Monday, February 8, 2010
Madison Star, Steve Stricker, Wins by Two Strokes
In a tournament everyone expected him to win, Madison's Steve Stricker was trying not to lose.
Instead of firing at flags and trying to make birdies, which allowed him to build a six-shot lead at Riviera, he suddenly found himself playing it safe and trying not to make bogeys. Instead of having a chance to break the 25-year-old tournament scoring record, he feared matching a PGA Tour record for blowing the biggest lead.
The Northern Trust Open ultimately ended Sunday the way everyone thought it would - Stricker in tears after another victory.
"I just knew it was going to be hard," Stricker said after closing with a 1-under 70 for a two-shot victory over Luke Donald. "You're playing a different game than what you normally play. You played scared - at least I did there for a while."
Back-to-back birdies at the turn settled him down. Another clutch putt for par on the 15th hole essentially clinched it for him.
Stricker won for the fourth time in his last 15 starts, moving up to No. 2 in the world for the second time in his career. It was his eighth career victory, and the eighth time he couldn't make it through his TV interview without wiping tears from his eyes.
This time, all it took was a reminder of where he was four years ago, when he lost his PGA Tour card.
The final round felt as though it lasted just as long.
His lead was cut in half after four holes after Stricker missed a short par putt. It was down to two shots when Donald made a 10-foot birdie on the fifth hole. It might have vanished entirely had Donald not missed birdie putts about the same length on the next two holes.
"If I got really hot with the putter, I could have maybe caught Steve," said Donald, who closed with a 66. "He played nicely coming down the stretch, and I think he was a deserved winner. But at least I gave him a little run for his money."
Stricker finished at 16-under 268 and earned $1.152 million to go over $25 million for his career.
This is the second time Stricker has gone to No. 2 in the world - he also got there in September after winning in Boston - although he likely still would have to win at least three more times to catch Tiger Woods, who is out indefinitely as he tries to save his marriage.
Dustin Johnson, who shot a 74 on Saturday to fall out of the lead, made one last run and got within three shots. He shot a 66 and tied for third with J.B. Holmes (67).
Stricker built his lead back to four shots on the back nine when he started playing cautiously and saw it start slipping away.
Then came the 15th, when he missed his 4-iron to the left and chipped poorly to 10 feet, only to make his biggest putt of the round.
"My father-in-law always says there's a defining moment when you're going to win a golf tournament," Stricker said. "And I think that was it right there. It allowed me to keep a three-shot lead going into the last three holes."
Phil Mickelson, trying to become the first player to win three straight years at Riviera, had a 73 and finished 14 shots behind.
Mark Wilson of Menomonee Falls finished at 1-over 285.
Article courtesy of Milwauke Journal Sentinel