Sometimes things just go your way. Sometimes, you get really lucky. And sometimes, evenÂ aÂ bad day can turn out pretty cool.
Sunday, Wisconsin’s Steve Stricker was all of the above.
He started the day with a 2-shot lead, but the 18 holes standing between him and the title would make nothing easy.
He was in danger of unraveling on the par-four fifth after needing two shots to get out of a fairway bunker. To add insult to injury, he missed a bogey putt from eight feet out. He seemed to recover with a birdie on the next hole that reestablished some momentum, then nailed a stellar 50-footer for birdie to close the front side.
But it only got harder from there.
See, as Stricker battled down the pressure, the rookie Kyle Stanley built it higher.
Stanley had been fun to watch all week, but Sunday’s back nine finally made things interesting. He started with five birdies through the first six. He wasÂ killing it, and dissolving the defending champion’s five-stroke lead in the process.Â Two more bogeys for Stricker made Kyle the new leader.
The luck that followed Steve all week seemed to turn on him. I mean, the guy had two bunker shots hit the lip of the trap and roll back in. Once, the ball wasÂ buriedÂ so deep into the sand that he had to dig around just to find it.
Still, Stricker — crediting his caddie, Jimmy Johnson, for the underlying calm — never seemed rattled. Upset at himself on occasion, yes. But out of control? Never.
But down by two strokes with two holes left, things were looking a little grim. Everyone felt it, too.
“It got quiet out there for a while,” Stricker said. “[The fans] have been so good to me all week long. I’ve had all this momentum all week long, and on the back nine it just kind of stalls, and I could feel like I was dragging everybody down.”
When the momentum shifted toward Stanley, so too did the pressure. He’d chased down Stricker, but holding him off was a different story.
After all, Stricker at the JDC is like Dirk Nowitzki at the American Airlines Center –Â never count him out.
Stricker hit his most aggressive putt of the day at 17, standing over the ball without a hint of hesitation. Both Steve and the entire crowd knew it would drop as soon as he hit it. It was just that good. His troubles weren’t over, though.
Stanley hit a bit of a snag on 18, too, playing in the group just ahead of Stricker.
Kyle’s tee shot went wide right and landed at the edge of the hazard (a jungle of waist-high weeds). Miraculously, he managed enough force on a little punch shot to make up some ground. Still, he’d be shooting out of a bunker, too.
Meanwhile, Stricker’s tee shot on 18 found yet another awkward lie — in the very same bunker he’d hit out of Saturday. This time, there was no clear shot to the green. There’s a long water hazard from the bunker past the green on the left. But there’s a bunker on the right, too.
Oh, and a small tree smack dab in his line of sight.
No biggie, right?
He took an awfully long time looking it over, partly because Stanley took an awfully long time lining up his own par putt — a putt that would force Stricker to birdie for a playoff. But when Stanley’s par putt lipped out, the tide changed. Stricker had a decision to make.
Saturday, he said he “chickened out” on his approach. Today’s shot was harder, but a par would only tie.
His next shot? Well, “gutsy” is putting it mildly.Â The conservative, playing-not-to-lose Stricker of earlier in the day was gone.
His shot — with his left foot down in the sand, the right up on the grass –landed 25 feet from the flag, just off the back side of the green. With the trophy hanging in the balance and Stanley waiting anxiously in the scoring trailer, Stricker bounced in the most ridiculous birdie put I’ve ever seen.
Off the putter, it looked like it had no chance. But after the ball escaped the fringe, it trickled in off the lip. The crowd, the commentators and Steve himself roared!
It was, in a word, unreal.
Not for the sake of the three-peat, but for the heart behind that shot.
The three-peat was a nice touch, though.
“You know, I kept telling myself all week that it’s not a big deal,” Stricker said. “And it really wasn’t, until today, until that back nine trying to win.”
The first-year rookie had nice perspective, despite struggling with having the win snatched away on the final hole.
“I’m very, very proud of myself for how I handled today,” he said. “The biggest thing is I’m doing a good job of learning from my past experiences, and I’m obviously working on the right things.”
Stricker won by a single stroke, finishing at -22 and became just the 10th golfer since World War II to win a PGA tournament three times in a row.
See Steve, even your worst day ended up pretty cool indeed!
Find complete interview transcripts and final leaderboard at PGATour.com