The US’ Steve Stricker birdied two of the last three holes to fire a four-under-par 69 in Monday’s final round and win the US$5.6 million Tournament of Champions by three strokes.
Stricker, who turns 45 next month, captured a US$1.12 million top prize in the matchup of last year’s winners, which was without last year’s major champions Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and South African Charl Schwartzel.
Stricker finished on 23-under-par 269 to defeat Scotland’s Martin Laird by three strokes, with the US’ Jonathan Byrd and Webb Simpson sharing third on 273. South Korea’s K.J. Choi and American Harrison Frazar shared fifth on 277.
Stricker, the only player to win multiple titles in each of the past three USPGA seasons, took the 12th title of his career, his first since capturing his third consecutive John Deere Classic crown in July last year.
The triumph was Stricker’s eighth in the past 32 months and moved him up to fifth in the world rankings, the highest spot of any American.
Stricker, who began the day with a five-stroke edge, opened with five pars before his lone bogey at the par-4 sixth, having missed solid birdie chances while rivals closed the gap.
He responded with birdies at the par-3 eight, par-5 ninth and par-4 12th to rebuild his confidence.
Stricker reached the tee at the par-4 16th with a two-stroke lead over defending champion Byrd, Laird and Simpson.
Byrd smacked a three-wood shot 92 yards to four feet on his approach, but Stricker followed by dropping his approach three feet from the cup.
Byrd sank his birdie putt only to have Stricker sink his birdie putt moments later to restore his two-stroke edge.
At 17, Stricker came up short on his approach and blasted a 71-foot putt four yards beyond the hole. Stricker left his putt on the lip of the cup and tapped in for par, then watched Byrd miss his putt to three adrift.
Byrd took another bogey at 18 and Stricker finished with an eight-foot birdie to stretch his final victory margin.
Laird birdied five of the last seven holes, but his charge was too little and too late, undone by bogeys at the eighth and 10th after having run off three birdies in a row starting at the third hole.