Stricker keeps Hawaii lead

2012-01-09 08:01

Kapalua - American Steve Stricker birdied the last four holes on Sunday to maintain a five-stroke lead going into the final round of the PGA Tour's season-opening Tournament of Champions.

It was far from smooth sailing for the world number six - the highest ranked player in the field - who saw his comfortable overnight cushion dwindle to one stroke through 14 holes.

But he was finally able to gain some momentum and separate himself from defending champion and first-round leader Jonathan Byrd, Scotland's Martin Laird and Webb Simpson.

Stricker's four-under par 69 on the par-73 Plantation Course at Kapalua gave him a 54-hole total of 19-under 200, while the trailing trio shared second place on 14-under 205 going into Monday's final round.

"It was a struggle today. Not a lot of good things happened, but I stayed patient," he said.

Stricker's only birdie on the front nine, at the par-four seventh, was promptly followed by a three-putt bogey at the par-three eighth.

With his pars piling up, Stricker admitted he felt like he was opening the door to his rivals.

"I wasn't making any birdies, and it seemed like everybody else was," he said.

"When you're leading a golf tournament, it's just hard to keep that momentum. When you're not making birdies, you feel like you're letting things slip away. I felt everyone was coming after me, and I was coming back to the pack."

His luck began to turn with his birdie at 15, where he two-putted from 30 feet.

And on the next hole he chipped in for another birdie after he and Simpson both ended up short of the green.

At 17 Stricker landed his approach four feet from the pin, and on the par-five final hole he made another two-putt birdie.

"I kind of stole one with the chip shot at 16," Stricker admitted. "It was a good finish and put me in a good position going into tomorrow."

Byrd put himself back in contention with a six-under 67, including an eagle at the par-five fifth. Laird posted a 67 that included seven birdies and one bogey.

Simpson, playing alongside Stricker in the final group, faded with a bogey at 16, but sunk his fifth birdie of the day at the 18th.

The field, open only to last season's title winners, was reduced to 27 on Friday when former US Open champion Lucas Glover withdrew with a sprained knee.

Three of the four reigning major champions had already opted out with Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland and Charl Schwartzel of South Africa bypassing the event.

Third-round scores on Sunday in the $5.6 million PGA Tour Hyundai Tournament of Champions (USA unless noted, par-73):

200 - Steve Stricker 68-63-69

205 - Jonathan Byrd 67-71-67, Martin Laird (GBR) 68-70-67, Webb Simpson 68-68-69

208 - Bryce Molder 71-70-67, Kevin Na 73-64-71

209 - Harrison Frazar 74-69-66

211 - Ben Crane 72-71-68, Rory Sabbatini (RSA) 73-70-68, Chris Kirk 75-66-70, D.A. Points 71-69-71

212 - Johnson Wagner 72-72-68, Nick Watney 73-71-68, K.J. Choi (KOR) 70-73-69, Scott Piercy 72-71-69, Mark Wilson 72-71-69

213 - Sean O'Hair 73-70-70

215 - Bubba Watson 74-69-72

216 - Bill Haas 73-73-70, Keegan Bradley 69-72-75

217 - Gary Woodland 73-71-73, Scott Stallings 74-69-74, Aaron Baddeley (AUS) 75-68-74

218 - Michael Bradley 68-75-75

224 - Brendan Steele 76-76-72, Jhonattan Vegas (VEN) 75-73-76

225 - David Toms 76-74-75

Lucas Glover DNS