(AP) — THE WOODLANDS, Texas — After a two-hour rain delay, Steven Alker raced past Steve Stricker on the back nine, closing with a 6-under 66, and winning the Insperity Invitational on Sunday for his second victory on the PGA Tour Champions this year.
To close up the front nine at The Woodlands and stay one stroke ahead of Stricker, who was playing for the first time in six months, Alker had to make a pair of difficult par saves.
Starting at No. 11, Alker birdied three consecutive holes before putting the tournament away with an eagle putt on the par-5 15th to take a four-shot lead.
Stricker and Brandt Jobe both shot 70 and finished in a four-shot tie for second place. Alker finished with a score of 18-under-par 198.
When Stricker’s liver count dropped and his white blood cell count rose late last year, he was admitted to the hospital. In his first match since Oct. 10, he had shed 25 pounds and was concerned about his strength and endurance.
The captain of the winning Ryder Cup team fared well. He couldn’t keep up with Alker.
“Every day, I felt like my game got a little bit better,” Stricker said.
Alker won the Rapiscan Systems Classic in Mississippi and was on his way to making it two wins in a row until he lost in a playoff outside of Dallas by hitting into the water. He now has two wins and two losses in the playoffs.
With his $345,000 for winning, he was able to move to the top of the Charles Schwab Cup standings. Not bad for a Kiwi who had no status on the 50-and-over circuit until nine months ago.
He qualified for the Boeing Classic and continued to place in the top ten to advance to the next week, eventually winning and advancing to the season finale.
Alker has 10 top-five results in 17 starts on the PGA Tour Champions.
“It’s been a great adventure,” Alker added. “I’m simply glad to be out here,” she says. Everything has come full circle. I’m having a good time with my game. “It’s all a lot of fun.”
In another aspect, the weather delay was beneficial. Alker claimed he noticed his swing was a little off while watching the game on TV. He came back and attempted to keep more on top of things, and the rest of the race was nearly flawless.
With a birdie on the par-3 16th, Jobe went into sole possession of second place, only to miss a short par putt on the next hole then miss a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
Stricker left the tournament feeling good about his game, but he’s undecided about whether he’ll play next week in Atlanta or take a week off before the first of the PGA Tour Champions’ five majors.
“Seeing where I was a month ago and where I am today makes me happy because I’ve come a long way in a month,” Stricker said. “I’ll be fine if I can maintain becoming stronger and progressing over the next month.”
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