AKRON, Ohio — A look of disappointment was evident across Steve Stricker’s face following his third round Saturday at the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship.
A lead that started the weekend at five shots and grew as large as nine had decreased to four by afternoon’s end at Firestone Country Club’s South Course.
“I had a five-shot lead starting the day, I’ve got four now, so all in all I didn’t give away too many,” Stricker said. “(I) had an opportunity to kind of really distance myself, and that was the plan today is to get out, get going and be aggressive and make some birdies and get out ahead, but kind of got side-tracked there in the middle.”
Stricker perfectly executed the first part of his plan, burying three consecutive birdies to start the round. He than offered his first hiccup, as a tournament-opening streak of 39 holes without a bogey was snapped on the fourth hole, when his birdie chip slipped several feet past the hole, and the par attempt lipped out.
After a double bogey on the par-3 12th, Stricker misfired right off the tee at 13, and his second shot set him up for a full sand wedge which he stuck inside five feet. Stricker recorded par, giving him some momentum as he made the long walk towards 14 tee.
This momentum did not last long, as he bogeyed the next two holes, but on the par-5 16th, Stricker’s second shot sailed over the green and he went up and down for a birdie.
His shotmaking improved in the closing holes, allowing him to fire a 2-over 72.
“I shot 2-over, which really isn’t that bad a score at this place,” said Stricker. “I got off to such a great start and I didn’t want to rest on that great start, but it showed that I can gut it out, what happened to me today and I didn’t let it keep going. It could have easily kept going the other way. I hit some nice shots coming in.”
Jerry Kelly is his closest pursuer after firing a 2-under 68, and overcoming a bogey on the first hole.
Kelly, the defending champion of this event and winner of the tour’s most recent event, the American Family Insurance Championship, will again play with his fellow Madisonite in hopes of becoming the first three-time winner this season and first player to win back-to-back tournaments since Bernhard Langer in 2017.
“I feel like the swing’s getting better and better each day,” said Kelly. “I still feel good putting and short game. I mean, just got to go out and play. These conditions are tough. It’s going to be even tougher tomorrow.
“It’s just going to be a dogfight, but I like where I stand now more than three hours ago.”
Ken Duke is the lone other player under par at 2-under, after a round of 70.
WIND, WIND GO AWAY
As Steve Stricker stared down the third green and mentally prepared to hit, he thrice stopped his pre-shot routine as the wind began to become a factor.
Wind gusts consistently exceeded 20 mph and have wreaked havoc throughout tournament play.
“It was probably the toughest of the days, I would say, just because the wind was up and then it would really gust,” Stricker said. “The one good thing, it’s always been in the same direction, so guys are getting used to it. It’s just the velocity at which it’s blowing, it makes it a little tough sometimes.”
Despite Stricker’s shaky back nine, the wind proved to be a neutralizer as the final two hours of play did not yield many birdies.
Duke’s circle on the par-3 12th proved to be the lone birdie for nearly an hour.
Kelly continued to give himself opportunities, but recorded one birdie on the par-4 17th hole, which secured his position in the final group.
“This is a great golf course and it’s difficult to get the ball in the fairways off the tee when the wind’s blowing,” he said. “When you don’t hit the fairways, it’s tough to hit the greens much less to get it even close to the pins, and if you’re not close to the pins, they’re tough two-putts.
“You’ve got to protect, and when you’re playing protect golf, it’s a lot tougher. It’s all because the course is so good.”
THIRD ROUND LEADERBOARD
- Steve Stricker -7
Jerry Kelly -3
Ken Duke -2
T4. Ernie Els E
T4. Jim Furyk E
T4. David Toms E
- Kevin Sutherland +1
T8. Paul Broadhurst +2
T8. Marco Dawson +2
T10. Fred Couples +3
T10. Scott Parel +3
T10. Paul Stankowski +3
Once again, Chris Pohl offers some shots from a sunny, 90-degree day in Akron.
• It was a frustrating day for Colin Montgomerie. After a Friday mishap in which a security guard did not see a credential and made Montgomerie display proper identification to pass, he went 17 holes without a birdie.
On 18, Montgomerie got his long-awaited birdie and left Firestone Country Club with a smile across his face.
— PGA TOUR Champions (@ChampionsTour) June 26, 2021
• Larry Mize withdrew, citing a back injury, which leaves the event with 77 players. This means David Eger, who is in last place at plus 37, will tee off solo at 7:50 a.m. Sunday.
• David Toms holed a long birdie on 18 to post a 4-under 66, the low round of the day.
• With a win, Steve Stricker would join Phil Mickelson as a Champions Tour wire-to-wire winner this season.