It looked over for Steve Stricker at the John Deere. The man that had won the last two of these events had lost a four-shot lead on Sunday to a kid named Kyle Stanley, and as Stricker stalked a birdie putt on the 17th hole he had to make, Stanley was dumping his second shot on the 18th into the greenside bunker.
This was one of those "to be a champion, you have to do champion-style things" moments, and Stricker knew it. So he did what he seems to always do when the tour heads to TPC Deere Run. He rolled in the 14-footer for birdie on 17, and as Stanley was missing his par putt to finish at 21-under, the total Stricker was at with the last hole to play, it seemed a playoff was in order to settle this thing.
But a strange thing happened. Stricker showed us once again that no matter how much we tout names like Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Nick Watney, the real American to beat might just be a 44-year-old fellow with a glowing smile and resplendent putting stroke.
Stricker roped a 6-iron out of the fairway bunker on 18 to a pin he shouldn't have been shooting at, and as the ball rolled just off the back of the green, leaving him 24 feet from the three-peat, he pounded fists with fans as he smiled and knew he hit the shot of the day.
That was, until the next one. Stricker's ball rolled down the hill, broke right and dropped in, leading to not only the shot of the year, but the reaction of the year as Stricker took Tiger Woods' infamous double-fist pump from Torrey Pines and single fist-pump from Augusta National (circa 2008 and 1997, respectively) and wrapped them into one exuberant celebration.
Now we have a man heading to the British Open with as much confidence as anyone out there. He gave away the John Deere, but on a day that started with the Women's United States soccer team coming back from virtually death, Stricker clawed his way back into this tournament and ended it in as dramatic a fashion as we saw on that pitch in Germany.
Can Stricker win the Open? Sure, why couldn't he? He always putts well, has had some success across the pond before, and will now go in as a two-time champion in 2011. He now has 11 wins in his career, and if he could claim a major, he might go down as one of the most successful 40-somethings of this generation (along with Vijay Singh and Kenny Perry).
Stricker is the best American in the game right now, and that's really saying something. He might not be the flashiest of guys on tour, but if there was someone rooting against him on Sunday that wasn't related to Kyle Stanley, I'd be shocked.