Alex Cejka goes from alternate to major champion at Regions Tradition
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor
HOOVER – On Monday, he didn’t have a spot in the tournament or a caddy, but by Sunday, Alex Cejka was a major champion after winning a playoff at the Regions Tradition.
After finishing second in his last tournament at the Chubb Classic by one stroke to Steve Stricker, Cejka got his revenge at Greystone Golf and Country Club on Sunday, May 9, by taking down the defending champion in a one-hole playoff to win the PGA Tour Champions first major championship of the season.
“Today, I have no words. I fought so hard,” Cejka said. “I think it’s everybody dream. We work so hard to win trophies, and you know, I did it. When you come out here as a rookie, you see all those great players, all those hall of famers. It’s a little bit intimidating and you still have to play great. That’s what I did.”
It was a special run to winning the major championship for Cejka, who had to Monday qualify for his two previous events and battled down the stretch with Stricker to overcome a three-stroke deficit on the back nine and win in a playoff.
The two went into a playoff, after Stricker birdied the 18th hole in regulation.
With Cejka in the green-side bunker, Stricker his fairway medal looking to eagle the hole for the second day in a row.
He landed the ball 5 yards short of the hole, it bounced in the air past the flag stick before rolling up and staying on an embankment behind the green rather than rolling down for what would have been an eagle putt.
Stricker took the slippery downhill chip and sent it 8 feet by the hole, but after Cejka missed his birdie putt, Stricker stepped in and drained his to reach 18-under before releasing a big fist pump.
“I knew his chip was difficult, and knew if I got up and down, then I would seal the deal,” Cejka said. “I hit a great bunker shot, it was just a little bit too far to the right. He holed a great putt under pressure to go back into the playoff. It was a clutch putt.”
In the playoff hole, Cejka’s drive hooked into the woods left of the fairway, but got a bounce and rolled 15 yards back into the fairway.
With Stricker also left off the tee, both had to layup, but Stricker’s angle allowed him to get slightly closer after Cejka’s second shot went right before getting another friendly roll.
Both, however, hit wedges to about 7 feet with Stricker just inside Cejka.
Cejka’s putt was almost on the exact line as Stricker’s putt in regulation, which paid off as he drained it for a birdie, putting the pressure back on his opponent.
“It was great. You know what, for 99 percent, I thought he was going to make it, and I knew I had to make it to have a chance to go into an extra hole,” Cejka said. “(Stricker) had the same putt to go into the playoff and I watched him. It was straight and never moved. It was great to see it go in.”
Stricker then stepped up to his putt, but he pushed it right, making Cejka the 2021 Regions Tradition Champion.
“I was a bit lucky today in the playoff. Steve is such a great player, all his career, all his life,” Cejka said. “I finished second to him at my last tournament, and this week I’m on top, so I’m just super happy.”
One of the biggest turning points in the two-man race came on the 13th hole.
With Stricker up by two strokes 200-plus yards away on the par-5, he attempted an aggressive shot that found the water. He went on to make bogey.
Cejka, however, was much closer and put his second shot on the green. He two putted to make birdie and tie for the lead.
He then went on to make his third birdie in a row on the par-3 14th hole after hitting his tee shot to within 5 feet, which gave him the lead with four holes to play.
“That was a little bit of a turning point and gave me some momentum,” Cejka said. “I knew I still had to make great shots. He’s such a great player, he’s not going to give up and make stupid mistakes. We both grinded today all the way to the end.”
Stricker wasn’t down and out yet, as he made a clutch birdie on a 15-foot putt at the par-4 16th to get within one stroke, before then coming back to birdie the 18th to force the playoff.
But it was Cejka’s day, as he got the breaks he needed and made the swings he needed to on the back nine and in the playoff hole to complete a special week.
“It’s probably going to sink in tomorrow morning. It’s like a dream come true. Especially to be a major. That’s even more special. I still can’t believe it’s true that I’m holding the trophy.”
It was even more remarkable of a journey for Cejka, who didn’t have a caddy when he joined the field after Jay Haas dropped out.
But he knew just the guy to call when the moment came up—a volunteer driver during one of his stops on Tour.
“Jimmy is a great friend. He always volunteers as a driver at the Zurich Classic. He’s been driving me when I play that tournament for 10-15 years in a row,” Cejka said. “When I got into this tournament, I gave him a last-minute call and knew he was so close to here. I just called him up and said ‘Hey, what are you doing, you want to carry that heavy bag?’ He immediately said yes. I’m glad he did it and now he’s part of winning a major.”
But that was par for the course for Cejka, who has had a crazy journey in life to become a champion golfer after his family had to swim across a river to escape communism when he was 9 years old to get Germany.
“Everybody has a journey in life. Mine was maybe a little bit different than a lot of peoples’ journey, but it shows so much is possible no matter where you come from,” Cejka said. “No matter what country, what money status or what standards. It’s just, if you have a dream, you follow your dream. You just have to grind it, work hard at your dream and always chase it. It’s always possible to end up on top. I’m one of those that had a dream and got it done.”
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