BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Steve Stricker couldn’t have predicted seven months ago that he’d be back on the 18th green celebrating another Regions Tradition victory.
But once he got going, there wasn’t all that much doubt.
Stricker completed at a wire-to-wire victory Sunday in the Regions Tradition, closing with a 4-under 68 for a six-stroke margin and his fourth PGA Tour Champions major title.
Stricker’s second Tradition win at Greystone Golf & Country Club came in his third event since returning from a six-month absence for health reasons. Two straight birdies punctuated the dominant performance.
“Back last November, I wasn’t in a very good spot,” Stricker said. “Even a couple of months ago, I wasn’t in a very good spot. So to be standing here with this trophy is pretty special.”
He had his 20th consecutive round under par on the Founder’s Course, finishing at 21-under 267 for his eighth victory over the 50-and-over tour. Stricker also had a wire-to-wire, six-stroke win in last year’s Senior Players Championship.
A lot happened in between, though.
Paidrag Harrington finished second, birdieing the final two holes for a 68.
Steven Alker was in the group at 14 under after a 72. He has finished four straight tournaments in the top three, winning twice.
World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els, who had his third 68 in four days, also was at 14 under with Rod Pampling (67), Stuart Appleby (69) and 2018 winner Miguel Angel Jimenez (70).
Stricker made a birdie from the bunker on 17 that put him at 20 under for the first time, receiving a congratulatory fist bump from Alker. It ended a string of 11 straight pars.
“The hole out of the bunker on 17 was nice so I could come up here and kind of enjoy it,” he said.
Stricker spent nearly two weeks in the hospital during his health scare and lost 25 pounds. He had a pair of Top 10 finishes upon his return, and has already returned to winning form.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming out three weeks ago,” Stricker said. “I didn’t know if I could make it three weeks in a row.”
His wife and caddie, Nicki, got to savor the experience along the way on his four-day roll.
“I always had the belief that he was going to get back on this side of things,” Nicki Stricker said. “He’s done it throughout his career. So I figured he knew what he was doing and knew how to get back here. Definitely don’t take it for granted at all.”
She said the biggest emotion of the day came five or six holes before 18.
“I felt really good after the chip-in on 17. and obviously getting the drive on the fairway here, knew he was in pretty good shape,” Nicki Stricker said. “The relief hitting it on the green up here. But just proud, really, more than anything.”
Stricker, who led by at least two shots after each of the first three rounds, doubled his three-stroke lead over Alker within the first five holes. He nursed the lead home before the bunker birdie.
Stricker has finished all 10 rounds since his return inside the top 10, including a tie for second at the Insperity Invitational. It was his fourth straight year at Greystone finishing in the final group, including a win in 2019 and runners-up finishes in 2018 and 2021.
He lost on a playoff hole to Alex Cejka a year ago, but didn’t leave room for any drama at the end this time.
“He loves playing here,” Nicki Stricker said.
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