December 5, 2020

Stricker starts off the year with a win in Hawaii

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Steve Stricker reacts after winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions PGA Tour golf tournament in Kapalua, Hawaii, Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. Stricker shot a 4-under-par 69 to finish at total 23-under-par. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Steve Stricker had a silver trophy in his hands and a white-and-purple lei around his neck, a photo opportunity at Kapalua that didn’t seem likely four months ago when he could barely hold onto a golf club.

He withdrew from the BMW Championship outside Chicago because of weakness in his left arm. It was a nervous time, even when it was diagnosed as a neck injury. The first doctor he saw recommended surgery, and Stricker nearly went along with it.

Stricker decided against surgery, opting for therapy, rest, a series of massages and two cortisone shots.

It looks like it was the right choice.

Stricker opened the PGA Tour season with a final round Monday on Maui filled with more tension that he needed, even if he is used to it by now. Staked to a five-shot advantage at the Tournament of Championship, his lead was down to a single shot after just six holes.

As he does so many times, though, Stricker’s short game bailed him out. He birdied back-to-back holes at the turn to regain control, answered Jonathan Byrd with a wedge into 2 feet for another birdie on the 16th, and wound up with a 4-under 69 and a three-shot win for an ideal start to the year.

“It was tough,” said Stricker, who now has won eight times in his last 50 tournaments. “I never let up today. It’s always tough trying to win, and it’s even more tough when you have a lead like I did. I’m very proud of what I did today.

“And it’s always cool to get a hug from your family walking off at the end.”

That was the best part of the day, seeing 13-year-old Bobbi Maria and 5-year-old Isabella greet him on the 18th green. It was the second time he has won when both his daughters were at the golf course. That never gets old.

Stricker finished at 23-under 269, three shots clear of Martin Laird (67).

The final round came down to those two, along with Byrd and Webb Simpson, who each closed with a 68. All three of the challengers got to within one shot of Stricker, but not for long.

He has made a habit of losing big leads in the final round, and of holding on for the win. Stricker is not sure what to make of these dynamics, although he’s glad the outcome has been the same.

Last summer at the John Deere Classic, he lost a five-shot lead on the back nine and had to birdie the final hole for a two-shot swing to beat Kyle Stanley. A month earlier, he had a four-shot lead at the Memorial and hung on to win by one shot.

At Riviera two years ago, his six-shot lead was reduced to two shots after only six holes, before he steadied himself to win by two.

So this was nothing new.

“I’ve been there before. It’s not a great feeling, either,” Stricker said. “It’s just the nature of our game. I realise that, and I’ve gone through it before. It always seems close, and you always have to perform to get it done.”

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