BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Friday was a day worth celebrating for Steve Stricker.
While his youngest daughter Izzi turned 13, the Madison golfer also reveled at the return of his putter during the second round of the Regions Tradition Championship. Stricker needed just 24 putts in a bogey-free, 8-under-par 64 that tied the course record on the Founders Course at Greystone Golf & Country Club and took a one-stroke lead over David Toms after 36 holes of the first major championship on the PGA Tour Champions schedule.
Stricker reached the halfway point of the 72-hole event at 12-under 132 thanks to his lowest score (by two shots) in 14 rounds on the senior circuit this year. He has not played on the PGA Tour Champions since late March when he tied for fifth in his title defense at the Rapiscan Systems Classic.
"I didn't put too much stress on myself out there," Stricker told Golf Channel. "I made some putts for a change, which has been lacking in my game this year so far. I had good speed, pretty good line, and some went in (Friday). It was go to see the ball go in."
Stricker acknowledged he has been experimenting with the "arm lock" grip made popular by PGA Tour golfer Matt Kuchar to try to regain confidence in his putting stroke, which has long been one of the best in professional golf.
"I've practice with that quite a bit," Stricker said. "It has led me to things that I remember doing years ago with my regular putter. It's been kind of a teaching aid, a practice aid for me. I continue to work on that a little bit.
"I'm not there yet, going to that (longer) putter. It feels good at times and it's a good practice aid for me."
It certainly paid off Friday.
After finishing the last five holes of his rain-delayed opening round, Stricker started his second round on No. 10 and birdied the par-3. That led to birdies on three of his first four holes and five of his first seven as he made the turn in 5-under 31.
Stricker parred No. 1 and then went birdie-par-birdie-par-birdie-par over his next six holes to get to 8-under for the round. He got up-and-down for a par 3 at No. 8 and had birdie opportunities on the last two holes, but couldn't get them to fall.
"Soft conditions so you can get a little more aggressive," said Stricker, who made the most of playing lift-clean-and-place during the second round. "The ball isn't rolling out of the fairways, it's plugging where you're hitting it, so I was able to get the ball in the fairway, get it cleaned up. You know, we played ball in hand in the second round and I gave myself a lot of opportunities and was able to make some."
His timing could not have been better.
With an 80 percent chance of rain Saturday and 90 percent on Sunday, Stricker is prepared for anything over the next two days. He has never won a major championship in his career and breaking the ice here would be yet another cause for celebration this weekend before the 2020 Ryder Cup captain heads to the PGA Championship.
"It all depends with the weather, I guess, and what kind of conditions we're going to have," Stricker said. "Yeah, when it's soft like this and we're playing it up, you're going to have to make some birdies, you're going to have to get aggressive, so you've got to just keep doing it, keep plugging away."