Emotional comeback fuels UI graduate Stricker’s win



Steve Stricker celebrates after sinking a putt on the 18th hole to win The Barclays golf tournament in Harrison, N.Y., on Sunday. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, ED BETZ

By John Nicholson

HARRISON, N.Y. – The first time Steve Stricker teed it up at Westchester Country Club, he told wife Nicki to “take a picture because we’re not coming back.”

Twelve years after that forgettable 60th-place tie, University of Illinois alumnus Stricker was posing for photographers at the stately club with a crystal trophy in his hands.

Back at Westchester only because The Barclays opened the FedEx Cup playoffs, Stricker won for the first time in 6« years and 146 tournaments.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” Stricker said.

He birdied four of the last five holes to beat K.J. Choi by two strokes, finishing with a 2-under 69 and 16-under 268 total.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    After holing an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th, the 40-year-old Stricker raised his arms in triumph and hugged Tom Mitchell, the caddie who first carried Stricker’s bag when he won the 2001 Match Play Championship in Australia. Jerry Kelly, who grew up with Stricker in Wisconsin, was among the first to congratulate him.

    “It was hard, but it was fun,” Stricker said, tears streaming down his face on the 18th green. “I never knew if I was going to win again.”

    He had already squandered four good chances to win this year and it appeared he might let another tournament slip away when Choi made two long birdie putts – a 45-footer on No. 12 and 50-footer on 15 – to take a one-stroke lead.

    But Stricker answered with a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th to tie Choi, hit a wedge shot to 4 feet for birdie on the 17th to take the lead and capped his fourth career victory with the birdie on 18.

    “I thought I was hitting well enough to maybe make a few birdies coming in,” Stricker said. “Obviously, not four out of the last five holes. But I tried to stay as positive and upbeat, just waiting for my time.”

    Stricker earned $1.26 million and 9,000 FedEx Cup points to take the lead in the standings, 2,050 points ahead of Choi – the South Korean star with two victories this year. Choi parred the final two holes for a 70.

    “I’m going to take this as a good experience,” Choi said.

    Rory Sabbatini (68) finished three strokes back to jump to third in the standings.

    “I put myself in good position on the front, then just started playing stupid golf and played my way out of the tournament,” the South African said.

    Tiger Woods tumbled to No. 4 in the standings, 4,950 points behind Stricker, after skipping the first of four playoff events. Woods will join the chase for the $10 million deferred prize Friday outside Boston in the Deutsche Bank Championship.

    All Stricker cared about was winning.

    “I wasn’t out there thinking about the FedEx Cup points,” he said. “Obviously, winning the tournament is foremost. Everything that comes after that is icing on the cake. But yeah, I’m in great position now.”

    The victory was his first in the United States since the 1996 Western Open, when he was considered one of the bright young American players. But his game dropped off until he lost his PGA Tour card two years ago, and he spent the winter in Wisconsin hitting balls from a trailer to a frozen driving range.

    After the four close calls this year – two in majors – the hard work paid off.

    “I didn’t see them as disappointments,” Stricker said. “I thought that was another building block in what I was doing. … I was moving in the right direction.”

    Geoff Ogilvy, the U.S. Open winner last year at nearby Winged Foot, shot a 69 to tie for fourth at 12 under with Mark Calcavecchia and two-time Westchester winner Ernie Els. Calcavecchia closed with consecutive 65s after opening with rounds of 67 and 75.

    “I just lost it on Friday,” Calcavecchia said.

    Els finished with a 68.

    Phil Mickelson (67) and Rich Beem (72) tied for seventh at 11 under.

    The top 120 have all advanced to the Deutsche Bank, where the field will be cut to 70 for the BMW Championship outside Chicago. Then, the top 30 will complete the playoffs in the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.