On a day when the former best golfer on the tour implodes on the course and arguably the world’s hottest golfer in the tour fights through an injury to break even, America’s highest ranked golfer in the world ties a course record and leads the field at the PGA Championship.
Score one for the old guys.
Steve Stricker walks on the course today with a two-stroke lead (-7) over Jerry Kelly. The world’s fifth overall golfer, according to the most current world golf rankings, tied a course record with a 63 on the day.
Twenty-five other times has a 63 been shot in a major tournament.
Stricker, who is 44 years old, is enjoying maybe the finest year of his career. And with the lead at the final major of the year, all he has to do to remain in contention this weekend is do the same things he did on a course that he seemed to tame with ease.
“Obviously, I got off to a good start. I came to the course really not expecting too much. I really hadn't made too many birdies in the three previous practice rounds that I had,” Stricker said in his post-round interview.
It is that kind of demeanor that Stricker has exhibited all season and throughout his career. Although he only has two wins on tour this year, his consistency is what has brought him the success he has enjoyed this year.
Stricker said he was not aware of the course record for the round until his caddie, Jimmie Johnson, mentioned it to him. It was that kind of zone he was in the entire morning and early afternoon.
The 7-under par may have been one of the most hidden gems of the season. While Stricker was plucking away at Highlands Course, two of the tour’s more popular and dynamic players were facing a different kind of round.
Tiger Woods played what could arguably be the worst round of golf he has ever played in a major, shooting 7-over, and 77, for the day. His chances of being around for the weekend are slim as he played in only his second tournament since May.
Rory McIlroy damaged his wrist on the third hole. On his second shot he hit a tree root while trying to drive the ball toward the hole. The pain, which looked unbearable on television, caused the 22-year-old to grimace during the round of 70, even par for the day.
An MRI taken after the round showed there was a strained tendon in the wrist, but it would appear even in pain, he shot an even round of 70 for the day. The U.S. Open Champion will tee it up again today.
According to a story on espn.com, http://espn.go.com/golf/pgachampionship11/story/_/id/6853859/steve-stricker-shoots-63-pga-championship-grab-early-lead, Stricker is the highest-ranked American at No. 5 in the world, and the Americans sure need a boost.
They haven't won a major since Phil Mickelson triumphed at the 2010 Masters, coming up short at six in a row. During that span, Northern Ireland has captured three championships, South Africa two and Germany one.
Mickelson shot 71 on Thursday, with two birdies and three bogeys.
Now it is about the consistency he has shown all year. Stricker had only 24 putts on greens for the round.
Stricker said that there is really nothing he has to prove to anyone about his career or the way he has played, especially since he has overcome poor play in past years, and this season has been so rewarding. But still, a championship in a major tournament would be too hard to pass up.
"It would be great," he said. "If I don't win it, it's not going to change who I am or what kind of player I've been. I guess I accomplished what I set out to accomplish six years ago, to get back in the winner's circle, to play well again. All this other stuff is really just icing on the cake, and that's the way I treat it."
And as for trying to set another record on the course, Stricker will get that chance again today. He said he had wished he had made the putt to the one to have the record for himself. But you got to think if he plays the same way he did Thursday, he may get another chance.
And this time, it may be on the final day with him holding the title.