KAPALUA, Hawaii — Steve Stricker has a bad habit of losing big leads. He managed to slip back into his old habit of winning.
Despite losing most of his five-shot lead in only six holes, Stricker steadied himself in time to kick off the new PGA Tour season with a three-shot victory in the Tournament of Champions on Monday.
Right when it looked as though Stricker was coming unglued, he made back-to-back birdies at the turn. That restored his lead to three shots, and no one got closer than two shots the rest of the way.
Stricker birdied his last hole for 4-under 69 and his 12th career win.
“It was tough,” said Stricker, who finished at 23-under 269. “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.”
Sweeter than the winner’s lei draped around his neck on the 18th green at Kapalua were his two children, 13-year-old Bobbi Maria and 5-year-old Isabella, there to greet him with a hug.
“It’s always cool to get a hug from your family walking off at the end,” he said.
Stricker held back tears, perhaps a sign that he’s getting used to this business of winning. It was his ninth PGA Tour win since he turned 40, and his eighth title in his past 50 tournaments.
As usual, he didn’t make it easy on himself.
Stricker had a five-shot lead going into Monday’s finish on Maui, and it was just about gone when he muffed a flop shot and took bogey on the sixth hole.
Martin Laird, Webb Simpson and Jonathan Byrd each got within one shot of Stricker on the front nine, but not for long.
Stricker rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth, pitched to tap-in range at the par-5 ninth and was on his way.
Laird closed with 67, and his birdie on the last hole put him alone in second place. Byrd kept most of the pressure on Stricker along the back nine of the Plantation Course, but he bogeyed the 17th. He had 68 and tied for third with Simpson, who also had 68.