ORLANDO, Fla. -- As nearly everybody knows, a certain greeting has two meanings in Hawaii, both of which seem to fit veteran Steve Stricker's highly entertaining, slightly unnerving golf style to the letter.
Aloha means both hello and goodby in the native lingo, which also happen to be the words in English that often happen in quick succession when Stricker takes the lead into the back nine of PGA Tour events these days.
Stricker, the top-rated player in the field at the tour's season-opener, again found a way to nearly make a big lead into a bigger story in the final round at Kapalua on Monday night, where he again hung on to win by three strokes, despite some ups and downs that made the hillside course seem monotonous.
"I felt it kind of slipping away, but I was patient," he said. "Frustrated, but patient."
It felt kind of familiar.
He entered the final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions with a five-stroke lead, a figure that should ring familiar for fans of the genial Wisconsin native. In fact, Stricker had a comparably cushy margins in the final hours of both of his PGA Tour wins last year, only to make a meandering, stomach-churning mess out of both before holding on, if not staging comebacks, to ultimately win.
Stricker, who turns 45 next month, led the John Deere Classic by five shots with nine holes left in the final round before he started piling up bogeys and found himself two shots behind rookie Kyle Stanley late in the round. Stricker eventually salvaged a victory with what many called the best clutch shot of the year, delivering a rollicking birdie from an awkward stance in a fairway bunker on the 18th.
A few weeks earlier, when he seemed poised to win the Memorial Tournament with relative ease thanks to a four-shot lead at the turn, his momentum was slowed by a 2 1/2-hour weather delay in the final round. He scraped his way through the trees and sand on his way home, saving par from bunkers on the 16th and 17th, before making a cautious bogey on the 18th to win by a stroke.
"It wasn't pretty," he cracked to tournament host Jack Nicklaus afterward.
This time, Stricker's overnight lead had been quickly pared to a single shot by the time he finished the sixth hole, where he fatted a pitch shot and made a bogey, missing his second putt of the day from four feet. As he did at the Memorial and Deere, though, the resilient veteran found a way to stop the swoon. He rolled in a 23-footer on the eighth, nearly holed a chip shot on the ninth and made a 15-footer on the 12th, all resulting in birdies, to extend the lead to three, giving himself some breathing room.
"I never let up today, but it was tough," he said. "It gets even more tough when you have lead like I had. Overall, I am very proud of what I did today and this week."
He usually makes in interesting. Stricker missed some time last year with a herniated disc in his neck, which wasn't an issue this week. Maybe it was the whiplash of watching his name jumping around on the scoreboard.
With his 12th career win, Stricker moved up one spot to No. 5 in the world. The victory marked the fourth straight season in which he has amassed at least one win, leaving him tied with Dustin Johnson (2008-11) and four behind Phil Mickelson (2004-11) for the longest string of consecutive winning seasons on tour.
Amazingly, the two-time Comeback Player of the Year has amassed seven of his victories in the last three seasons, plus one 2012 start. Moreover, he has eight wins in his past 50 starts, the most of any player.
In all, for a tournament that needed both some CPR and positive PR as a sputtering season opener, Stricker, who at No. 6 in the world is the top-ranked American in the world, was perhaps the ideal winner and the biggest name in the 27-man field.
Stricker had won five of the last six times in which he held at least a share of the lead entering the fourth round, but his lone fumble came at Kapalua two years ago. He'd flirted with winning the season opener twice previously, finishing fourth last year and second in 2008.