By Ann Miller for PGATOUR.COM
KAPALUA, Maui — Somehow, Steve Stricker made it work in Tuesday’s final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Stricker, the 45-year-old defending champion, had a putt to tie 28-year-old Dustin Johnson on the 13th green. Stricker missed, Johnson crushed his next drive, chipped in for eagle and ultimately won by four.
“I actually thought, as we started the round today, I could really put some serious pressure on this guy because I’m going to hit first every time to the green,” said Stricker, who shot a bogey-free 69. “If I can put it inside there and start making a little run and make some birdies, if I continually hit it in there on him, that’s to my advantage.
“And that just didn't work the way I was thinking, but it’s always a possibility.”
Particularly in Hawaii. At Kapalua Plantation, Stricker is 90 under in his last 20 rounds. He has six top 10s at the Sony Open in Hawaii, which starts Thursday.
But Johnson was too much this windy time around at Kapalua. They were strange looking pair, the young guy with the prodigious drives and the only 40-year-old in the field, walking with a limp because of a shooting pain on his left side that has been bothering Stricker the last month.
He never blinked Tuesday.
“I had an opportunity, which is why we play is to have that opportunity to try to win,” Stricker said. “I had some chances today. I had some chances to put some pressure on early. Missed some putts there early in the round that could have made a difference, maybe not, but who knows-type thing.
“It was a good week. Looking forward to getting rid of this little nagging thing I’ve got going down my leg and looking forward to playing again at the (WGC-Accenture) Match Play.”
That’s six weeks away, giving Stricker time to get well and enjoy the first break of many. He will only play “10 or 12” events this year as he cuts back. That life-changing choice changed him this week.
“Maybe that’s why I played well, too,” Stricker said. “I didn’t expect a lot. I had this different attitude about playing a little bit less, and I felt a little more comfortable and the pressure was taken off me this week, too. So I’m hoping that kind of translates like this into the rest of the season.”
He is hoping he won’t see winds like Kapalua’s again anytime soon. Gusts up to 50 mph forced TOUR officials to start Hyundai with 36 holes Monday — the day it was supposed to end.
Somehow a week that began with questions about his health and was plagued with poor weather turned into another great time in Hawaii for Stricker, who has now won nearly $5 million here.
“Everybody took it great,” Stricker said. “And the rules officials did a great job working with us and trying to get everybody out there and around. I thought yesterday was a great setup that they did. They shortened the course. They gave us rides on some holes.
“I don’t think this will put a damper on Maui or the Hyundai Tournament of Champions or anything. I thought everything went as well as could be expected given the circumstances with the weather. Guys will be itching to get back here. I’m going to work hard to try to get back here again. It’s a special place to start the year.”