Jimenez goes wire-to-wire to win first Major Championship of career

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

HOOVER – While Steve Stricker was able to make an early push on the back nine, Miguel Angel Jimenez made clutch shots down the stretch to pick up his first major championship on any tour after winning the 2018 Regions Tradition by three shots on Sunday, May 20.

Jimenez, who had finished second in a major championship but never won, was in a celebratory mood as soon as he sank his final birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole. Once the putt found the bottom of the cup, it wasn’t long before a bottle of champagne had been popped and sprayed all over Jimenez and his caddie, before he took a swig as he walked off to sign his scorecard.

“We’re going to have a big party,” Jimenez said of his plans with fellow Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal after picking up the win. “It was time. I’ve been playing well all of the years I’ve been her on the Champions. I think I got myself in the picture and here we are. It’s nice to be on the first major of the year.”

Jimenez started with a bogey on the first hole, which immediately brought several golfers back into the tournament, but only two players were ever able to tie for the lead throughout the final round—Stricker and Joe Durant.

Stricker, who entered the day in solo second and two shots off the lead, had a very up and down front nine that saw him answer every birdie with a bogey, until he made a birdie on the ninth hole to shoot 1-under par 35 on the front side.

Durant’s front nine was much more consistent, however, but he was only able to put two birdies on the card along with seven pars to shoot a 2-under par 34 on the front nine.

The momentum seemingly shifted early on the back nine for all three of the players. Durant, who entered the back nine trailing by two strokes, was able to make back-to-back birdies to get to 17 under, while Jimenez bogeyed number nine bringing he and Jimenez into a tie for the lead, while Stricker sat one shot back.

Durant, however, wouldn’t take advantage of three par fives the rest of the way, paring each, and went on to play 1-over par over the final seven holes to finish in a tie for second.

Stricker didn’t go down as quickly or as quietly.

After paring the first three holes on the back nine, Stricker went on to birdie the par-5 13th hole and followed that up with a long downhill right to left putt from about 35 feet on 14 for his second straight birdie, which immediately boosted his morale and tied him for the lead with Jimenez at 17 under with four holes to play.

“I made a long putt there at 14, the par 3, so we got back in the game real quick,” Stricker said of his confidence at the time.

Two holes later, however, the momentum swing came.

After Stricker had hit a shot to within 10 feet on the 15th green, Jimenez hit one about five feet further away and looked as if it was going to give Stricker a great read on the putt.

Jimenez, however, stepped up and buried the putt right in the middle of the cup for a birdie, while Stricker missed his on the left edge, which gave Jimenez a one-stroke lead with three holes to play.

“It was very important because the pressure went to him,” Jimenez said. “It’s golf, it’s golf. I got the pressure on me when I missed the putt for par on the 15th.”

Stricker then went on to bogey the 18th hole after miss-hitting a shot into the left bunker and failing to pick up a sand save.

That put him two down with the par-5 18th hole left to play. Stricker came close to holing out a chip from right of the green but ultimately went on to par the hole, while Jimenez hit the green in two and then two putted for a closing birdie to cap off his wire-to-wire victory.

Jimenez’s tournament included three consecutive rounds in the 60s before a closing-round 70, and featured an opening round of 64 that tied the course record to propel his tournament.

“I finished, as you say, happy the way I finished,” Jimenez said of his closing stretch. “It’s been a wonderful week. My game was amazing really.”

While they were spraying champagne on the 18th green to celebrate the win, Jimenez said “Instead of throw out the champagne, we’re going to put in the champagne,” referring to his plans of drinking some champagne out of the trophy to celebrate the monumental moment.

Stricker went on to finish in a tie for second with Durant and Gene Sauers at 16 under, while Jeff Maggert, who shot a final round 64, Scott McCarron and Duffy Waldorf finished at 15 under.

Two-time defending champion Bernhard Langer was able to get to 13-under par for the tournament to finish in 11th after carding a bogey-free 67 during the final round.

Jimenez will now look to win a second major championship in two weeks as the PGA Tour Champions heads to Benton Harbor, Michigan for the Senior PGA Championship next weekend.