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Steve Stricker takes Chubb Classic title, won't let being U.S. Ryder Cup captain distract his playing career

April 18, 2021

Carmen Mandato

The upcoming Ryder Cup in his home state of Wisconsin clearly isn’t weighing on Steve Stricker.

Nope. On Sunday, after capturing the Chubb Classic in Naples, Fla., for his sixth win on the PGA Tour Champions, the U.S. captain had his mind on—now get this—the FedEx Cup playoffs. And, well, why not? At 54, he’s not appreciably older than Stewart Cink, 47, who won for the second time this season Sunday at the RBC Heritage.

“I enjoy playing out here. Competition is great. You have to play well to win. But I also still enjoy playing on the regular tour,” Stricker said after his one-stroke victory over Robert Karlsson and Monday qualifier Alex Cejka. “I've had a couple good showings this year so far. My ball-striking is probably as good as it's been when I was playing my best out on the regular tour. If I can get that putter going, I'll probably play out on the big tour and see if I can't make the playoffs one more time.”

Stricker, who sold his winter home in Naples in recent days and has been juggling packing and playing, shot a bogey-free five-under 67 on the Black Course at Tiburon Golf Club to finish at 16-under 200. He won for the first time since the 2019 U.S. Senior Open—a title he has yet to defend after the cancellation of a large chunk of last year’s senior schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He’s right that he didn’t putt particularly well, but he was firmly in control tee to green throughout the weekend and suffered just one bogey. He led the field in greens in regulation, hitting 47 of 54.

Trailing Karlsson and Fred Couples by a stroke entering the final round, Stricker jumped ahead with birdies on two of his first six holes and never lost it. But he missed some opportunities coming home that would have made the proceedings more comfortable, including birdie looks of manageable length at 14 and 15. However, the breathing room he needed came with a kick-in birdie at the short par-4 16th after a wedge from 135 yards.

“Yeah, I could have made it a little bit easier on myself,” he acknowledged.

Karlsson and Cejka each birdied the par-5 home hole to finish at 201 with closing scores of 69 and 68, respectively. Another stroke back were Sutherland, the Charles Schwab Cup leader, who shot 66, and Tim Petrovic, who posted a 65. Couples, who also held the first-round lead with an opening 63, ended up at 203 and T-6 with Bernhard Langer after a 71.

Stricker has more than just the FedEx Cup as motivation for playing more on the PGA Tour. He wears his captain’s hat while he’s out there to keep in touch with the large contingent of prospective Ryder Cup players.

But while he’s been scouting, he’s also done some scoring. In six starts on the PGA Tour, Stricker has made the cut four times, including a T-4 finish in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he ended up two strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka. He is ranked 228th in the world and currently sits 123rd in the FedEx Cup standings.

For now, though, he’ll take a win against his age group and the $240,000 first-place check.

“Winning anywhere is difficult,” he said. “You're battling yourself, you're battling the course, and you're battling the other players. And the older we get, you're battling yourself more than anything at times.”