SOUTH BEND — Steve Stricker’s bogey-free run finally ended, but his dominance of the U.S. Senior Open did not.
Stricker won his second senior major of the year on Sunday at Notre Dame’s Warren Golf Course, ending with a 19-under-par 261. He shot 1-under for the final round and finished six shots ahead of Jerry Kelly and defending champion David Toms, who tied for second at 13-under.
Stricker set the U.S. Senior Open record for lowest score, tied the mark for lowest margin of victory, and became the fourth player to lead wire-to-wire. It was also his first victory in a United States Golf Association tournament.
“Just a special course, special setup,” Stricker said. “Any time you can win a USGA event, I kind of held those to the highest of tournaments that we play in. It’s a great feeling to be able to hold that trophy and be the (U.S.) Senior Open champion.”
Stricker entered Sunday with a six-shot lead, and remained comfortably ahead throughout. He bogeyed the 10th hole to fall to 18-under, breaking a string of 57 holes without one. Kelly, his playing partner, birdied the hole to go to 13-under.
“I made the turn and I had a 7-shot lead,” Stricker said. “I looked at all the boards, I’m like alright, all we’ve got to do is make pars and play smart. So what do I do? I hit it over the green into a not-very-good lie and miss about a 10-footer there for par. Jerry makes birdie, all of a sudden my 7-shot lead goes to five really quick. That’s a wake-up call.”
That was as close as it got. Stricker effectively ended the competition on No. 12 with a spectacular 46-foot chip-in for birdie. He had a conversation with his wife and caddie Nicki Stricker right before the shot.
“That chip-in at 12 was huge,” Stricker said. “Nicki and I had been talking, we had been looking for a chip-in. I said right before I chipped it, ‘I’m still looking for that chip-in. She said ‘I am too.’ Maybe the power of us both thinking about it came true.”
Most of Stricker’s final round was uneventful. He birdied the opening hole, then made eight straight pars before the bogey on No. 10. After his birdie chip, he closed with six more pars.
Kelly and Toms each had three birdies in the first 10 holes, but also two bogeys apiece, keeping them from being a serious threat to Stricker.
“I was playing much better today, but I couldn’t make anything,” Kelly said. “I had to make a run of birdies, and I just didn’t do it.”
Stricker made up for a disappointing ending to last week’s American Family Insurance Championship. He missed a potential tournament-winning putt on the 18th hole, and Kelly went on to defeat him and Retief Goosen in a playoff.
“I kind of came here with a little chip on my shoulder, not winning last week,” Stricker said. “I felt like I had something to prove. I played some really good golf the first three days. Today was a little bit shaky at times, but what a great week.”
Stricker also won the Regions Tradition in early May for his first senior major championship. His victory in the U.S. Senior Open qualifies him for next year’s U.S. Open.
Bob Estes finished fourth at 10-under, two shots ahead of fifth-place Kirk Triplett.
McCarron bounces back
Scott McCarron entered this weekend as the PGA Tour Champions money list leader, but didn’t play like it for the first three rounds, entering Sunday at 1-over par.
His final-round performance was much better, as he shot the low round of the day with a 6-under 64. That rallied him to 5-under for the tourney, in a five-way tie for sixth overall.
“If I just made one putt, I would’ve made more putts than I made the first three days,” McCarron said. “I went back-to-back with 15-footers (Saturday), one for par and one for birdie, and that was the only two putts I made in the first three days. Didn’t make anything over four feet besides those two putts.
“Today I actually started making a few more putts, which was good. I had a little bit better speed today.”
Separating the pack
Paul Goydos was part of the tie with McCarron for sixth, 14 shots behind Stricker. He felt that gap reflected positively on the Warren Golf Course.
“When you have a possible maybe 15-shot difference between first and 10th, and the course separated the guys who are playing great from good... that’s really what you want a course to do,” Goydos said. “Sometimes we get caught up too much in the actual score. To me a good golf course is one that separates the field, and this one has done that.”
Contact: bsanders@TheHP.com, 429-1294, @HPBenSander