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Stricker Rules 17th hole En Route to Crowne Plaza Invitational Title
When the sudden-death playoff late Sunday afternoon to decide the Crowne Plaza Invitational moved from the 18th green to the 17th tee at Colonial, Steve Stricker had to work hard to suppress a smile.
You see, Stricker ruled the 17th hole this week at the classic course in Hogan's Alley, just south of the Trinity River in Fort Worth. The first four times he played the 387-yard gem he racked up three birdies, including a chip-in "tweeter" during the final round Sunday. The tournament, and a quest for his first victory since 2007, had seemingly turned his way.
He made the most of the opportunity. On the fifth time Stricker played the 17th hole this week he poured in another birdie (this time from just five feet away) to capture the Crowne Plaza Invitational, besting Steve Marino and a heartbroken Tim Clark on the second playoff hole. The three were tied for the top spot at 17-under-par 263 after regulation, as well as after the first playoff hole.
"In a playoff situation, you almost have to pull off a shot like that to win, and you have to have a little luck," Stricker said. "I liked the number I had on 17 in the playoff and it worked out well. You know it is do or die at that point."
Jason Day finished fourth at 16-under-par 264, followed by Paul Casey (15-under 265), Woody Austin and Vijay Singh (14-under 266), Ian Poulter (13-under 267) and Jim Furyk and Kevin Sutherland (12-under 268). This marks the 10th time the Colonial has been decided in a playoff.
The PGA Tour win was the fifth for the likeable Stricker, who moved to second in the FedEx Cup standings with the triumph.
Clark had the tournament in his hands, leading Marino by two shots on the 14th tee. But he then pushed his drive into the deep rough right of the 15th fairway and hacked his way back to the short grass, eventually dropping his advantage to one shot.
Marino kept the pressure on Clark, making 13 straight pars through the end of regulation, but never pulled even until the final hole. With Stricker already in the clubhouse at 17-under par (thanks to the birdie on 17 after a disappointing bogey on the 16th hole), Clark went to a 3-wood off the tee on 18 but pulled it into the rough left of the fairway. Again, he laid up short of the green and wedged to 12 feet for his winning par attempt. Clark missed the putt so he, Marino and Stricker headed back to the 18th tee for the playoff.
Clark had the advantage again on the first overtime hole, knocking his approach to birdie distance. He watched as his opponents missed their attempts but then rolled his putt past the hole, missing the chance for his first tour win.
"I felt pretty good coming into the playoff because I made a great chip to get into the fray and actually had a good look at a putt to get to 18 under on the final hole," Stricker said. "Tim hit a great shot on the first playoff hole and then hit the flagstick with his approach on the second playoff hole."
With more than $13.2 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour, Clark has still not shed the dubious distinction of earning the most money without winning an event.
"I have a lot of work to do when it comes to closing out a golf tournament," a disconsolate Clark said afterwards. "The tournament should have ended on the first playoff hole. I didn't make a confident stroke."
Clark has held three previous 54-hole leads, most recently at the 2008 St. Jude Classic, where he posted a 6-over 76 to tie for 18th after holding a two-shot lead over five players entering the final round. The 76 included a triple-bogey 7 on the first hole of the final round.
Only three of the top 33 finishers didn't break par Sunday, and one of these was Clark. He started the final round at 17-under-par, two strokes ahead of a group that included Jason Day, Stricker and Marino. The 7,204-yard, par-70 course played much tougher in the final round as the fairways firmed up and the pressure mounted.
Stricker gave up the lead in the third round after setting the 36-hole record (126) on the strength of back-to-back 63s to start the tournament. He endured an up-and-down round Sunday, including a stretch on the front nine when he went birdie-birdie-bogey-bogey, and failed to get his ball out of the bunker on No. 7.
Besides the $1.1 million winner's check, Stricker also qualified for a shave. He'd been growing his beard out until he won and fortunately didn't have to wait long. Stricker has endured one injury after another throughout his career. Yet he keeps picking himself up, dusting himself off and that determination showed in winning at hallowed Colonial, the so-called "House That Hogan Built."
"Winning is never easy and there were plenty of times out there today that I felt like I was throwing the tournament away," Stricker said. "It's funny how things work out. I've been on the other end a couple or three times this year when I thought I was going to win and things didn't go my way. So, this one feels good."
Wind is the only defense the classic Colonial layout has against today's players and their technological advances, but throughout the week there was never anything more than a gentle breeze. Making things easier, many greens on the course are new and were softened by the rainy spring that has hit the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, leaving the hole placements accessible - just the way players like.
Until this week, there were only three tournament total scores at 15-under-par. That record was obliterated as the top five finishers bested that score in 2009.
The last seven winners at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial have either held the 54-hole lead or been tied for the 54-hole lead. The last come-from-behind winner at Colonial was Sergio Garcia (2001), who made up a five-shot deficit in the final round.
Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the media coordinator for Bechtol Golf Design, the managing editor for Business District magazine in Austin and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns.