Stricker Strikes Gold in Australia
Stricker completed an improbable run Sunday at the Metropolitan Golf Club, defeating Sweden's Pierre Fulke 2-and-1 in the 36-hole final, thus capturing the first official event of the season, as well as the $1-million first-place prize.
Seeded 55th, Stricker outlasted 21st-seeded Fulke in a competitive, if not compelling, final. The Wisconsin native never trailed in the match, winning the first hole and holding on from there.
For Stricker, this is his first PGA Tour victory since a two-win season in 1996.
'This means a lot,' said a very emotional Stricker, 'beyond my expectations. It gets me going where I belong to be.'
All-square through 14 holes, Stricker won the 15th, 16th and 17th holes before losing the 18th to a Fulke birdie to take a 2-up advantage into the afternoon 18.
The two men halved the first six holes following an hour-long break, and then swapped winning ways at the 7th and 8th holes.
Stricker maintained his 2-up lead through 27 holes, until a three-putt bogey cut Fulke's deficit in half.
Putting, however, was instrumental to Stricker's success on Sunday and equally responsible for Fulke's demise.
Down the stretch Fulke missed numerous opportunities to pull all-square, continuing a trend that began in the morning 18.
Following a 20-foot par save by Stricker to halve the 29th hole (par-3 11th) and remain 1-up, Fulke missed from four feet to win the 30th.
The Swede, who's one of the top putters on the European Tour, then proceeded to miss a pair of 20-foot birdie attempts at the 31st and 32nd holes, either of which would have evened the match.
Upon halving the 33rd hole, Stricker stuck a dagger in Fulke's heart at the 34th hole, the par-4 16th. Stricker played an incredible bunker shot to four feet, which he then confidently sank to remain 1-up with two holes to play.
At the 35th hole (par-4 17th), Fulke left his approach shot into the left-hand bunker, where he could only advance his ball 15 feet right of the hole. Stricker two-putted from 35 feet to ensure par, and then watched as Fulke's attempt to continue the match slid by the cup.
'I just figured I would win a couple of matches and get ready for the West Coast,' Stricker said. 'But low and behold, I started feeling good about my game. I was scrambling really well, and my attitude and thinking was pretty sharp.'
Fulke was not left without. The 29-year-old was awarded $500,000 for his efforts, thus all but guaranteeing him a spot on the 2001 European Ryder Cup team.
In the consolation match, Toru Taniguchi defeated top-seeded Ernie Els 4-and-3. The 30th seed won $400,000, while the seemingly apathetic Els earned $300K.
Stricker will next play in the upcoming Touchstone Energy Tucson Open, where his wife Nicki will once again caddie for him.
This is Stricker's third career PGA Tour title, adding it to the pair he won in '96 at the Kemper and Western Opens. The $1-million paycheck is more than double what he won in all of last season.
Van Rooyen holes putt after ball-marker ruling
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Erik van Rooyen was surveying his 10-footer for par, trying to get a feel for the putt, when his putter slipped out of his hand and dropped onto his ball marker.
The question, then, was whether that accident caused his coin to move.
The rules official looked at various camera angles but none showed definitively whether his coin moved. The ruling was made to continue from where his coin was now positioned, with no penalty.
This was part of the recent rules changes, ensuring there is no penalty if the ball or ball maker is accidently moved by the player. The little-used rule drew attention in 2010, when Ian Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on his marker in Dubai and wound up losing more than $400,000 in bonus and prize money.
After the delay to sort out his ruling Friday, van Rooyen steadied himself and made the putt for par, capping a day in which he shot even-par 71 and kept himself in the mix at The Open. He was at 4-under 138, just two shots off the clubhouse lead.
“I wanted to get going and get this 10-footer to save par, but I think having maybe just a couple minutes to calm me down, and then I actually got a different read when I sat down and looked at it again,” he said. “Good putt. Happy to finish that way.”
Lyle birdies last hole in likely his final Open start
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If this was Sandy Lyle’s final Open appearance, he went out in style.
Playing on the final year of his automatic age exemption, the 60-year-old Scot buried a 30-foot birdie on the last hole. He missed the cut after shooting 9-over 151 over two rounds.
“I was very light-footed,” he said. “I was on cloud nine walking down the 18th. To make birdie was extra special.”
Lyle, who also won the 1988 Masters, has missed the cut in his last eight majors, dating to 2014. He hasn’t been competitive in The Open since 1998, when he tied for 19th.
To continue playing in The Open, Lyle needed to finish in the top 10 here at Carnoustie. He’d earn a future exemption by winning the Senior British Open.
“More punishment,” he said.
DJ, Thomas miss cut at Open; No. 1 up for grabs
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The top two players in the world both missed the cut at The Open, creating the possibility of a shakeup at the top of the rankings by the end of the weekend.
Dustin Johnson became the first world No. 1 since Luke Donald in 2011 to miss the cut at the year’s third major.
Johnson played solidly for all but the closing stretch. Over two rounds, he was 6 over par on the last three holes. He finished at 6-over 148.
Thomas added to what’s been a surprisingly poor Open record. Just like last year, when he struggled in the second round in the rain at Royal Birkdale, Thomas slumped to a 77 on Friday at Carnoustie, a round that included three consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 6-8. He finished at 4-over 146.
It’s Thomas' first missed cut since The Open last year. Indeed, in three Open appearances, he has two missed cuts and a tie for 53rd.
With Johnson and Thomas out of the mix, the No. 1 spot in the rankings is up for grabs this weekend.
Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can reach No. 1 with a victory this week.
TT Postscript: Woods (71) makes cut, has work to do
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods shot a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round. And yes, he made the cut:
• Tiger said all 71s are not created equal. On Thursday, he made three birdies and three bogeys. On Friday, he made four birdie and four bogeys. Which round was better? The first. His theory is that, despite the rain, conditions were easier in the second round and there were more scoring opportunities. He didn't take advantage.
• This is the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Tiger shot par or better in each of the first two rounds of a major. That’s quite a long time ago.
• Stat line for the day: 11 of 15 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 32 total putts. Tiger hit one driver and two 3-woods on Thursday and four drivers on Friday, only one which found the fairway. An errant drive at the second led to him sniping his next shot into the gallery.
• In his own words: “I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being 2 over through three, but got it back. The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rains, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice.”
• At some point Tiger is going to have to be more aggressive. He will be quite a few shots off the lead by day’s end and he'll have a lot of ground to make up. Hitting irons off the tee is great for position golf, but it’s often leaving him more than 200 yards into the green. Not exactly a range for easy birdies.
• Sure, it’s too soon to say Tiger can’t win a fourth claret jug, but with so many big names ahead of him on the leaderboard, it’s unlikely. Keep in mind that a top-six finish would guarantee him a spot in the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks. At The Players, he stated that this was a big goal.
• My Twitter account got suspended momentarily when Tiger was standing over a birdie putt on the 17th green. That was the most panicked I’ve been since Tiger was in contention at the Valspar.