MADISON — Steve Stricker and his agent and brother-in-law, Mario Tiziani, sat a few feet from a TV screen in the media center Sunday and watched the live feed of the conclusion of the American Family Insurance Championship.
Stricker had been eliminated on the first hole of a three-man, sudden-death playoff, and he was watching the remaining participants, fellow Madison resident Jerry Kelly and South Africa’s Retief Goosen. When Kelly birdied the third extra hole to win, Stricker stood up and grinned.
The grin said he was happy for Kelly.
But it said something else, too. It was the rueful grin of a man who was doing his best to hide his disappointment.
Oh, what could have been for the tournament host. He could have won the tournament with an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation and missed on the low side. He could have stayed alive in the playoff by two-putting for par after hitting the 18th green in regulation, but missed a 6-footer, this time on the high side.
It was his first and only three-putt of the tournament.
Stricker probably makes both of those putts 50 percent of the time. He makes at least one of them 90 percent of the time.
“He’s the best putter I’ve ever known,” Kelly said. “The best putter I’ve ever seen.”
Sometimes, though, they just don’t go in. Stricker now has finished T-3, T-3 and runner-up in his own tournament.
“I had some opportunities coming in at 15, 16 and 18,” he said. “Pretty cautious with some of the putts. Didn’t hit some of my best putts. Then I had the opportunity to win it right there on 18 (in regulation). Misread it a little bit. I didn’t think it was going to break as much as it did and it just snapped off at the end. I thought I hit a pretty good putt.
“But, yeah, a little disappointing when you get that opportunity to close it out and have about an 8-footer to do it. You want to make it and be done, but I didn’t.”
Stricker now owns 16 top-10 finishes in 20 starts on the PGA Tour Champions and ranks No. 10 in the Charles Schwab Cup standings entering his debut next week at the U.S. Senior Open.
That’s all well and good, but it hardly erases the sting of what occurred Sunday, just a few miles from his house and in front of family, friends and an adoring gallery.
“When you have that opportunity in your hands to end it, you want to,” he said. “That’s what you work all day for, all tournament for, just to put yourself in that position to see if you can do it, and I wasn’t able to do it.”
He’ll have more chances to win the AmFam. But this one really hurt.