Stricker moves into Ryder Cup consideration
AKRON, Ohio While Jim Furyk lost his chance for his first win since 2010, Steve Stricker increased his chances of being named to the U.S. Ryder Cup team at Firestone on Sunday.
Furyk's stunning collapse on the 18th hole opened the door for Keegan Bradley to win the Bridgestone Invitational and wrap up his spot on the Ryder Cup team.
Bradley closed with a 6-under 64, and the final stroke was the most important—a 15-foot putt to save par from a plugged lie in the bunker.
Furyk, who led for 71 holes and looked solid throughout the final round, chopped up the 18th hole for a double bogey to throw away a chance at his first win since the 2010 Tour Championship. He missed the green from the fairway. His chip with one foot in the sand barely cleared the bunker and stayed in the thick collar. He hit a weak chip to 5 feet, and his bogey putt never had a chance.
Furyk dropped his putter when the ball left his blade. He went from what appeared to be a certain win to a 69 and a tie for second with Stricker, who made four birdies on his last five holes for a 64.
"I've got no one to blame but myself," Furyk said. "There's no way I should have made more than 5."
Bradley won for the first time since last year in PGA Championship, and now goes to Kiawah Island to defend his title with a lot more confidence.
"I still can't believe it," he said.
Stricker found his putting stroke at Firestone—not that it was ever deep in hiding—and showed that down the stretch with his closing stretch of birdies. It was an important performance for Stricker, who moved up three spots to No. 10 in the Ryder Cup standings. Furyk is No. 11, followed by Rickie Fowler at No. 12.
Bradley moved to No. 4, and bumped out Hunter Mahan from the top eight for automatic spots after the PGA Championship next week.
Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson and Bradley are the top eight going into the PGA Championship.
Davis Love III, the U.S. Ryder Cup team captain, will announce the four additional members of the teams Sept. 4. He has indicated the Edgerton native and Madison resident will be one of his choices, and moving up in the points standings Sunday didn't hurt.
"There will be one hot guy and one experienced guy," Love said earlier this week about his choices. "After that we might look at pairings—Stricker and Woods is a great pairing and they have been beating people to death. We want some experience and potential future captains."
Stricker, 45, put himself in position to almost force a playoff by posting a 6-under 64 on Sunday to match champion Bradley for the best final-round score.
"No, you never know, and you've just got to keep plugging away," Stricker said regarding the dramatic finish on the 18th green.
"I'm thinking I'm playing for second and third place, or I was really thinking third or fourth at the time, and then you just never know, though. (No.) 18 is a good hole. If you don't get it in play—yeah, you've just got to keep plugging. And I feel horrible for Jim. He led 71 holes, and then just had a bad last hole. It's a cruel game sometimes."
Stricker made birdies on Nos. 5, 8 and 14 to start his comeback Sunday, and then continued his rally with birdies on Nos. 16, 17 and 18 to finish the tournament at 12-under.
"I haven't played putts like that for awhile, and all of a sudden they were all going in," Stricker said. "That's exciting for me. I keyed on a lot of good things this week with my putting, and today was better yet."
Stricker's outlook was not as positive when Furyk made birdies on the first three holes on Sunday.
"That put me eight back," Stricker said. "At that point, you're just trying to shoot a good round, but I still had Ernie Els in the back of my mind. He was seven back at the turn with nine to go at the British Open (and he won after Adam Scott's bogey issues over the final four holes). You just never know. You've just got to keep playing, and that's why we finish it out and play them all. I'm so shocked to see what happened to Jim there on the last hole."
Stricker hopes to carry the momentum of three birdies to close out the tournament into this week's PGA Championship at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, S.C., though he is not familiar with the course at all.
"I've never been there," he said. "I have the next few days to learn it a little bit and see what we have."