ATLANTA – Steve Stricker had a shot at $10 million. A muddy ball ruined his hopes.
Stricker was briefly atop the FedEx Cup standings Sunday during an ever-changing final round of the Tour Championship, but an unfortunate tee shot at the 16th hole led to a crushing bogey.
“Overall, it was a good day,” he said. “I gave it a good try until catching a mud ball.”
East Lake Golf Club was pounded by heavy rains shortly after the third round ended, and there were still plenty of damp spots on a warm, sunny final day. Stricker’s 280-yard tee shot at the 16th rolled through some mud, making his next shot difficult to control.
From 211 yards, he flew the ball far left of the hole, plopping down in a thick patch of rough. He failed to get up and-and-down from there, taking a bogey-5 that handed the FedEx Cup lead back to Tiger Woods. The world’s No. 1 player held it the rest of the way to capture the biggest payday in golf.
“I knew (the second shot) was going left, I just didn’t know how much and it’s tough to aim it over in the bleachers somewhere,” Stricker said. “It just took off and went over there.”
He pitched past the flag with his fourth shot, the ball rolling to a stop in the first cut of rough. His par save from 18 feet wasn’t even close, coming up about 3 feet short.
The bad break stymied Stricker’s momentum. Knowing he probably needed to close with a pair of birdies, he got too aggressive with a long putt at the next hole and ran it 9 feet past the cup. He missed the comebacker for his second straight bogey.
Stricker finished with a 1-under 69 that left him sixth in the tournament and third in the final FedEx Cup standings, good enough for a $2 million bonus.
Not bad, but not $10 million.
“It was a good run,” said Stricker, who won at Boston and tied for second in New York during the season-ending playoff. “I was confident. I was swinging aggressively at it, and things were going good.”
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KENNY’S KOLLAPSE: The tee shot behind a tree. The next shot rolling up next to a fence. Not even holing out from the rough could save Kenny Perry’s final round at the Tour Championship.
The 49-year-old Kentuckian teed off Sunday at East Lake with a two-stroke lead, and it looked like it was going to be his day when he rolled in a 28-foot birdie putt at the second hole to extend his advantage.
It was all downhill from there.
Plagued by shaky iron play, Perry bogeyed four of the next nine holes and spent much of his time hitting from bunkers and rough. Any hope of pulling it together ended at the 13th, where Perry pushed his tee shot behind a tree, forcing him to take a drop and a one-stroke penalty.
He blasted his next shot over the green, the ball stopping against a fence. He was able to take relief, but still found himself hitting his fourth shot from a natural area almost 40 yards from the pin. Now in full freefall, he chunked his next swing and only made it to the rough.
OK, so he holed out from about 30 feet away, but that was of little consolation. On the scorecard, it was a double bogey.
Perry finished with a 4-over 74 and wound tied for fourth, five shots behind winner Phil Mickelson.
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CREDIT TO THE CADDIE: Maybe Phil Mickelson should give a bigger chunk of his Tour Championship winnings to longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay.
Turns out, it was Mackay who urged Lefty to get a few putting tips last week from Dave Stockton, the former PGA champion renowned for his advice on the greens.
“I said, ‘Bones, I’ve been kind of floundering here, not having the right direction. I want you to think about it,’” Mickelson said. “He came back the next day and he said, ‘I think you should call Dave Stockton. You guys putt the same. You’ve talked to him in the past and he had some great ideas.’”
Stockton was at Torrey Pines last week for an LPGA Tour event, and Mickelson set up a meeting. The result: Lefty was persuaded to go back to a style he and Stockton both find more comfortable, in which the hands are pressed slightly forward ahead of the club and the stance is slightly wider than conventional wisdom.
“He was the first one to articulate (about) my hands getting ahead,” Mickelson said. “Other guys can putt other ways, but this is the best way to putt. Once he said that, I said, ‘Yeah, that’s right, I’ve always believed that.’ So I went back to it, and it’s been like a night and day difference for me.”
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PADDY’S STRONG FINISH: Padraig Harrington came on strong at the end of the PGA Tour season, finishing in the top 10 at his last six events.
Not that he’s ready to celebrate.
“To be honest, I don’t count top 10s anymore,” said Harrington, a three-time major champion. “I’m only interested in wins.”
Still, the Irishman has reason to be hopeful for 2010. His tour year started dismally with six missed cuts and no finish higher than 11th. But he tied for second at Firestone, tied for 10th at the PGA Championship and finished no lower than sixth in the four FedEx Cup playoff events.
Harrington shot a 69 Sunday to tie for fourth.
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DIVOTS: Ernie Els nearly made a hole-in-one at the sixth hole. He knocked his tee shot over the water, caught the left edge of the green and watched the ball funnel right down to the hole. It lipped out, leaving him with a tap-in birdie. … Tiger Woods wrapped up his eighth Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour. His season average is at 68.05 after a runner-up showing in the Tour Championship, leaving him with an unsurpassable lead over Steve Stricker (69.29).