Steve Stricker could have cruised to victory in Jack Nicklaus’ The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, Ohio but instead had to tough out the victory as Matt Kuchar and Brandt Jobe threatened to upset the odds.
Stricker, who had never finished inside the top 10 in any of his previous 11 starts in the event had entered the final round with a healthy 3-shot lead over his nearest challengers, and more flawless golf in his outward nine holes saw him threaten to run amok, stretching his advantage to four shots at the turn, thanks to a six birdie blitz.
But after a two-hour storm delay midway through the round, play resumed and with five holes left to play Stricker still held a three shot advantage. However, he missed a short birdie attempt on the 14th hole before pulling his tee shot at the next into trees en-route to a bogey and his lead was cut to two.
A par at the 16th kept his 2 shot lead intact, and following another par the 17th Stricker could afford a bogey, safe in the knowledge that he couldn’t be caught. And that’s how he played the hole to claim a welcome first win of the 2011 season with his closing 68 being good enough for a one shot win.
“It was a little bit of a struggle since we came in from the rain delay,” he said. “At that point, I was trying not to make a mistake. I hung tough, made a couple of crucial putts when I had to.”
Matt Kuchar might have made Stricker work even harder for his win had he been able to find another birdie down the closing stretch. Kutchar was 7-under par through 14 holes, and another gain would have made things interesting. But he couldn’t find the putts he needed over the closing four holes and finished with a 65 to take a share of second with Brandt Jobe, who also shot a closing 65.
That pair were three shots clear of Dustin Johnson, who shot 65 also to take sole possession of fourth palce, whole Rory McIlroy shot 68 to take fifth.
World number one Luke Donald fired a closing 68 to share seventh, and keep going his remarkable run of consecutive top-10 finishes, which now stands at 10. Donald also moved to number one in the FedEx Cup standings.