By JOHN FINERAN
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Steve Stricker made his U.S. Senior Open debut one for the record book.
Stricker birdied the opening hole Sunday and never was threatened on his way to a 1-under 69 for a six-shot victory. He finished at 19-under 261 on the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame, breaking by three shots the U.S. Senior Open record set two years ago by Kenny Perry at Salem Country Club.
The 52-year-old Stricker, who still spends half of his time on the PGA Tour, won a PGA Tour Champions major for the second time this year. He also won by six shots at the Regions Tradition in May in Alabama.
Jerry Kelly, who beat Stricker in a playoff last week in Wisconsin in the event Stricker hosts, shot a 69 and tied for second with defending champion David Toms, who had a 68.
The victory gets Stricker into the U.S. Open next year at Winged Foot, where he tied for sixth in the 2006 U.S. Open, a key moment in resurrecting his career.
Stricker led by at least five shots during the final round. Kelly only had hope briefly on the par-4 10th hole when he made birdie and Stricker made bogey. Two holes later, Stricker chipped in for birdie on the par-3 12th and the lead was back to six shots with six to play.
Stricker’s bogey on No. 10 was his first since the sixth hole in the opening round, a streak of 57 holes without a bogey that shattered the U.S. Senior Open record of 43 set by D.A. Weibring in 2004 at Bellerive.
Stricker made only two bogeys over 72 holes.
Stricker earned $720,000. He shared a kiss with his wife and caddie, Nicki, hugs with daughters Bobbi Maria and Izzy, and then he choked up with tears during the trophy presentation.
The course played tougher than it has all week with firmer greens and fairways, a north wind that blew across fairways and tougher pin positions. The Warren course surrendered 99 rounds under par over the opening three rounds. Stricker had one of only 14 rounds under par Sunday. The lowest round was a 64 by Scott McCarron, who leads the Charles Schwab Cup on the PGA Tour Champions.
That brought McCarron from a tie for 46th to a tie for sixth.
Tom Watson finished his 17th U.S. Senior Open at 2-under 278 by closing with a 68. It was the third time this week the 69-year-old Watson shot his age or better. Gary Nicklaus, playing in his first Senior Open after turning 50, finished at 7-over 287 after a 73 watched by his father Jack and mother Barbara.