5 things: Stricker opens season with Kapalua win

Steve Stricker follows his drive from the third tee during the final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

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Five things you need to know from Steve Stricker’s victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He finished at 23-under 269 (68-63-69-69), three shots ahead of Martin Laird.

1.) Mission accomplished: Steve Stricker started the Hyundai's final round with a five-shot lead. He'd never lost a 72-hole event when starting the final round with the outright lead. That doesn't mean this victory was easy, though.

Stricker, one of the Tour’s best putters, saw his lead whittled to one stroke after missing consecutive putts of approximately 5 feet on Nos. 5 and 6.

"It was tough," Stricker said. "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."

He rebounded with birdies on Nos. 8 and 9 to take a three-shot lead at the turn. He holed a 24-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth before nearly holing his 31-yard approach on the par-5 ninth.

His putting woes continued with missed birdie putts of 7 and 8 feet on Nos. 10 and 11, though. He regained his three-shot lead with a 15-footer for birdie at the 12th, then made three consecutive pars before knocking his approach to 2 feet on the par-4 16th. The birdie gave him a two-shot lead with two holes remaining.

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2.) Stricker’s dozen: The victory was the 12th of Stricker’s career, and his eighth in his past 50 starts, dating back to his win at the 2009 Crowne Plaza Invitational. Stricker, who started this week at No. 6 in the world ranking, is the only player on Tour to record multiple wins in 2009, 2010 and 2011. He’s also the eighth player since 1983 to win multiple events in at least three consecutive seasons. He entered the 2012 season with 42 consecutive made cuts.

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3.) Back-to-back?: Could Stricker start the year with two consecutive victories? He’ll be hard to bet against next week. He has an impressive record at the Sony Open, posting three top-four finishes in his past five Sony appearances and finishing no worse than 23rd in that stretch.

Stricker’s Hyundai victory was the culmination of several strong years at Kapaula. He’s finished no worse than 10th here in his past four appearances – fourth in 2011, 10th in 2010 and runner-up in 2008.

He's 76 under par in his past 16 rounds at Kapalua. Twelve of those rounds were in the 60s and all were par or better.

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4.) Great Scot: Martin Laird, the only European in the Hyundai field, finished second at 20 under par, two shots behind Stricker. Laird finished fourth in 2010 in his only other appearance at Kapalua. Laird has shot no worse than 3-under 70 in eight Hyundai rounds.

The strong finish will help Laird toward his goal of representing Europe at the 2012 Ryder Cup. Laird is skipping the Sony Open because the short and bending Waialae Country Club doesn't suit his game, but will return at the Humana Challenge.

“I want to get off to a quick start this year and get my name up there as a name that's in contention for the team, and obviously coming out here and playing like this this week has obviously done that for me,” said Laird, a Scot who played college golf at Colorado State. “But I'm not just going to sit back and be like, I've had a good finish.”

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5.) Byrd’s the word: The defending champion has a good record at Kapalua. Stuart Appleby won this event in 2004-06, and Geoff Ogilvy was the champion in 2009-10. Byrd almost joined them as repeat winners on Maui. The 2011 champion finished third, three shots behind Stricker. It was Byrd’s best finish since a playoff loss at last May’s Wells Fargo Championship.

Byrd and Webb Simpson tied for third at 19-under par.

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