By Mark Lamport-Stokes
MARANA, Arizona (Reuters) - Steve Stricker gave himself a timely birthday present with a one-up victory in Thursday's second round at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship after trailing most of the way.
Stricker, who celebrated his 45th birthday, ended the match by sinking a curling 20-foot birdie putt at the par-four 18th where his opponent, South African Louis Oosthuizen, missed his attempt from 12 feet.
"It really wasn't back and forth until the end," the 2001 champion told reporters of a tight encounter in dazzling sunshine at Dove Mountain's Ritz-Carlton Golf Club where he was two down after 10 holes.
"He had the lead on me all day long, so I was scratching from behind all day. We each gave each other a couple of holes here and there. I am just lucky to be moving on really. It didn't look too good for a while."
Long regarded as one of the best putters in the game, Stricker was delighted to have the opportunity to putt first on the 18th green.
"My dad has told me the first one (putt) in usually wins, and that was the thought," the softly-spoken American said. "There was a lot of movement in the putt, probably a good three or four feet.
"It was a big swinger to the right. I thought I lost a little speed there right at the end ... and it was going to miss on the low side, but it just hung in there nicely."
Stricker was surprised he won three of the four par-fives in the second round despite conceding a good 40 yards in distance off the tee to Oosthuizen.
"This course is tough for me because I can't fly the bunkers, and these big hitters are just taking it right over them," he said. "Yet I'm beating this guy in the par-fives.
"So if I can do that, I have just got to keep doing things my way."
Stricker will face U.S. Ryder Cup team mate Hunter Mahan in Friday's third round, Mahan having advanced with a 5&3 victory over South Korea's Yang Yong-eun.
"Hunter's a good match play player," Stricker said. "He's in every hole, he doesn't hit it crooked. His all-around game is good. We have been team mates before on a Presidents Cup team and Ryder Cup team.
"It's going to be tough, and it's tough playing a friend, too. You have got to put that friendship aside for a day and try to beat him."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)