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NAPLES, Fla. — Steve Stricker is leaving Naples. And he left it Sunday with a win.
Stricker, who sold his Naples home, won the PGA Tour Champions’ Chubb Classic at Tiburón Golf Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort.
The 2021 U.S. Ryder Cup captain missed some chances to pull away, but knocked it tight on the par-4 16th and made birdie to give himself enough room for his sixth Champions Tour victory by a single stroke.
“I could have made it a little easier on myself for sure,” said Stricker, whose wife Nicki was his caddie. “I knew exactly where I was. I told Nicki when we were going down No. 14, I said, ‘Let’s get two out of these next three, and I hit it in there at Nos. 14 and 15 and missed them both and hit it in there at No. 16, but if I could have made a couple more putts, it would have been a little bit easier.
“But it’s tough to win. It’s tough to win anywhere, and I’m happy to get it done.”
Stricker, 54, has won six times in 29 PGA Champions Tour starts, but he’s still playing the regular Tour as well, partly to keep tabs on possible players for this year’s Ryder Cup. He’s made three cuts with one top-10 in eight starts there on the wraparound season.
“It kind of goes week to week,” Stricker said of his decision-making regarding what events to play. “I enjoy playing out here. Competition is great. You have to play well to win. But I also still enjoy playing on the regular tour. I’ve had a couple good showings this year so far. If I could get the putter going a little bit, my ball-striking is probably as good as it’s been when I was playing my best out on the regular tour.
“If I can get that putter going, I’ll probably play out on the big tour and see if I can’t make the (FedEx Cup) Playoffs one more time.”
Stricker parred four straight holes, including three-putting for par on the par-5 15th, but recovered on No. 16. Then he put his second shot in a greenside bunker on the par-4 17th, but crafted a delicate shot – with his left foot out of the bunker – to within 3 feet for par.
Steve Stricker acknowledges the crowd after the final round of the Chubb Classic at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida. (Andrew West/The News-Press)
“I didn’t have much of a stance there – shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” he said. “… Yeah, that was a tough little stance and just hacked it out of there and gave myself a four-footer, which I made nicely for a change.”
On the par-5 18th, Stricker put his second shot in the greenside bunker, but couldn’t get up and down for birdie, leaving the door open.
Robert Karlsson, who entered the final round sharing the lead, and Alex Cejka, who won the Monday qualifier, both had to eagle No. 18 to force a playoff. But both missed the green, and although Karlsson’s pitch and Cejka’s bunker shot were fine efforts, neither went in. Both birdied to finish a stroke behind Stricker.
“Today felt a bit uncomfortable,” Karlsson said. “It’s a long time since I’ve been up there. Yeah, it was nice to be up there. I played really well the last few holes.”
“I saw where he was (at 16 under). I thought, ‘I have to try to give it a go.’ But when it came out a little right, I was like, ugh. You can’t expect to hole it from 40 yards when you missed it from six feet a bunch of times throughout the day. That’s not the problem.”
Cejka was trying to become the first Monday qualifier to win on the tour since Doug Barron at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in 2019. Still, his top-10 finish put him automatically into the field at the next eligible event, the Mitsubishi Championship in Atlanta.
“A couple of little mistakes hurt me, especially early in the round,” he said. “This course can be tricky but I gave it a shot until the end.”
Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer both were in contention but fell back with poor tee shots late in the round. They tied for sixth at 13 under.
Couples, who had a share of the lead going into the final round and had won twice in Naples, had to take an unplayable lie on the par-5 15th and bogeyed. Three-time Naples champion Langer, after just missing an eagle putt on that hole, put one in the hazard area on the par-4 16th. He also bogeyed to end his chances.
“(Stricker) played extremely solid, never really made a mistake, he just kept the ball in play, hit good shots, and made a couple of good putts but had a couple other chances, too,” Langer said. “He played really, really steady, just the way you’re supposed to play around here. Hit a lot of 3-woods off the tee, but he’s pretty long still, and yeah, gave himself lots of looks and never had any total stress to get up-and-down or anything like that.”
Tim Petrovic, who shot a 7-under 65, and Charles Schwab Cup leader Kevin Sutherland, who shot 6 under, both tied for third.
Petrovic birdied No. 18, but Sutherland ended up with a par after coming up just short of the green in two.
“I wish I could have made birdie on 18,” Sutherland said. “You never know what’s going to happen. But I just didn’t hit — I hit two poor shots around the green, and that’s the way it goes.”
Stricker was happy he had his wife there as his caddie.
“She’s a great calming influence out there,” he said. “She’s very upbeat. She says the right things.”
Especially when at times a leader’s biggest conflict is with themselves.
“You’re battling yourself, you’re battling the course and you’re battling the other players,” he said. “As the older we get, you’re battling yourself more than anything at times. That’s what makes it hard, and that’s what makes the game hard.”
Stricker was looking up at the leaderboard at what everyone was doing the whole way.
“I was watching it all the time,” he said. “I like to know where I’m sitting. I knew who was coming. I saw the look in Bernhard’s eye there for a little while, and I’m like ‘Uh-oh, here he comes.’
“I saw Freddie was only a shot or two back, and Robert Karlsson who I played with (Saturday) who’s really striking it well, and obviously Kevin Sutherland was already in the house already, or on 18.”
In the end, though, he was looking down at everyone else.
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