Stricker halfway to three-peat at Regions Tradition

golf11 May 2024 05:00| © Reuters

Steve Stricker birdied the 18th hole Friday to take a one-shot lead into the weekend at the Regions Tradition – the PGA Tour Champions major he has dominated in recent years – in Birmingham, Alabama.

Stricker is a three-time winner of the event, including in 2022 and 2023, with a six-shot final margin every time. After posting a 7-under 65 at Greystone Golf and Country Club, he finds himself at 12-under 132, one shot better than South Africa's Ernie Els.

The first round concluded Friday after a weather delay ended Thursday's action early. Six players shared the lead after posting first-round 65s – Els, Steve Flesch, Chris DiMarco, Doug Barron, Kenny Perry and Ireland's Padraig Harrington.

Stricker was two off the pace after an opening 67, and he began his second round with four birdies and two bogeys over his first six holes. After settling in, he turned in five more birdies for a back-nine 31.

"Yeah, it was a lot of holes today," the 57-year-old said. "Took a cart for most of it. So I felt like a Champions Tour player, you know, right in a cart. ... I walked the last nine holes and all the other ones so kind of took advantage of that situation. I played well, in a lot of good shots made some key putts in my head too, and two good scores."

Stricker did not want to think ahead to the possibility of a three-peat.

"Just trying to play good," he said. "I enjoy it here. I feel good going around here. I'm just trying to, you know, that old cliche of just taking one shot one hole at a time kind of thing."

Els followed his opening 65 with a second-round 68 that included two birdies on each side. He has yet to make a bogey through 36 holes.

The former world No 1 racked up four major titles in his career, but he's searching for his first on the 50-and-older circuit. Els tied for second behind Stricker at last year's Tradition, tied for third in 2022 and tied for fourth in 2021.

"I'm playing with in good company. Steve Stricker is obviously the king around here at the moment," Els said. "... He's got the tournament record so probably playing with him (Saturday) so I need to keep the pace up with Steve and try and make him work hard for this one."

Flesch is now third at 10 under after a second-round 69. Harrington (second-round 70) and South Korea's Charlie Wi (69) are tied at 9 under. Perry (71) and Dawson (70) are tied at 8 under, and Barron (72) is alone in eighth at 7 under.