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Stricker wins Tradition by 6 shots for 1st senior major

Madison resident Steve Stricker tees off on the ninth hole during the final round of the Regions Tradition Champions Tour tournament on Monday at Birmingham, Ala. Stricker won by six strokes for his first senior major.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Steve Stricker got the next best thing to a major championship, at least for a 50-something player.

Stricker ran away with his first senior major Monday, closing with a 4-under 68 for a six-shot victory at the weather-delayed Regions Tradition.

Stricker led by two shots heading into the final round at Greystone’s Founders Course and went bogey-free, finishing at 18-under 270. It was the fourth win in 18 PGA Tour Champions starts for the Ryder Cup captain, who continues to play regularly on the PGA Tour.

“This is special,” said Stricker, wiping tears from his eyes during a TV interview. “I get emotional. I hate this part.”

The 52-year-old has 12 PGA Tour victories but never won a major, finishing second at the 1998 PGA Championship to Vijay Singh. This one wasn’t a bad consolation prize.

“I wish I would have won one out there,” said Stricker, who’s scheduled to compete at the PGA Championship later this week at Bethpage Black. “Nothing can compare to that, I think, winning a major out on the regular tour. But to win one out here, this is the next level, I guess.

“To show myself that I’m able to handle the heat down the end on the last day. I hit some really quality shots today, so I’ll take a lot from that.”

His celebration was muted: a single pump of his left fist followed by hugs with his caddie and Bernhard Langer. Stricker was runner-up to Miguel Angel Jimenez at last year’s Regions Tradition.

Billy Andrade, Paul Goydos and David Toms tied for second, but no one challenged Stricker down the stretch. Goydos closed with a 70 while Andrade and Toms shot 72.

“I got off to a good start and just slowly crept up,” Goydos said. “I never looked like I was going to win. Stricker played really well, but I had a good week.”

Toms missed a birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him second place alone.

The fight for the title was over long before that.

Langer, who won the Regions Tradition in 2016 and 2017 among his 10 senior majors, began the day two shots behind Stricker but faded with a 75. He was trying to join Jack Nicklaus as the only player to win the Tradition more than twice. Nicklaus won four times from 1990-96.

“He just handles himself with such class and grace and such a true gentleman of the game,” Stricker said of Langer. “He didn’t have his best stuff. I thought he would come at me a little more than what he did, but I wanted to win and I wanted to beat him and I wanted to beat everybody. That was my motivating factor, I think.”

Stricker expanded his lead to six strokes with three birdies on the front nine. He chipped in at No. 4 and made his last birdie at the par-5 13th with an approach to within a few feet.

Even with the win well in hand, Stricker spent a couple of minutes pondering his approach on the par-5 18th before he set up an easy two-putt par.

Stricker flirted with trouble when his tee shot on No. 16 missed right, but it bounced off a tree and nearly made it back onto the fairway.

He delivered a shot from the bottom of a slope over trees and onto the green to save par — even though by then, a bogey wouldn’t have hurt him much.

“Could have made a couple more putts, but just my goal was not to make a mistake today, not to make a bogey, and I did that,” Stricker said. “One bogey for the week, which I’m very proud of.”

PGA: Justin Thomas withdrew from the PGA Championship on Monday due to a wrist injury.

The 2017 PGA champ also missed the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks ago due to the same issue. He tied for 12th last month at the Masters.

Thomas was replaced in the field by Kelly Kraft.

Ranked fifth in the world, Thomas, 26, has nine PGA Tour victories. His best result this season was second at the Genesis Open in February. He also finished third in the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Thomas injured his wrist and shoulder while hitting a tree when trying to hit a shot at the Honda Classic in March.

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