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Strong finish sees Stricker stay top

Updated: Tuesday, 10 Jan 2012 07:47

Steve Stricker - 'I felt like things were going to turn my way coming in, and they did'
Steve Stricker - 'I felt like things were going to turn my way coming in, and they did'

Steve Stricker recovered from a poor run around the turn with a stunning four-birdie finish to maintain a five-shot lead after Sunday's third round at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.

Starting the round five strokes clear of the field, Stricker had his advantage trimmed to just one before he regained control with his sizzling late surge to fire a four-under-par 69.

That gave the American world number six, the highest-ranked player in the elite field, a 19-under total of 200 in the PGA Tour's season-opening event at the Kapalua Resort.

Defending champion Jonathan Byrd recovered from two early bogeys to card a six-birdie 67 for a share of second place with fellow American Webb Simpson (69) and Britain's Martin Laird (67).

Two more Americans, Bryce Molder (67) and Kevin Na (71), were tied for fifth at 11 under in the limited-field tournament which brings together PGA Tour winners from the previous season.

"It was a struggle today," Stricker said after recording five birdies and a bogey on the hilly Plantation Course. "Not a lot of good things happened but I stayed patient.

"I felt like things were going to turn my way coming in, and they did. It was a good finish and put me in a good position heading into tomorrow."

Stricker, seeking his 12th victory on the PGA Tour, found the third round especially frustrating after carding a brilliant 10-under-par 63 the previous day.

"I knew it was going to be tough, it always is," he said. "When you're leading a golf tournament, it's just hard to keep that momentum.

"I had such a good day yesterday and when you're not making birdies, you feel like you are letting things slip away. I just felt like everybody was coming after me and I was kind of coming back to the pack.

"Fortunately I had a good finish and we've got one more day. I've still got to come out and play good tomorrow."

Another glorious day of sunshine on the Hawaiian island of Maui began with Stricker in total control but the 44-year-old failed to make a fast start.

He parred the first six holes before making his first birdie of the round at the seventh, where he rolled in a 20-footer to regain his five-stroke cushion over the chasing pack.

However, he was the victim of a two-shot swing at the tricky par-three eighth after three-putting from long range for bogey. Playing partner Simpson sank a 21-foot birdie putt there to cut the lead to three.

They each failed to birdie the par-five ninth but Simpson closed to within two strokes of the lead at 13 under when he knocked in a 10-footer at the par-four 10th.

At the par-four 12th, Simpson's tee shot trickled into the right rough from where he struck a brilliant approach from 61 yards to six inches. The tap-in birdie putt put him one off the pace.

Stricker, who found fairway bunkers off the tee at the 12th, 13th and 14th, gave himself a much-needed boost when he birdied the par-five 15th after reaching the green in two and two-putting.

Though Stricker made a hash of his approach at the par-four 16th, where his ball pitched below the hole and spun back down the slope off the front of the green, he chipped in for birdie from 22 yards.

That put him at 17 under and three ahead of the chasing pack.

Stricker finished in style, knocking in a four-and-a-half-foot putt at the 17th and then ending up just short of the green in two at the par-five last and two-putting.

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