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Kevin Currie, Golf Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Steve Stricker was never a huge fan of Muirfield Village, and the tournament host said as much during the broadcast of The Memorial on Sunday.
Jack Nicklaus said he once told Stricker that he was, "too good not to win here." Stricker had told Nicklaus he was thinking about skipping that year's event because he never played well there.
And the stats bare that out. In 11 previous starts at Muirfield, Stricker's best finish was back in 1996, when he finished alone in 13th. Last year, the 44-year-old shared 17th place, and those were his only top-20 finishes at The Memorial.
What did Stricker do this past weekend? He completely reversed course.
In those previous 11 starts, Stricker had played the front side at eight-over par, while playing the back nine at minus-16.
He turned that around this week as he crushed the front to the tune of 20- under par, but struggled to plus-four on the back.
Stricker posted 18 birdies, three eagles -- including a hole-in-one -- and two bogeys on the front side at Muirfield. He managed just three birdies, none in the last two rounds, and seven bogeys on the back.
"I didn't know that I played the front nine poorly over the years, nor did I know that I played the back nine better," Stricker admitted. "I think it was the fact that the last couple days I got off to such great runs on the front nine, and got off to a big lead [Saturday], and just kind of got a little sloppy. I didn't keep my foot on the pedal and keep moving forward."
And as Stricker said afterwards, he needed to play that well on the front nine.
"What did I shoot on that front nine, 20-under for the week? But I needed them all, I guess, the way I played that back nine," Stricker said afterwards.
He was right, he did need them all.
On Sunday, Stricker made the turn with a five-stroke lead. After four straight pars, interrupted only by a weather delay, Stricker's lead was down to four.
At the par-five 15th, he pulled his drive so far left, it gave flashbacks to Rory McIlroy's 10th tee shot at the Masters, where he nearly hit a cabin way left of the fairway.
Stricker managed to save bogey. His lead was down to three, but he held on down the stretch to earn the win.
And to answer Jim Nantz's question at the end of the broadcast, yes, Stricker is now the face of American golf.
How so you ask?
Some may say it is only a number, but with the victory, Stricker moved to No. 4 in the latest world rankings making him the highest ranked American. He is one spot ahead of Phil Mickelson and two spaces ahead of Matt Kuchar, who nearly chased Stricker down with a bogey-free, seven-under 65 in the final round.
The victory was Stricker's 10th on the PGA Tour and seventh since he turned 40 years old. There are only nine other active PGA Tour members that are over 40, but under the age of 50, with more PGA Tour titles.
Just like fine wine and cheese, this Wisconsin native is getting better with age.
KERR UNABLE TO CLOSE OUT VICTORY
Cristie Kerr has been a member of the LPGA Tour since 1997, but in her first seven seasons, she managed just one victory to go with six second-place finishes.
That trend has reversed itself since 2004. Kerr has collected 13 of her 14 tour titles since that year while tallying a dozen runner-ups.
However, she failed to hang on to her lead Sunday at the ShopRite Classic.
Kerr was one stroke clear entering the final round. She pushed her lead to three shots early on the front nine and looked to be in control.
However, she faltered to bogeys on seven and eight, then was unable to track down Brittany Lincicome on the back nine. Lincicome posted 12-under par over the final two rounds to overcome an opening-round, one-over 72.
"Doesn't diminish my performance. I played great this week," Kerr said about Lincicome's victory.
Kerr has held on to only two 36-hole leads in six chances entering the final round of 54-hole events. Combine that with her being 7-of-13 with the third- round lead in 72-hole tournaments, Kerr is now 9-for-19 with the lead entering the final round.
Two times in her press conference, Kerr said she "played great today," and also stated a few times that, "nothing went my way today."
Kerr surely didn't lose this one with how Lincicome closed, but one birdie over the final 12 holes won't win you many tournaments.
With 14 LPGA Tour titles to her credit, Kerr had to have known more birdies were needed down the stretch if she was going to visit the winner's circle for the 15th time.
- In his fourth event back after being suspended by the European Tour, Elliot Saltman had quite a week at the Wales Open. He had his best finish since returning to the tour, a tie for 12th, while posting a pair of hole-in-ones on the same hole. Saltman aced the par-three 17th in the first and final rounds. He followed the opening round ace with an eagle on the par-five 18th to close with back-to-back eagles and salvage a one-over 73.
- If I were a player on the Champions Tour looking for the my first victory, I would steer clear of the Principal Charity Classic. This was the 11th year of the tournament and not one of the winners were first-time victors on tour. Mark Brooks and Mark Calcavecchia, who are both searching for their first tour title, entered the final round Sunday first and second on the leaderboard, but finished second and fifth respectively.
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