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Author Topic: Stricker wins at Riviera, goes to No. 2 in world  (Read 1680 times)
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« on: February 09, 2010, 09:05:10 PM »

In a tournament everyone expected him to win, Steve Stricker was trying not to lose.

Instead of firing at flags and trying to make birdies, which allowed him to build a six-shot lead at Riviera, he suddenly found himself playing it safe and trying not to make bogeys. Instead of having a chance to break the 25-year-old tournament scoring record, he feared matching a PGA Tour record for blowing the biggest lead.

The Northern Trust Open ultimately ended Sunday the way everyone thought it would—Stricker in tears after another victory.

“I just knew it was going to be hard,” Stricker said after closing with a 1-under 70 for a two-shot victory over Luke Donald. “You’re playing a different game than what you normally play. You played scared—at least I did there for a while.”

Stricker won for the fourth time in his last 15 starts, moving up to No. 2 in the world for the second time in his career. It was his eighth career victory, and the eighth time he couldn’t make it through his TV interview without wiping tears from his eyes.

“If I got really hot with the putter, I could have maybe caught Steve,” said Donald, who closed with a 66. “He played nicely coming down the stretch, and I think he was a deserved winner. But at least I gave him a little run for his money.”

Dustin Johnson, who shot a 74 on Saturday to fall out of the lead, made one last run and got within three shots. He shot a 66 and tied for third with J.B. Holmes, who closed with a 67.

Stricker built his lead back to four shots on the back nine when he started playing cautiously and saw it start slipping away. Then came the 15th, when he missed his 4-iron to the left and chipped poorly to 10 feet, only to make his biggest putt of the round.

“My father-in-law always says there’s a defining moment when you’re going to win a golf tournament,” Stricker said. “And I think that was it right there. It allowed me to keep a three-shot lead going into the last three holes.”

Phil Mickelson, trying to become the first player to win three straight years at Riviera, had a 73 and finished 14 shots behind.

Stricker knew he was in for a battle when he had 5-iron to clear the bunker at the par-5 opening hole. Instead, he took 4-iron to play it safe, went just over the green and failed to make birdie.

“It was so long ago I couldn’t really remember how I handled it,” Stricker said. “It’s just difficult playing with that sort of lead. A lot of guys were making birdies and applying pressure. I’m just happier than heck to be here and be the champion.”

This is the second time Stricker has gone to No. 2 in the world—he also got there in September after winning in Boston—although he likely still would have to win at three more times to catch Tiger Woods, who is out indefinitely as he tries to save his marriage.

Could he imagine himself at No. 1.

“I don’t allow that,” Stricker said. “We all know who the best player in the world is, and I’ll just continue to do what I do, and that’s practice hard and work at it and try to improve.”

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