Steve Stricker watched as his birdie putt just missed on the first playoff hole yesterday at the Mercedes-Benz Championship.
Next time, Stricker won’t hit toward opponent’s marker
KAPALUA, Maui » Had Steve Stricker noticed how big Daniel Chopra's ball mark was as he stood over his putt at the first playoff hole, the PGA Tour's Comeback Player of the Year might have lived up to that billing.
Trailing Chopra by two shots at the start of yesterday's final round of the Mercedes-Benz Championship, Stricker shot a phenomenal 9-under 64 to catch Chopra at the last with a birdie putt from 12 feet that left him 18 under for the tournament.
Chopra missed a putt of similar length 15 minutes later, forcing the fourth playoff since the winners-only tournament moved to Maui in 1999. Both golfers hit drives within 3 yards of each other deep down the left side of the fairway.
Chopra hit first as his ball landed on the green, some 85 feet away for an eagle. Stricker's second shot landed just short of the green, but right behind Chopra's ball, forcing him to mark it. Never in a million years did Stricker think his golf ball would hit Chopra's mark, but it did, causing it to come up 10 feet short of the hole.
"I looked at it, and I'm like, you know, that's my area where I need to go," Stricker said. "But I thought, 'What are the odds of me hitting that?' It was a rather large ball mark. It wasn't a coin. In hindsight, I should have had him mark with a penny."
Stricker went on to miss his putt and was fortunate when Chopra did the same. It would be three more holes before Chopra would seal the victory with a tap-in birdie, but that ball mark might have been the difference.
"I use a ball mark that I bought at the Dunhill Championship in Japan," Chopra explained. "I've used it for a few years now. It's the ball mark I normally use. It's flat. It actually propelled his ball forward."
Stricker didn't quite see it that way. On tape, you can clearly see the ball pop up in the air as it rolled toward the hole, knocking it off line and slowing it down a bit. Had he not hit it, Stricker might have had only a 3-footer and would have likely won the tournament on the first playoff hole with a birdie.
"It's pretty tall," Stricker said. "You know, that's my fault, at just not having him re-mark it. It took a lot of speed off. But you know, you learn from that, you know? Like I say, I should have had him mark with something smaller."
Chopra, whose heritage is Swedish and Indian, believes in the spiritual side of his Indian heritage. And after what happened yesterday with a ball mark that means, "fortune favors the brave," it's unlikely he'll use another ball mark again.
"It has a little Japanese saying on it," said Chopra, who didn't think that had cost Stricker the tournament. "It's hard to describe, but it's good fortune or somebody that is really brave and goes out and gets -- I guess the Japanese version of fortune favors the brave."
Stricker had several misses down the stretch that could have led to him winning outright. Two putts lipped out on the back nine for birdie, but Chopra had the fates against him a time or two as well. He had at least three putts that got within a blade of grass or two from falling in the hole. Chopra's tap-in at the last for birdie to win the tourney came right after his eagle putt was hanging on the lip of the cup for several seconds.
Stricker still had a chance to win, but missed his 15-foot birdie putt wide left.
"I thought I handled the playoff pretty well," Stricker said. "I hit the ball well. A couple of putts I came up short on. And the one on 18 (after hitting the ball mark) really was a fooler because I had almost the identical putt in regulation and the thing, I swear, stayed straight or maybe went a little to the right and mine (in the playoff) broke to the left and it looked like Chopra's kind of hung out on the right on him."