Stricker seizes moment at Colonial
Sunday, May 31, 2009
FORT WORTH, Texas – Steve Stricker blew a final-round lead right after he took it and gave away another stroke by missing a short par putt down the stretch.
Stricker stayed at it, though. A chip-in birdie on 17 helped him get in a three-man playoff. Then, lucky to be playing a second extra hole, he put his approach just 3 feet from the cup and knocked it right in to win the Crowne Plaza Invitational.
Admirable as it may be, the real story Sunday was how Tim Clark blew this tournament.
Trying to shed his title as the guy who’d won the most money on the PGA Tour without winning an event, Clark wasted a two-shot lead with five holes left. He left short a 9-foot putt that would’ve won it on the final hole, then pulled a 7-footer that would’ve ended the playoff on the first hole. The final kick in the gut came when his approach on the second extra hole hit the pin and rolled more than 20 feet from the cup.
“I can’t take anything positive from today,” the 33-year-old South African said. “I have a lot of work to do when it comes to closing out golf tournaments.”
Stricker’s victory was pure relief, as evidenced by his fist pump and choked-up interviews afterward. It’s not that he questioned his ability to close out tournaments, he was just ready to win after finishing second, third, fourth, sixth and seventh this year.
Now he has five career wins – and the No. 8 spot in the world ranking.
“I feel fortunate,” Stricker said, wearing the plaid jacket given to all winners at the Colonial Country Club. “I’ve been on the other end a couple times this year where you feel you’re going to win and end up losing. This feels very good.”
Stricker, who earned $1,116,000, led after two rounds with a 36-hole tournament record of 126. He moved back ahead with birdies on Nos. 5 and 6 on Sunday, then followed with consecutive bogeys.
When he missed a 4-footer on No. 16, Stricker seemed out of contention. His chances looked even worse when he was in fluffy grass behind the 17th green.
Then his chip rolled in.
“You need breaks to win, that’s why winning is so special, so hard to do,” he said.
Steve Marino was the third player in the playoff. He narrowly missed a long birdie putt on the first extra hole, then pretty much took himself out of contention with a wild tee shot on the second extra hole. Colonial would’ve been a sweet place for his debut win considering his mom grew up a few blocks away and was in the gallery with a group of her childhood friends.
“Obviously it’s disappointing,” Marino said. “But I’m playing well right now and I’m excited about playing golf and feel good about my game.”
Stricker and Marino shot 68s to match Clark (70) at 17-under 263.
Jason Day, a 21-year-old Australian who recently became a Colonial member, shot 69 and finished fourth at 264. He shot 65 in the other three rounds, but started with a bogey and wound up a stroke out of the playoff.
Another stroke back was Paul Casey, coming off a prestigious win in Europe that vaulted him to No. 3 in the world ranking. He opened the final round with three straight birdies but couldn’t build on it much.
Woody Austin (68) and Vijay Singh (69) tied for sixth at 14 under.
Clark’s foibles on the 18th hole – in regulation, then in the playoffs – sent the playoff to No. 17, a hole Stricker already had birdied three times in four rounds.
His fourth birdie there was the charm.
“This is what my whole career has been about up. I’ve had to pull myself up when something hasn’t gone my way,” Stricker said. “You have to let it roll off your back.”
Maybe one day, Clark can. Not now.
Not after being tied for the tournament record with five holes to play. Not after being the tournament’s most accurate driver to that point and then knocking two tee shots into trouble.
Not after all those foul-ups turned 0-for-183 into 0-for-184 and the seventh second-place finish of his career. The last one came last year at this event, when Phil Mickelson made a spectacular shot for birdie on the final hole.
Not even being reminded of his valiant final approach could lift his spirits.
“Bad break or not, the tournament should have ended on the first playoff hole,” Clark said. “I didn’t make a confident stroke and I pulled it.”
The $545,600 in winnings, which upped his career total to almost $13.3 million, would be a mood-lifter.
But considering his unwanted claim to fame, that’s both good and bad.