He still had to convince himself it was a good day.
Right when it looked as though Stricker might leave everyone in his wake, he missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole that threw his round into reverse. He made bogey on the par-5 15th. He missed a 4-foot par putt on the 16th, and had a 7-foot birdie on the next hole catch the lip. And when he arrived to his ball in the middle of the 18th fairway, it was right in the middle of a sand-filled divot.
Stricker managed to save par on the last hole, and perspective soon followed.
"All of a sudden, things seemed pretty hard, when at the start of the day, things were really going my way," he said. "But I understand that, and I understand that's the nature of this game. So you add them up at the end, and it was a 69. And it was a good score."
The score that matters is 12-under 204, which was three shots clear of Jonathan Byrd.
Byrd, who won the season-opener at Kapalua after playing in the final group with Stricker, hit his approach into 2 feet on the final hole for a birdie at 69. Perhaps most significant to Byrd was that he didn't drop a lot of shots down the stretch as so many others did. Byrd's only blunder came on the par-5 11th, where he made his only bogey in his last 43 holes.
"I'm doing everything pretty well," Byrd said.
Matt Kuchar was the only player who seemed capable of keeping up with Stricker in the early going, but he dropped two shots in his last four holes and had to settle for 68. That put him in a tie for third with Brandt Jobe (69), four shots behind.
Rory McIlroy is still in the hunt.
Despite a sloppy double bogey on the par-3 fourth, the 22-year-old rolled in a long eagle putt on the 15th and wound up with 71.
Heis at 7-under 209, along with former PGA champion Shaun Micheel (67) and Mark Wilson, who shot 66.
Luke Donald, in his debut as No. 1 in the world, shot 73 and was eight shots behind in a tie for 17th.
Phil Mickelson had 72 and was 10 shots behind.