TROON, Scotland — Steve Stricker showed up at Royal Troon thinking this might be his last major championship. He can count on three more.

Stricker, 49, shot 2-under 69 to finish in fourth place at the British Open, securing a return to the Masters, a trip back for the British Open at Birkdale next year and a place at the PGA Championship in Baltusrol in less than two weeks.

He’d been stubborn about not asking for an invitation for the PGA Championship, saying Thursday: “I want to earn my way there.”

He’s done just that.

“It’s a lot of spinoffs,” said Stricker, who is ranked No. 167. “There are a lot of carrots dangling. When you’re playing well, you’re rewarded and you get to do some pretty cool things.”

In 2012, Stricker said he would be cutting down his schedule to spend more time at home with his family.

He has, but don’t be fooled into thinking the fires no longer burn brightly inside the American, who qualified for Royal Troon with a second-place finish at the FedEx St. Jude Classic last month.

This was his best finish at the British Open – beating his tie for seventh at Birkdale in 2008 – and his best at a major since finishing second at the PGA Championship in 1998. Stricker said he was swinging the club more aggressively than ever after back surgery two years ago.

“I still think that I have potential maybe one time to get in there,” Stricker said when asked if he believed he could still win a major. “Maybe this was it, who knows? … But it’s nice to get the juices flowing and feel the pressure and try to perform down the stretch.

“I guess what I’m doing keeps me motivated to play. I’m not playing as much, but every time I come out I’m really excited to be playing, and my goal was not to get stale with it later in my career, and that’s what I’ve done.”

HENRIK STENSON ended his winner’s speech on the 18th green at Royal Troon by dedicating his first major title to a close friend – Mike Gerbich – who died of cancer the day before the British Open started.

“I feel like he has been with me all week – Mike, this one is for you,” said an emotional Stenson as he raised the claret jug one more time and kissed it.

Beside the green, Stenson’s wife, Emma, sobbed.

Mike Gerbich was a pal of the Stensons when they lived in Dubai. Gerbich and Henrik Stenson used to play golf together.

“I know he’s hurting inside,” said Stenson’s caddie, Gareth Lord. “It’s a perfect way to say thanks.”

“Henrik played for him this week,” said Emma Stenson. “It was hard, definitely. I’m glad he did it for him.”