Alex Cejka went from alternate in need of a break to winning the first major of his career as he prevailed over Steve Stricker in the first hole of a playoff on Sunday to win the Regions Tradition at Birmingham, Ala.
Cejka carded a 14-foot birdie putt on the playoff hole and Stricker was unable to match as his 9-foot putt went just wide of the hole.
The ending left Cejka as an unlikely champion as he was only added to the field when Jay Haas withdrew on Monday. The 50-year-old shot a 5-under 67 in the final round to finish with an 18-under 270 at Greystone Golf & Country Club.
Stricker, the defending champion, shot 4-under 68.
The win, coming in Cejka’s third Champions start, gives him a full exemption. He tied for 38th at the Cologuard Classic in February in his first outing and tied for second at the Chubb Classic last month.
Cejka was born in communist Czechoslovakia and escaped as a refugee to Germany when he was 9.
According to the PGA Tour, Cejka and his father traveled by boat and train and also had to swim and bike along the way through Yugoslavia, Italy and Switzerland before settling in Frankfurt, Germany.
Cejka opened the final round with a bogey and sprinkled in six birdies the rest of the way. He trailed by three shots but later had a key sequence in which he made three straight birdies on 12, 13 and 14 to take a two-shot lead.
Stricker made birdies at 16 and 18 to force the playoff. He carded six birdies and two bogeys on his final trip around the course.
Sweden’s Robert Karlsson shot 3-under 69 and finished third at 14 under, four shots off the pace. Jerry Kelly (70 on Sunday) and South Africa’s Ernie Els (66) tied for fourth at 11-under 277, while Germany’s Bernhard Langer (71) and Australia’s David McKenzie (71) tied for sixth at 9 under.
–Field Level Media
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