MADISON — In three short years, tournament host Steve Stricker and his team at the American Family Insurance Championship have built a PGA Tour Champions event recognized among many people for many reasons.
MADISON – Steve Stricker walked onto the 10th tee at University Ridge Golf Course on Saturday, with the gallery five deep and spilling down th…
When it comes to its Sunday profile, however, the final day of what has become a week-long festival has been recognized for one thing: Drama.
Each of the first three winners of the AmFam Championship has come from at least two shots behind to hoist the "Dream Achieved" trophy. And, as bunched as the leaderboard has become entering the final round this year, there's no telling how far down the leaderboard a champion could emerge come Sunday.
"You know, this course lends itself to some exciting finishes," Stricker was saying Saturday after holing a chip shot for eagle on the par-5 16th hole on his way to a second straight 67 and joining Duffy Waldorf (67) and Billy Andrade (66) in a tie for second place at 10-under-par 134, one shot behind leader Steve Flesch (65) on a leaderboard with 18 golfers within five shots of the lead with 18 holes to go.
First-round leader Jerry Kelly of Madison shot 70 and is among three golfers tied for fifth at 9-under 135. Long-hitting John Daly (69) and 2016 champion Kirk Triplett (70) are among those four shots back. Colin Montgomerie (68) and defending champion Scott McCarron (67) are in a group of seven golfers five shots off the pace at 138.
"It's kind of a shootout course," Stricker said. "You have to play aggressively; there's birdies to be made. There's eagles you can make on some of these par-5s; they're reachable so a lot can happen on these closing holes. That's what makes it exciting and fun to play here."
No one had more fun Saturday, at least late in his round, than Flesch.
The 52-year-old left-hander, whose only win on the senior circuit came at the 108 Mitsubishi Electric Classic, birdied his last three holes and four of his last five to grab the 36-hole lead for the first time in his career on the over-50 circuit. The last time he slept on a Saturday night lead was at the 2007 Turning Stone Resort Championship, where he posted the last of his four PGA Tour victories.
"From years past, I've never particularly made a lot of birdies here, and you have to make putts and you have to keep your foot on the gas," said Flesch, who spent last week as an on-course commentator for FOX Sports' coverage of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Calif. "On this tour, since it's only three rounds, it's not so much a shootout, but you have to just be aggressive. You know, that's never been my MO in my 20 years playing the (PGA) Tour.
"I'm kind of a plodder and conservative and not a big risk-taker. And, out here, I've had to change that."
Indeed, there is no sitting still on the PGA Tour Champions.
First-round leader Jerry Kelly of Madison, one of three golfers tied for fifth at 9-under 135, felt like he was doing just that in his round of 2-under 70. He made just one birdie — on the par-5 second hole — to go with eight pars on the front nine and then, after birdieing both par-5s on the back nine, three-putted for bogey on the par-3 17th hole.
"On the Champions Tour, you make a bogey, you could have seven guys pass you," Kelly, the runner-up to McCarron a year ago, said. "That's the way it is every single week."
This week, that could make for a mighty entertaining Sunday. Unfortunately, on the heels of record crowds on a gorgeous day for the third round, it could also be a wet one.
With a 50 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms through the morning and into the early afternoon, officials have moved up the start time for the final round to 7:15 a.m. in hopes of finishing before stronger storms expected to arrive by mid-afternoon. Stricker, Flesch and Andrade will tee off at 9:15.
"Hopefully, we can dodge some of the weather," Stricker said. "Again, I'm in position to try to win this (Sunday) and that's a good feeling. There's a lot of guys bunched up there, though.
"I imagine somebody's going to come out of that pack with a good round, shoot a good (score) and that means that's what I'm going to have to do if I want to have a chance to win."