steve Stricker has a spring in his step ahead of the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii having largely recovered from the neck and shoulder pain that hampered him late last year.
The world number six failed to produce a top-10 during the final five months of his 2011 campaign after winning twice on the U.S. PGA Tour earlier in the season.
"It's been real good," American Stricker told reporters at the Kapalua Resort on An injury to his neck caused increasing weakness in his left arm, leading to a loss of power off the tee, but ongoing physical therapy and two cortisone shots since then have left him feeling in good shape for this week.
"It's Thursday while preparing for Friday's opening round. "I've been doing some physical therapy at home, mainly massage treatments, pressure treatments.
"I did about six of those in a two-week period leading up to Christmas, and then continued that over here. I got another cortisone shot and I think that, too, has helped a lot. It feels pretty good.
"I feel like I'm hitting a little bit further. If you look at the way I felt a year ago compared to now, I'm in much better shape."
Stricker, the highest-ranked player in this week's elite field of 28 winners from the 2011 PGA Tour, was delighted to be back at Kapalua for the season-opening event on the U.S. circuit.
"It's always icing on the cake," said the 44-year-old, an 11-times champion on the PGA Tour. "It (2011) was a consistent year. I didn't have a tremendous amount of top 10s but I finished in the top 20 or 25 quite a bit.
"I look forward to getting off to a good start here and doing much the same as I did last year, trying to win again."
Asked whether he felt the window of opportunity beginning to close for him as he approached his late forties, Stricker replied: "Yeah. I turn 45 next month, so I think about it.
"But I also think about that I've played so well over the last six years that there's no reason that I can't continue to keep playing well. I'm not seeing any real changes in my game, and that's the nice part.
"I'm not hitting it shorter this year. I actually feel like I'm hitting a little bit longer. So I keep telling myself there's no reason why I can't continue on to do what I've been doing." (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Rutherford)