Thu Aug 5, 2021
Pursued but never caught, Stricker wins golf championship
SOUTH AKRON — In a tournament that couldn’t decide if it should be a nail-biter or a rout, Steve Stricker won the 2021 Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, defeating friend and fellow Wisconsinite Jerry Kelly by six strokes at Firestone Country Club June 27.
Stricker, 54, was ahead after each of the first three days, with rounds of 63, 68 and 70. Whenever it looked like he would run away from the pack, his lead diminished.
“Had a big lead on Saturday, kind of let that slip away,” he said. “It’s hard to play with a lead. I’m finding that out.
“You try to be protective of that lead and you kind of get out of your normal routine and your normal way of playing, and you make a mistake here or there. And then, all of a sudden, you feel like you’re going the wrong direction.”
Kelly, who won the tournament last year, came close to completely closing the gap in the final round. A birdie on No. 13 put him behind by two, but his second shot on No. 14 found a bunker and led to a bogey, one of four bogeys he had on the last five holes.
Late in the afternoon on the final day, areas north of Firestone were being hit by rain. The South Course stayed dry, but a breeze became a factor.
“The wind gusted up on me,” said Kelly, of No. 13. “I was trying to do a little bit too much to get it in there. It’s like you bring it within two and you want to go for a kill shot with a 4-iron, probably not the smartest move. I pushed it into some heavy sand.”
On the treacherous 16th hole, Kelly attempted to reach the green on his second shot but found water instead. Stricker’s lead stretched to four shots after the hole and he was well on his way to winning his third PGA Tour Champions major.
“He put a lot of pressure on me today,” Stricker said of Kelly.
Unlike the 2020 tournament, when masked volunteers provided the applause during the trophy ceremony, fans were present for this year’s Bridgestone event.
“Oh, it’s a night and day difference, being able to play in front of people,” said Stricker. “We’ve got tremendous support here in Akron. It gives us a lot of energy when we’re playing. We hear the crowds, the claps. We hear who’s playing well. It means everything to have fans out here.”
Stricker made a minor geographical faux pas during the trophy presentation when he said, “It’s amazing for us to be here in Canton, Ohio, and playing at Firestone.” He’ll have opportunities to make up for the slipup when the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship returns to Akron in 2022.