AKRON, OHIO — As Steve Stricker stepped up to the first hole at Firestone Country Club’s South Course, he quickly realized that the conditions which led to his 7-under 63 on Thursday were not going to be mirrored.
Winds hit the teens during second round play at the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, and accuracy was at a premium Friday. Though Stricker hit just six of 14 fairways, he missed in the proper spots and made multiple crucial par saves, as he is now bogey free for his opening 36 holes.
He leads the field by five halfway through the event, the biggest 36-hole lead in a Champions Tour major since 2014.
“All the way around here they’ve put the pins on a certain part of the green where maybe a tree is overhanging, so you’ve got to look at that on the tee box to see where you want to be out in the fairway,” Stricker said after the round.
“Even if you’re in the rough, sometimes you’ve got the angle. I mean, that’s why we love to come here, that’s why the big tour always enjoyed coming here to play. It’s a great layout, it’s a good test.”
Stricker’s 2-under round of 68 lifted him to 9 under for the tournament, five clear of second-place Paul Broadhurst.
“It was a little bit more of a grind today,” said Stricker. “I didn’t make a bogey, but I made a couple good saves for pars that kept the round going. I didn’t really capitalize on a couple of the good shots that I hit in there today, but overall, a really good, solid round again.
“Kind of got away with a couple shots and then made a couple good scrambles to save those pars and keep that round going.”
This is Stricker’s fourth 36-hole lead in a senior major in 10 total appearances. He has successfully kept his lead two on two of those occasions, winning the Regions Tradition and U.S. Senior Open, both in 2019.
Stricker was one of four co-leaders in this May’s Regions Tradition, but fell to Alex Cejka in a playoff.
Broadhurst is a four-time winner on the PGA Tour Champions which includes the 2016 Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex and 2018 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. Broadhurst’s best finish this season was a second-place showing at the 2020 Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
In both of those triumphs, Broadhurst was tied for 15th place after two rounds and has achieved success putting, as his 25 putts-per-round leads the field.
The on-course results have pleased Broadhurst, as he has been battling vertigo for the past couple months. Broadhurst first had an ear infection, then received his first COVID vaccine and a few days later experienced vertigo symptoms.
The symptoms disappeared for a month, but since returning to the tour, it has come and gone.
“Putting’s so difficult, ball’s moving, you’re moving,” he said. “I know my balance is still not right, I’m not swinging how I would like, balance is still not right through the ball. So I’m getting away with it at the moment, but as long as I stay okay for the weekend, I’ll give it my best shot.”
Both Marco Dawson and Ken Duke are an additional two shots behind Broadhurst at 2 under.
SUTHERLAND SURPRISES HIMSELF IN RETURN
A back injury has caused Kevin Sutherland to miss the last five Champions events, though he not only has returned to play in Akron, but at 1-under finds himself tied for fifth place.
“I haven’t played a lot of golf so I was really pleased by that,” Sutherland said. “Short game’s a little rusty, probably to be expected. Chipping and putting’s been a little erratic, but I’m hitting the ball really well, so I’m really encouraged. The back, most importantly, was really good, so that’s the most important thing at this point.”
Sutherland did not place expectations on himself before the event knowing that Firestone has played hard and not many players can stay under par for 72 holes.
His preparation for this return included one 18-hole round which occurred last week. He has mostly hit about 20 balls on the range and then played nine holes here-and-there in an effort to see if his back was good enough to play.
After concluding a flash interview, Sutherland was off to the putting green for five minutes, but not before spotting a young fan and tossing him a golf ball.
“This whole week, I was hoping to kind of get through 72 (holes) and feel good about it and so far, so good,” said Sutherland.
Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship Second Round Leaderboard
- Steve Stricker -9
Paul Broadhurst -4
T3. Marco Dawson -2
T3. Ken Duke -2
T5. Ernie Els -1
T5. Paul Goydos -1
T5. Jerry Kelly -1
T5. José María Olazábal -1
T5. Kevin Sutherland -1
Chris Pohl walked the course throughout Friday’s second round and here are some images.
The field was set at 81 players and the Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship is a no-cut event, however three players withdrew from the event Friday as Tommy Armour III, Dudley Hart and Scott Verplank will not be playing the weekend. … Saturday tee times begin at 7:55 a.m. with David Eger and Jay Don Blake and conclude at 2:15 p.m. with Stricker and Broadhurst.