Sunday, January 08, 2012


KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Steve Stricker made even the long putts look like tap-ins on his way to a 10-under 63 on Saturday, giving him a five-shot lead halfway through the US PGA Tour's season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course, Kapalua on Hawaii.
Scotland's Martin Laird dropped back to joint fourth after a three-under 70 for 138.
Stricker, pictured, played the final five holes in 5 under, which included a 3-wood -- up the hill and into the sun -- that settled about 12 feet away for eagle on the par-5 15th. That allowed Stricker to get a five-shot lead from Webb Simpson, and from the amazing eagle-eagle finish by Kevin Na.
Stricker was at 15-under 131, two shots off the 36-hole record that Ernie Els set in 2003.
Na, six strokes back at 9 under, wasn't even part of the picture until he holed a 5-iron from 221 yards for eagle on the 554-yard 17th hole, then hit 3-wood down the hill on the par-5 18th to about 10 feet for another eagle.
"It'll be the best finish of my life," Na said.
It turned a good round into a 64, and it at least kept Na in the hunt against a 27-man field that suddenly felt much smaller when Stricker put together a strong finish of his own.
Only eight players were within 10 shots of Stricker at the end of the day.
As much as he loves starting his year in Kapalua -- this is his third straight trip, the longest streak of anyone in the field -- Stricker has yet to hoist a trophy with a lei draped around his neck.
He took a big step toward that in the closing stages of the round. Starting with a simple up-and-down on the par-5 ninth, Stricker was 7 under over the last 10 holes.
"I felt like I was going to make every putt I looked at for a while," Stricker said.
After his eagle on the 15th, Stricker holed a 15-foot birdie from the front of the green on the 17th, and finished with a long two-putt birdie from just off the 18th.
He has played the par 5s in 9 under for the week.
"I've had some good success here," said Stricker, who has lost in a playoff and tied for fourth over the last four years. "The more times you can play it, the better off you are. I'd sure like to get off to a good start this year."
Rory Sabbatini was hit with a two-shot penalty at the start of his round for being late to the first tee. It was a bizarre penalty, only because the practise green is about 25 yards from the first tee.
His caddie, Mick Doran, took the blame. Instead of looking for the preceding group to tee off, he was relying on his watch, which was four minutes slow. They rushed to the tee, but it was too late.
Sabbatini had a 70 -- including the two-shot penalty -- was 12 shots behind.
"It's the first time ever for me on TOUR. I know it's the first time for Mick," Sabbatini said. "I guess neither of us were really paying attention. Just one of those goofy moments."
Its the second straight year of trouble for Doran, who was on Camilo Villegas' bag last year with the Colombian was disqualified for tamping down grass as his ball was rolling back toward him.
Martin Laird had a birdie putt on No. 13 to get within one shot of Stricker, his playing partner. Four holes later, he was seven shots behind, hurt mostly by missing two short birdie putts and by hitting his tee shot into the trees on the 17th. A search party found more than a dozen balls, none belonging to Laird.
The Scot had a 70 and was at 8-under 138, along with first-round leader Jonathan Byrd, who had a 71. Chris Kirk was among the early starters and shot 66, though that turned out to be ordinary by the end of the day.

Par 146 (2x73)
Players from US unless stated
131 Steve Stricker 68 63.
136 Webb Simpson 68 68
137 Kevin Na 73 64.
138 Martin Laird (Sco) 68 70, Jonathan Byrd 67 71.
140 D A Points 71 69.
141 Chris Kirk 75 66, Bryce Molder 71 70, Keegan Bradley 69 72.





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