Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly

Steve Stricker, right, and Jerry Kelly will play together in the final round of a PGA Tour Champions major for the second time Sunday at the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship. Here, they chat on the 16th hole during the third round at the 2019 U.S. Senior Open at Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

Jerry Kelly has spent a career chasing Steve Stricker — his good friend, fellow Madison golfer and current U.S. Ryder Cup captain — but, this time, it's a really big deal. 

In fact, you might call it a major deal.

Kelly will go into the final round of his title defense at the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship four shots behind Stricker, and the fact it's that close is a testimony to how quickly Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, can change the narrative. Stricker led the third of the PGA Tour Champions' five major championships by five shots entering the day, extended his cushion to nine at the turn and then struggled mightily starting the back nine — he played the first six holes in 5-over-par after having made just one bogey over his first 45 holes (at No. 4 after a birdie-birdie-birdie start to the third round).

"I mean, it's tough out there," Kelly told reporters in Ohio after his 2-under 68 pushed him into sole possession of second place at 3-under 207 and a lot closer to Stricker (72-203). "I know it took him a while to make that first bogey, but that's — until you've made that first bogey, you feel like you're pretty invincible. You know, I understand it. Did I go 36 holes without a bogey last year? Then it was, oh, yeah, floodgates, but you right the ship, and I'm sure he will.

"He let a lot of guys in right now, but (it's a) 72-hole tournament, so just got to go play."

That they get to play in a twosome as the final group of the day (1:10 p.m. CDT) will only sweeten the opportunity in front of both.

"Yeah, it will be fun," Stricker said. "We've played a lot of golf together, but (Sunday) we're going to be trying to win so it will be probably a little more serious than (when) we typically are out and playing. It will be fun."

Saturday was anything but fun for Stricker after his sizzling start.

With his lead threatening double-digits, the fountain of birdies went dry. His lead didn't begin to evaporate, however, until the back nine where a three-putt bogey at No. 10 led to a double-bogey on the par-3 12th hole where he his 6-iron off the tee came to rest against the back lip of a greenside bunker.

"(I) pipe a drive at 13, hits a tree and kicked more in the woods, end up making par there," Stricker said. "But just the feeling of stuff was turning and going the other way all of a sudden, you know. Drove it in the middle of the fairway at 14 and hit a terrible 6-iron in there, don't get it up(-and-down). Missed the green just barely at 15 and don't get that up and down.

"It was a tough stretch of holes in there from 12, 13, 14, 15. Yeah, 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. Had an opportunity to kind of really distance myself, and that was the plan (Saturday was) 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."

In the end, a birdie at No. 16 stopped the bleeding and kept Stricker firmly in the driver's seat for his third career PGA Tour Champions major.

Kelly insisted that chasing Stricker doesn't get the adrenaline going any more or any less than against any golfer on the senior circuit. What makes the task ahead of the defending Senior Players champion is how difficult Stricker, who is 4-for-8 in converting 36-hole leads into victories, can be to catch.

Stricker won his first two majors on the senior circuit protecting leads that he had going into the final rounds of the 2019 Regions Tradition and U.S. Senior Open (by six shots over Jerry Kelly). However, he took one-shot leads into the final round of the first two PGA Tour Champions majors this year, but lost the Regions Tradition (in a playoff to Alex Cejka) and the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship (also to Cejka after a final-round 77, his highest score in his 32 career starts on the PGA Tour Champions).

"He's tougher to chase because he's such a good putter," said Kelly, who — coming off one successful title defense at the American Family Insurance Championship in Madison — can't wait to embrace the chance to become the first golfer since Bernhard Langer in 2017 to win back-to-back tournaments and the first since Phil Mickelson in 2020 to win in back-to-back starts. "I mean, I enjoy the chase. I'd rather be in the lead and stretch it, that's everybody's ideal, but I don't mind the chase."

PGA Tour Champions: Madison's Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly at Bridgestone Senior Players Championship | Third-round results (Firestone CC-Akron, Ohio)

Pos. Player Total Thru Today R1 R2 R3 R4 Score
Wisconsin leaderboard
1 Steve Stricker -7 F 2 63 68 72 -- 203
2 Jerry Kelly -3 F -2 69 70 68 -- 207
Full leaderboard
1 Steve Stricker -7 F 2 63 68 72 -- 203
2 Jerry Kelly -3 F -2 69 70 68 -- 207
3 Ken Duke -2 F E 67 71 70 -- 208
T4 David Toms E F -4 72 72 66 -- 210
T4 Jim Furyk E F 1 71 68 71 -- 210
T4 Ernie Els E F 1 72 67 71 -- 210
7 Kevin Sutherland 1 F 2 70 69 72 -- 211
T8 Marco Dawson 2 F 4 69 69 74 -- 212
T8 Paul Broadhurst 2 F 6 67 69 76 -- 212
T10 Fred Couples 3 F -2 72 73 68 -- 213
T10 Paul Stankowski 3 F -1 74 70 69 -- 213
T10 Scott Parel 3 F 3 71 69 73 -- 213
T13 Rod Pampling 4 F -1 70 75 69 -- 214
T13 Rocco Mediate 4 F -1 74 71 69 -- 214
T13 Lee Janzen 4 F E 73 71 70 -- 214
T13 Colin Montgomerie 4 F E 75 69 70 -- 214
T13 Tim Petrovic 4 F 2 72 70 72 -- 214
T18 Brandt Jobe 5 F E 72 73 70 -- 215
T18 Stephen Ames 5 F 1 74 70 71 -- 215
T20 Vijay Singh 6 F E 72 74 70 -- 216
T20 Tom Lehman 6 F E 74 72 70 -- 216
T20 Bernhard Langer 6 F 1 71 74 71 -- 216
T20 Steve Jones 6 F 2 73 71 72 -- 216
T20 Retief Goosen 6 F 2 73 71 72 -- 216
T20 Darren Clarke 6 F 2 70 74 72 -- 216
T20 Mike Weir 6 F 3 74 69 73 -- 216
T20 José María Olazábal 6 F 7 70 69 77 -- 216
T20 Paul Goydos 6 F 7 70 69 77 -- 216
T29 Shane Bertsch 7 F -1 74 74 69 -- 217
T29 Gene Sauers 7 F 3 69 75 73 -- 217
T29 Joe Durant 7 F 5 73 69 75 -- 217
T32 Robert Karlsson 8 F 3 71 74 73 -- 218
T32 Steve Flesch 8 F 4 71 73 74 -- 218
T32 Dicky Pride 8 F 4 70 74 74 -- 218
T32 Doug Barron 8 F 5 72 71 75 -- 218
T32 Stephen Leaney 8 F 6 70 72 76 -- 218
T37 Scott McCarron 9 F -1 74 76 69 -- 219
T37 David Frost 9 F 2 73 74 72 -- 219
T37 Esteban Toledo 9 F 3 77 69 73 -- 219
T37 Scott Dunlap 9 F 3 73 73 73 -- 219
T41 Kent Jones 10 F 4 75 71 74 -- 220
T41 Tom Byrum 10 F 4 74 72 74 -- 220
T41 Ken Tanigawa 10 F 5 74 71 75 -- 220
T41 Tom Gillis 10 F 5 73 72 75 -- 220
T41 Wes Short, Jr. 10 F 5 73 72 75 -- 220
T41 Duffy Waldorf 10 F 6 73 71 76 -- 220
T41 Bob Estes 10 F 8 69 73 78 -- 220
T48 K.J. Choi 11 F 2 77 72 72 -- 221
T48 Glen Day 11 F 3 75 73 73 -- 221
T48 Kirk Triplett 11 F 3 76 72 73 -- 221
T48 David McKenzie 11 F 4 73 74 74 -- 221
T48 Miguel Angel Jiménez 11 F 7 70 74 77 -- 221
T48 John Huston 11 F 7 71 73 77 -- 221
T48 Jay Haas 11 F 8 75 68 78 -- 221
T55 Chris DiMarco 12 F 1 76 75 71 -- 222
T55 Brett Quigley 12 F 2 73 77 72 -- 222
T55 Billy Andrade 12 F 3 76 73 73 -- 222
T55 Steve Pate 12 F 4 72 76 74 -- 222
T55 Kenny Perry 12 F 3 71 78 73 -- 222
T55 John Senden 12 F 4 74 74 74 -- 222
T61 Michael Allen 13 F 1 76 76 71 -- 223
T61 Jeff Maggert 13 F 2 77 74 72 -- 223
T61 Willie Wood 13 F 9 74 70 79 -- 223
T64 Corey Pavin 14 F 4 76 74 74 -- 224
T64 Cameron Beckman 14 F 7 72 75 77 -- 224
T64 Olin Browne 14 F 10 75 69 80 -- 224
T64 Woody Austin 14 F 10 72 72 80 -- 224
68 Joey Sindelar 15 F 6 75 74 76 -- 225
69 Billy Mayfair 16 F 2 78 76 72 -- 226
70 Matt Gogel 17 F -1 75 83 69 -- 227
T71 Carlos Franco 18 F 2 76 80 72 -- 228
T71 Tim Herron 18 F 10 71 77 80 -- 228
73 Fred Funk 19 F 10 73 76 80 -- 229
74 Russ Cochran 20 F 9 77 74 79 -- 230
75 John Daly 23 F 9 73 81 79 -- 233
76 Jay Don Blake 30 F 9 82 79 79 -- 240
77 David Eger 37 F 9 85 83 79 -- 247
WD Larry Mize E -- -- 74 78 -- -- 152
WD Dudley Hart E -- -- 75 17 -- -- 92
WD Tommy Armour III E -- -- 75 39 -- -- 114
WD Scott Verplank E -- -- 80 53 -- -- 133

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