Tournament of Champions: Steve Stricker's Strong Finish Gives Him the Win
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Steve Stricker started slow but finished strong on his way to four-under (par) final round and claimed his first win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
For Stricker it was his 12th career win, and his ninth after the age of 40. He turns 45 next month.
Stricker finished with a final score of 23-under (par) and was followed on the leaderboard by Martin Laird at 20-under (par) in second place and last year's winner Jonathan Byrd and Webb Simpson tied for third place at 19-under (par).
Stricker was not at his best yet again today. He had not missed a putt from within four-to-eight feet on the previous three rounds, but he missed four from that distance today.
The key for him, just like yesterday, was making the crucial shots when he needed it.
After a bogey on the par-four sixth hole, he saw his five-shot lead shrink to one for the second day in a row. Laird, Simpson and Byrd were breathing down his neck at this point.
Laird was off to a strong start after making three birdies in a row, starting on the third hole, and was within one. Simpson birdied the third hole and had a eagle on the par-five fifth hole, but a bogey on the next hole had him two behind.
Byrd—playing alongside Stricker—also had made three birdies in the first six holes and at that moment he was also two behind Stricker.
The battle was on.
But then on the par-three eight hole, Stricker's drive was on top of the green, 23 feet away from the hole. He made the birdie-putt to go two-shots up.
Then on the par-five ninth, Stricker hit his third shot from 31 yards away to within a foot from the hole and made his second birdie in row.
Laird and Byrd made bogeys on the eight hole while Simpson made a birdie on it. This gave some breathing room for Stricker after making the turn, now he held a three-shot lead over Simpson and Byrd, and four over Laird.
Starting the back-nine, Byrd made a birdie on the par-four 10th hole to close to within two. Stricker had a shot to push it back to three with an eight-foot birdie putt, but it brushed the side of the cup and settled for par.
Laird dropped a shot after a bogey on the 10th hole, and from there on it basically became a battle between Stricker and Byrd, who were playing on the last group.
Stricker answered Byrd with a birdie on the par-four 12th hole. His approach second shot was left 15 feet from the hole and he made the birdie-putt.
The lead was back to three shots and Stricker never looked back from there.
Byrd's last stance came on the par-four 16th hole. His second shot from 88 yards away flew past the hole and spun back to within four feet of the hole.
Stricker had only 62 yards to the hole for his second shot. His shot—just like Byrd's—flew past the hole and spun back to just two feet from the hole.
Threat averted. Checkmate.
Both proceeded to birdie the hole, and with two of the easiest holes coming, it became like the final stage of the Tour De France along the Champs-Elysées.
Stricker ended in style making a birdie on the 18th hole, to put an exclamation point to the win.
Laird finished strong with birdies on five of the last seven holes to finish at six-under (par) for the day and finish alone in second place.
Byrd made a bogey on the 17th hole, while Simpson made back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th. Both finished at five-under (par) for the day and tied for third place.
K.J. Choi and Keegan Bradley had the lowest-scoring round of the day at eight-under (par). Choi finished tied for fifth-place with Harrison Frazar at 15-under (par).
Bradley finished in 16th place at 11-under (par).
Behind Choi and Frazar in a tie for seventh place at 14-under (par) were Chris Kirk—who played solid in the last three rounds—and Bryce Molder. Kirk played at 16-under (par) the last three days.
Rounding up the top 10 were Johnson Wagner, Rory Sabbatini and Ben Crane in a tie for ninth place at 14-under (par).
Other notables, Nick Watney finished tied for 12th-place at 12-under (par), and FedEx Cup winner Bill Haas finished in 20th place at seven-under (par).
Stricker is now the early leader in the FedEx Cup standings, and the first player to earn his trip back to the Plantation Course in Kapalua next year.
The Hawaiian swing of the PGA continues with the Sony Open next weekend, where most of this players will be present for the second tournament of the year.
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