Kaulig Companies Championship
Another week, another major win for Steve Stricker, who collects his third of the year, seventh overall
AKRON, Ohio — Steve Stricker insists that he is not quite the player he was in his prime, but on the PGA Tour Champions he is inarguably the prime candidate for player of the year. And it’s not even close.
The amiable Wisconsin native is showing a bit of a streak of avarice these days. On Sunday, he won his third senior major of 2023 and fifth title overall with a three-stroke victory over David Toms in the Kaulig Companies Championship, formerly known as the Senior Players. A steady four-under 66 at Firestone Country Club gave Stricker his second win in three years on the South Course and his seventh senior major title, tied for fourth place with Hale Irwin.
He completed 72 holes in 11-under 269 to join Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Bernhard Langer as players to win three senior majors in one season. The victory earned him an exemption into the 2024 Players Championship after he qualified for next year’s PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., by winning the Senior PGA Championship in late May.
“It's all icing on the cake,” said Stricker, who earned $525,000 with his 16th career victory on the PGA Tour Champions. “To be 57, 58 years old, whatever I'm going to be next year and to be able to still go out there and play in some of these major championships, it's pretty cool to be able to have that opportunity still.”
He’s earned that opportunity with a skill set that, overall, appears more solid than during his career on the PGA Tour, where he won 12 times.
“I would still probably take my game back then, to be quite honest with you,” Stricker, 56, said. “I think the older we get, you know, everything starts to deteriorate a little bit—your length, your accuracy, up and down with the putting—but mine has seemed to kind of hang in there a little bit longer than some of the other players, probably.
“But that's the challenge. I try to keep in shape and eat the right things and do all that kind of stuff because I want to continue to play. I want to play like Bernhard when I'm 65, that's my goal. Enjoy it while it lasts.”
“Top to bottom, I don’t think he’s ever played better,” said his brother-in-law Mario Tiziani, who caddied for him this week. “Right now, he’s doing everything better than anybody else. It’s not like he’s infallible; he played miserable the second day [with a 73]. But he turned right back around and just moved on. The separator is that he gets it up and down and can score. Nothing really bothers him. He’s just very relaxed, especially coming down the stretch.”
Stricker began the day tied at the top with Harrison Frazar, but he opened with a birdie and never trailed thereafter. He did, however, face a crucial moment at the par-3 15th. Coming off his lone bogey the previous hole, Stricker ran in a 40-footer for the bounce-back birdie to extend his lead to two shots and then added a methodical birdie at the long 16th, wedging to three feet to go three ahead.
“Yeah, those two holes definitely won me the tournament," he said, "but that's fun, that's why we're playing and that's what's exciting for me coming down the stretch, to see if you can handle it. The more times I get in there, the more times I show myself that I can handle it, the more confidence I have in being able to do it.
Toms finished alone in second with a closing 65 and eight-under 272 total, while Frazar missed a four-foot par putt at the last for a 70 that dropped him into a share of third place with Ernie Els and K.J. Choi at 273.
Stricker’s victory extended an uncanny streak at Firestone. He and his best friend, fellow Wisconsin native Jerry Kelly, have now alternated wins the last four years. In March, Kelly set a record when he became the oldest player to make the cut at the Players at age 56. Stricker, who turns 57 in February, is relishing a chance to surpass him.
“I don't think that would make him very happy,” Stricker said with a mischievous grin. “Definitely I've got my sights set on that.”