Steve Stricker goes wire-to-wire to win Bridgestone Senior Players Championship

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AKRON, Ohio — Steve Stricker withstood an early scare from Jerry Kelly and nearly fell victim to some loose play on the back nine on Sunday but was able to hang to win the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship at Firestone Country Club.

As sloppy as Stricker was on the first four holes on the back, his play was stellar over the final five and that’s what won him the tournament.

Kelly also faltered late, making bogey on two of the final three holes.

Stricker, 54, became the third wire-to-wire winner of the event and won his third major on the Tour Champions when he shot a final-round 33-37 70 to finish at 7–under 273 to win by six shots.

Kelly, attempting to win a second consecutive Senior Players, finished second after shooting 34-38 72 for a 72-hole score of 1-under 279.

Stricker, who earned $450,000 for the victory, joined Arnold Palmer and Bernhard Langer as previous wire-to-wire winners of this event, which moved to Firestone three years ago.

Palmer led from start to finish in winning the 1985 Senior Players at Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood, and Langer, who has won 41 events on the Tour Champions list, followed suit in winning in 2015 at the Belmont Club outside of Boston.

Undoubtedly, their journeys were less stressful than Stricker’s, who for the second day in a row was nearly done in by the back nine on the South Course.

He began the day with a 4-shot lead over Kelly and had a 5-shot lead at the turn before things began to unravel a bit, just as they did during Saturday’s third round when his 9-shot lead shriveled to three when he bogeyed three of the first six holes and double-bogeyed another.

A similar scenario seemed to unfold Sunday when Stricker bogeyed the 11th and 13th holes and Kelly poured in a 15-foot putt for birdie on 13. The lead had dwindled to two shots.

A saving grace came on the 460-yard 14th hole. Kelly, who won here last year by two shots, left his second shot in a greenside bunker and it led to a bogey to Stricker’s par.

A bigger break came on the 625-yard 16th. Kelly attempted to reach the green in two but his shot hit the far bank and dribbled back into the pond that fronts the green. The penalty shot and two putts resulted in a bogey. Striker chose to lay up and a wedge to 15 feet led to a kick-in par.

Stricker made bogey on the fourth hole, which is where he made his first bogey of the tournament on Saturday. However, this time he responded with a routine par and consecutive birdies on the sixth and 190-yard seventh when his tee shot stopped a tidy four feet from the hole.

Ken Duke, who began the day five shots behind, shot himself out of contention when he bogeyed four of his first six holes.

Fred Couples turned in the lowest round of the day with a 3-under 67 for a total of even-280 to share third place with David Toms, who followed a third-round 66 with a final-round 70.