KAPALUA, Hawaii — Steve Stricker has a bad habit of losing big leads. He managed to slip back into his old habit of winning.

Despite losing most of his five-shot lead in only six holes, Stricker steadied himself in time to kick off the new PGA Tour season with a three-shot victory in the Tournament of Champions on Monday.

Right when it looked as though Stricker was coming unglued, he made back-to-back birdies at the turn. That restored his lead to three shots, and no one got closer than two shots the rest of the way.

Stricker birdied his last hole for a 4-under 69 for his 12th career win, which moved him to No. 5 in the world ranking.

Stricker had a five-shot lead going into the Monday finish on Maui, and it was just about gone when he muffed a flop shot and took bogey on the sixth hole.

Martin Laird, Webb Simpson and Jonathan Byrd each got within one shot of Stricker on the front nine, but not for long. Stricker rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth, pitched to tap-in range at the par-5 ninth and was on his way.

Laird closed with a 67, and his birdie on the last hole put him alone in second place. Byrd kept most of the pressure on Stricker along the back nine of the Plantation Course, but he bogeyed the 17th. He had a 68 and tied for third with Simpson, who had a 68.

Stricker was the highestranked American in the field, and played the best golf.

It just didn’t always look that way.

This was the fourth time in the last two years that Stricker led a big lead turn into some nervous moments on the last day.

— At the John Deere Classic in July, he watched a five-shot lead with nine holes to play turn into a two-shot deficit with two holes to play before he rallied to beat Kyle Stanley with an exquisite birdie on the last hole.

— At the Memorial in June, he had a four-shot lead at the turn and was still three shots clear with five to play. He held on to win by one.

— At Riviera in 2010, his six-shot lead going into the final round was down to two shots after only six holes. Stricker steadied himself and went on to win by two.

Monday on Maui was not much different.

Byrd made three straight putts early in the round, two of them for birdie, and Simpson in the group ahead made an eagle at No. 5. Stricker settle for pars, which was not a problem as long as he took care of the birdie holes.



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