Clark lets Colonial lead slip, Stricker grabs it

Steve Stricker holds the Leonard Trophy after winning the Colonial golf tournament with a birdie putt on the second playoff hole, Sunday, May 31, 2009 in Fort Worth, Texas. <br><I>AP Photo

FORT WORTH, Texas - Tim Clark stood on the 14th tee box feeling great.

He'd just made a 23-foot birdie putt, giving him a two-shot lead and a score of 19-under, tied for the best in the 63-year history of the Crowne Plaza Invitational.

When Clark blew chance after chance at victory Sunday, Steve Stricker found himself in position to win and took full advantage. His birdie on the second hole of a three-way playoff gave him his first title of the year after five top-10 finishes.

"I've been maintaining a positive attitude," Stricker said, wearing the plaid jacket given to all winners at the Colonial Country Club. "I had a couple of good chances earlier (this year) and didn't take advantage of them. It stung not winning. When I look back, I did a lot of good things to get myself into those positions. I wanted to get back in this position and maybe it would work out."

It did, but only because Clark blew it.

The 33-year-old South African left short a 9-foot putt that would've won it on the final hole, then pulled a 7-footer that would've ended the playoff on the first hole. The final kick in the gut was when his approach on the second extra hole hit the pin and rolled more than 20 feet from the cup.

"I can't take anything positive from today," said Clark, who is now 0-for-184, with nearly $13.3 million in career earnings and seven runner-up finishes. "I have a lot of work to do when it comes to closing out golf tournaments."

The best lesson would be to learn from Stricker - a 42-year-old whose whole career is a testimony to perseverance. He's a two-time comeback player of the year on the Tour who is now up to No. 8 in the world rankings.

This tournament alone showed what he's all about.

Stricker, who earned $1,116,000, led after two rounds with a 36-hole tournament record of 126. He moved back ahead with birdies on Nos. 5 and 6 on Sunday, then followed with consecutive bogeys.

When he missed a 4-footer on No. 16, Stricker seemed out of contention. His chances looked even worse when he was in fluffy grass behind the 17th green.

Then his chip rolled in.

"You need breaks to win, that's why winning is so special, so hard to do," he said.

Steve Marino was the third player in the playoff. He narrowly missed a long birdie putt on the first extra hole, then pretty much took himself out of contention with a wild tee shot on the second. Colonial would've been a sweet place for his debut win considering his mom grew up a few blocks away and was in the gallery with a group of her childhood friends.

"Obviously it's disappointing," Marino said. "But I'm playing well right now and I'm excited about playing golf and feel good about my game."

Stricker and Marino shot 68s to match Clark (70) at 17-under 263.

Jason Day, a 21-year-old Australian who recently became a Colonial member, shot 69 and finished fourth at 264. He shot 65 in the other three rounds, but started with a bogey and wound up a stroke out of the playoff.

Another stroke back was Paul Casey, coming off a prestigious win in Europe that vaulted him to No. 3 in the world ranking. He opened the final round with three straight birdies but couldn't build on it much.

Woody Austin (68) and Vijay Singh (69) tied for sixth at 14 under.

Clark's foibles on the 18th hole - in regulation, then in the playoffs - sent the playoff to No. 17, a hole Stricker already had birdied three times in four rounds.

His fourth birdie there was the charm.

"This is what my whole career has been about up. I've had to pull myself up when something hasn't gone my way," Stricker said. "You have to let it roll off your back."

Maybe one day, Clark can.


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