Tue, Jan 10, 2012 - Page 19 News List

Stricker preserves his lead

Reuters, LOS ANGELES

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 No. 6, 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).

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.

Stricker began the day 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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