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Steve Stricker seesaws to title; Gary Woodland 24th

January 10, 2012

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— Steve Stricker always believed experience would go a long way toward winning the PGA Tour season opener at Kapalua.

This wasn’t the kind he was thinking about.

No other player is more accustomed to building a big lead, blowing a big lead, and then settling down to win. That’s just what Stricker did Monday on Maui, when he won the Tournament of Champions with a final round that only looked easy on paper.

“I’ve been there before. It’s not a great feeling, either,” Stricker said after closing with a 4-under 69 for a three-shot victory over Martin Laird. “It’s just the nature of our game. I realize that, and I’ve gone through it before. It always seems close, and you always have to perform to get it done.”

Ultimately, that’s just what he did.

It took only six holes for him to see his five-shot lead dwindle to one. After another mental mistake led to bogey, Stricker stood behind the sixth green staring at the ground, shaking his head, disgusted with himself. It was during that long walk down the seventh fairway, the Pacific Ocean on the horizon, when Stricker reminded himself that at least he was still in the lead.

And that’s where he stayed.

He buried a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth, hit a pitch to tap-in range for birdie on the ninth to build his lead back to three, and then it was a matter of hanging on.

Along with the winner’s lei draped around his neck, his two daughters — 13-year-old Bobbi Maria and 5-year-old Isabella — rushed onto the green to give him a hug.

Former Kansas University golfer Gary Woodland was 20 strokes back and earned $70,000 for 24th place.

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