By John Strege
The game gives and it takes, so it never really owes you one, but Steve Stricker owed himself one at the Omni Tucson National. He paid the debt to himself on Sunday by winning the Cologuard Classic.
The victory was the first of his PGA Tour Champions career and came nearly a full year after he kicked away a two-stroke lead with three to play in his senior debut at Tucson National, losing to Tom Lehman by one.
“I came close here last year,” Stricker said earlier in the week. “I finished second here in my rookie year on [the Northern Telecom Open on the PGA Tour] in 1994, so I’ve been close here. Not that this place owes me anything, but I feel like I want to get it, I want to finally get this place.”
Stricker, 51, got what he wanted by virtue of a final-round four-under par 69 to win by two in his eighth senior start, an overdue victory. He’s finished in the top three in six of them and has now played all 22 rounds under par.
“Been a long time. I cry every time,” he said wiping away tears. Stricker challenges Bubba Watson for the most weepy winner in golf. “It means a lot. It’s hard to win. It’s hard to win anywhere and it was building on me.”
The victory was his first since winning the PGA Tour’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions in 2012. He still is capable of competing on the PGA Tour and has been splitting his time between the tours, likely having postponed his maiden senior win.
Stricker began the final round trailing Tommy Tolles by a stroke. Tolles played his way out of contention on the back nine and tied for ninth. Stricker took a one-stroke lead over Scott Dunlap with a birdie on the par-5 15th hole and played the final three holes in even par, or two better than he had last year. He, too, made amends for the tee shot that cost him a chance at victory a year ago, at the par-4 18th.
Last year, he hooked a 3-wood that bounded into a pond left of the fairway. This time, he hit a 3-wood down the middle. “I was thinking of it all day today. It’s a hard one for me,” he said, explaining that he prefers to hit a draw that with a misguided effort can turn into a hook, a non-starter on 18 at Tucson National.
One other notable performance this week was that of Bernhard Langer, the most dominant player on the PGA Tour Champions over the last decade. Langer, 60, had the worst finish of his senior career, a tie for 54th. His previous worst was a T49 at the SAS Championship in 2011.
Langer was undone by four-over par 77 in the second round, then closed with an even-par 73.