Steve Stricker was having a ho-hum day, but then pulled a Charl Schwartzel and birdied the final four holes on Sunday to maintain a five-shot advantage going into the final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
“It was pretty stagnant out there for me today,” said Stricker in his post-round presser. “I wasn’t doing anything very special there for the first, I guess, 14 holes and then just, you know, hit a couple good shots at 15, the par 5, and kind of stole a birdie at 16 after spinning it off the green and chipping it in.
“After that chip shot, kind of felt like I got a little momentum, even though there was a couple holes to play. I got aggressive off the tee at 17 and hit a good iron approaching there, and hit two good shots at 18. So it was definitely a good finish.”
Stricker credits his fine form to the lack of an off-season this year, so he’s not as rusty as usual.
“I feel like I’m a little further along this time around, which is a good thing,” he said. “It wasn’t much of an off-season, but that’s why I feel like I’m further along. We had the Presidents Cup in November, and I tried to stay with my game after The Tour Championship leading up to The Presidents Cup.
“I tried to at least hit balls a couple of times a week or play a couple of times a week, but never really set the clubs down like I normally do for a six- or eight-week period of time, and then a couple of times in December. I feel like I’ve worked on my game quite a bit the last month, so I feel like I’m a touch further along than I am normally here.”
This is the eighth time in Stricker’s career he’s held the outright lead heading into the final round and the outright 54-hole lead for the seventh (led a 90-hole event once). In 72-hole events, he’s never lost when entering as the sole frontrunner. Last year at this event he was in a three-way tie for first with Jonathan Byrd and Robert Garrigus through 54 holes. Stricker went on to finish T4.
Last year as the leaders were teeing off, I remember having lunch with a colleague, who asked who I thought would win. I said something like I hoped Stricker would, but who knows. The colleague said he didn’t think it would happen because Stricker probably felt he was expected to win. Clearly the colleague had the advantage of foresight and luckily I didn’t have any money on the line.
This time around it’d be hard to imagine Stricker won’t be hoisting the trophy in the winner’s circle. It’s possible to blow a five-shot lead, but I think he’s playing too solidly and knows the course as well as anyone in the field that it’s an unlikely outcome. Of course there’s always the chance of someone coming from behind and going really low — like Graeme McDowell did last year when he shot 63, but it wasn’t enough to catch eventual champ Byrd.
“You’re playing with a five-shot lead,” said Stricker on his early struggles in the third round. “It’s a tough situation. I’ve been there before, and it’s hard. I find it very difficult.
“You’re in a position where you don’t want to screw up, but yet you’re on a course that birdies can be made and guys can come from a ways back. You know, you need to make birdies. It’s kind of that fine line. This course is a fine line, and it’s easy to come from behind here; I’ve done it here, too, and I’ve also been up around the lead, and it’s difficult.”
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)