Steve Stricker poses with his trophy after winning the Hyundai Tournament… (Eric Risberg / Associated…)
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 in Kapalua, Hawaii.
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 four-under-69 for his 12th career win, which moved him to No. 5 in the world ranking.
Sweeter than the winner's lei draped around his neck on the 18th green at Kapalua were his two children, 13-year-old Bobbi Maria and 5-year-old Isabella, there to greet him with a hug.
Stricker held back tears — they usually flow freely after a win — perhaps a sign that he's getting used to this business of winning. It was his ninth PGA Tour win since he turned 40, and his eighth title in his last 50 tournaments.
As usual, he didn't make it easy on himself.
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-three eighth, pitched to tap-in range at the par-five 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 could not have started the new season better — all four rounds in the 60s, and already able to book his room at Kapalua for next year.
"It was tough," said Stricker, who finished at 23-under 269. "I never let up today. It's always tough trying to win, and it's even more tough when you have a lead like I did. I'm very proud of what I did today."
Venus Williams withdrew from the Australian Open, prolonging her absence from the tennis tour because of an autoimmune disease that can cause fatigue and joint pain.
The seven-time Grand Slam title winner announced on Twitter and her website that she wouldn't play in the year's first major tournament, which starts next week. She added, though, that she plans to be back in action next month.
Williams, 31, hasn't played competitively since Aug. 29 at the U.S. Open. Two days later, she pulled out of that tournament, revealing that she'd been diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome.
Serena Williams badly sprained her left ankle at a tournament in Brisbane last week and it's not clear whether she will be able to play in the Australian Open.
Morgan State basketball Coach Todd Bozeman has been suspended indefinitely without pay after being involved in a physical altercation with one of his players during a victory at South Carolina State on Saturday night.
Bozeman is accused of punching senior guard Larry Bastfield during the game. The extent of the contact between Bozeman and Bastfield is being reviewed by officials of both schools. "It's definitely overblown," Bozeman told the Associated Press on Monday. "I didn't hit him."
Bozeman has been coach at Morgan State since the start of the 2006-2007 season. He arrived after an eight-year ban for NCAA violations.
Tulsa wide receiver and kick returner Damaris Johnson, the NCAA leader in all-purpose yards who was suspended for much of the season, is leaving to pursue a pro career. Johnson was suspended near the beginning of the 2011 season after he was charged with embezzlement for paying only $14 for $2,600 worth of merchandise at a store where his girlfriend worked. He pleaded guilty and got a one-year deferred sentence. In 2010, Johnson set the NCAA record for all-purpose yards (7,796) and career kickoff return yards (3,417). For his career, he had 2,746 receiving yards and 1,062 rushing yards.
Already considered one of soccer's greats at age 24, Lionel Messi became the first to win FIFA player of the year three times in a row. The Barcelona and Argentina forward beat club teammate Xavi Hernandez and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo.
The only other three-time winners are Ronaldo (1996-97, 2002) and Zinedine Zidane (1998, 2000, 2003).
Homare Sawa of Japan ended Brazilian forward Marta's five-year reign as the top women's player. American Abby Wambach was a finalist.
Chris Dufresne, recognized nationally as one of journalism's most knowledgeable college football writers, has been named sportswriter of the year for California by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Assn. It is the first time Dufresne, who has written extensively on golf and a variety of other topics, has been honored by the national organization. Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully was elected as the state's sportscaster of the year for the 31st time.
Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green had successful surgery to repair an aeortic aneurysm, discovered by the Celtics medical staff during a routine entrance physical in December.