Stricker holds on for victory
Los Angeles - Steve Stricker held on to win the $6.4 million Northern Trust Open on Sunday, firing a final-round 70 to beat England's Luke Donald by two strokes.
With the win, Stricker will overtake fellow American Phil Mickelson as number two in the world when the new rankings come out this week.
Stricker started the final round at historic Riviera Country Club with a six-shot lead, but he found the big cushion anything but comfortable.
"You play scared," Stricker said. "The position I was in - it's a good one. But if I don't win the tournament you're going to be looked upon as the guy who didn't finish it off."
Stricker said he found himself trying to avoid mistakes, and sure enough after five holes his lead had dwindled to two strokes, thanks to his own bogey at the par-three fourth and birdies by Donald at the first, third and fifth.
"He looked a little nervous in the beginning," Donald said. "I think it's easier to chase than to be chased. He felt a little bit of pressure."
Stricker, who had returned early Sunday to complete a third round halted by darkness, reasserted himself with birdies at eight and nine and went on to win with a 16-under par total of 268.
Donald carded a five-under par 66 for 270.
Dustin Johnson and JB Holmes shared third place on 271. Johnson carded a 66 and Holmes a 67.
Stricker, who turns 43 later this month, improved on his runner-up finish to Mickelson here last year.
Mickelson, trying to become the first player to win at Riviera three years in a row, instead finished well off the pace, closing with a two-over 73 for 282 - tied for 45th.
Stricker had put himself in position to claim an eighth US PGA Tour victory - and his fourth since winning at Colonial in a playoff last May - with a masterful performance in the rain-swept second round.
He followed that with a steady third round that he finished in the chilly early morning gloom on Sunday - draining a 30-foot birdie putt at the 15th and adding another birdie at 16 before he bogeyed 18.
The final round, he said, was a grind "that seemed to last forever."
He finally gave himself some breathing room with his birdies at eight and nine.
"Those are typically not birdie holes, and to make threes there was a huge lift," said Stricker, who rolled in putts of eight and 10 feet.
But Stricker said the "defining moment" of the round was his par save at 15.
"I struggled with my swing at times today, and didn't hit a very good four-iron in there and had a very difficult chip," he said of the 15th. "But I made a great putt and a great save there."
Donald made the last of his six birdies at the 17th to again cut the lead to two.
"I hit a lot of quality shots," said Donald, a four-time winner worldwide whose last victory was at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, in 2006.
The Englishman, whose 2008 season was cut short by wrist surgery, said he was pleased with the progress of his game since playing the Sony Open in Hawaii last month.
"I felt good about my game this week, just the fact that I felt like I knew where I was going," he said. "That's a big step for me and just shows me that I'm working on the right things."
Leading final-round scores on Sunday in the $6.4 million Northern Trust Open (USA unless noted):
268 - Steve Stricker 67-65-66-70
270 - Luke Donald (GBR) 68-70-66-66
271 - Dustin Johnson 64-67-74-66, JB Holmes 68-69-67-67
274 - Paul Goydos 69-72-68-65, Steve Marino 70-67-69-68, Andres Romero (ARG) 65-69-70-70, George McNeill 70-69-66-69
275 - Ricky Barnes 66-71-69-69
276 - Kevin Na 72-67-71-66, Jason Bohn 69-75-67-65, Ernie Els (RSA) 68-70-70-68, Alex Prugh 71-69-66-70, Kevin Stadler 65-71-69-71
277 - Marc Leishman (AUS) 71-71-70-65, Yang Yong-Eun (KOR) 71-70-68-68, Ryuji Imada (JPN) 73-68-68-68
278 - Charlie Wi (KOR) 72-68-69-69, Tim Wilkinson (NZL) 69-67-71-71
279 - Robert Allenby (AUS) 72-69-70-68, Rod Pampling (AUS) 70-70-73-66, KJ Choi (KOR) 71-72-71-65
280 - Tim Clark (RSA) 69-72-71-68, Ryo Ishikawa (JPN) 68-68-72-72
281 - Justin Rose (GBR) 69-67-73-72
282 - Phil Mickelson 72-66-71-73
283 - Brian Davis (GBR) 72-70-68-73
285 - Brenden Pappas (RSA) 71-68-72-74, Martin Laird (GBR) 72-72-69-72, Aaron Baddeley (AUS) 72-72-70-71
286 - Stuart Appleby (AUS) 71-71-71-73, Greg Chalmers (AUS) 71-73-70-72, Angel Cabrera (ARG) 71-73-71-71