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Leader Stricker seeks strong start to Hawaii finale

January 9, 2012 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
American golfer Steve Stricker has claimed 11 PGA Tour titles since turning pro in 1990.
American golfer Steve Stricker has claimed 11 PGA Tour titles since turning pro in 1990.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Steve Stricker holds a five-shot lead ahead of final round of Tournament of Champions
  • Stricker held the same lead ahead of the third round, but saw it reduced to one shot
  • The American hit four birdies on the final four holes to restore his five-shot cushion
  • Americans Webb Simpson and Jonathan Byrd tied for second with UK's Martin Laird

(CNN) -- Steve Stricker aims to make a strong start to the final round of Tournament of Champions on Monday, having almost thrown away a five-shot lead over the rest of the field before restoring his advantage on Sunday.

The veteran American golfer struggled to make birdies at the start of the third round in Hawaii, carding a bogey at the par-three eighth hole before seeing his lead cut to a single shot through 14 at the PGA Tour's season-opening event.

But Stricker, an 11-time winner on the tour, finished with four consecutive birdies to cap off a four-under-par 69 and move onto 19 under for the tournament.

The 44-year-old led from compatriots Webb Simpson (69) and 2011 champion Jonathan Byrd (67), who were tied for second with Scotland's Martin Laird (67) on 14 under in the 27-man field.

"That was key to finish that way," Stricker, who won twice last year, told the PGA Tour website. "It sets me up for some momentum going into tomorrow.

When you're leading a golf tournament, it's just hard to keep that momentum
Steve Stricker

"I just kept telling myself that I had the lead still and just to be patient. Things were not really going the way I had hoped, but I just kept telling myself to hang in there."

Stricker felt the pressure as his lead slipped away, admitting to feeling "pretty stagnant out there" and "frustrated" after his drive missed the fairway at the par-four 12th.

"I wasn't making any birdies, and it seemed like everybody else was," he said. "I knew it was going to be tough. When you're leading a golf tournament, it's just hard to keep that momentum.

"I didn't feel comfortable. I didn't hit it bad, but I didn't feel as aggressive at times. You're in a position where you don't want to screw up, but yet you're on a course that birdies can be made and guys can come from a ways back."

Despite Stricker's significant lead, Byrd was still hopeful of retaining his title, citing his six successive birdies during Friday's opening round as proof that anything can happen.

"He's a tough guy to catch," the 33-year-old said. "But I don't think any lead is too much. You never know when somebody is not going to have their best day.

I don't know what it will take, but I'm guessing a minimum of eight-under probably
Martin Laird

"I certainly didn't think I was going to make six birdies in a row when I started that stretch. That kind of stuff just happens."

Laird enjoyed a fine start to his round on Sunday, carding four birdies on the front nine.

But the 29-year-old said he will have to put in another strong performance on Monday to stand any chance of claiming the $1.12 million winner's check.

"I don't know what it will take, but I'm guessing a minimum of eight under probably," he said. "But this is a golf course where you can do it."

American pair Kevin Na (71) and Bryce Molder (67) were tied for fifth on 11 under. Harrison Frazar was one shot further back, shooting a 66 to claim the best round of the day and move onto 10 under.

Ben Crane (68), Chris Kirk (70) and D.A. Points (71) of the U.S. and South Africa's Rory Sabbatini (68) were on eight under.

South Korean K.J. Choi is tied for 12th on seven under following a 69, with 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley struggling after a 75 left him tied for 19th on three under.

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