AKRON, Ohio — Firestone Country Club, like many American classics of its era, can make even the best golfers in the world look fairly average.
And that was the curve against which Steve Stricker graded his performance Saturday, a 3-over-par 73 that felt like 100 for a guy who had bettered 70 in seven consecutive rounds on the PGA Tour Champions before doing it again in Thursday's opening-round 64 at this Firestone Senior Players Championship.
By the end of the day, however, the seemingly lackluster round dropped the Madison golfer into a three-way tie for third place at 3-under 207, just two strokes behind Scott Parel, the third golfer in as many days to take his turn sleeping on the lead in the four of the year's five senior circuit majors. Parel birdied five of his last 10 holes and bettered Saturday's average (73.026) by six shots in taking a one-shot lead over second-round leader Retief Goosen.
"I got off to a poor start and then I saw the guys behind me got off to a poorer start, so ..., you know, you're never out of it," Stricker told reporters after the round. "You've just got to keep plugging, keep grinding away. You never know when you run off a few birdies and you get right back into it.
"It's a challenging place, as you can see, and it looks like I'll be two or three shots back going into (Sunday), so it's not a bad position to be in. And I just need to play better. Bottom line is I need to play like I did the first day."
Indeed, Stricker made nothing happen until his third-to-last hole, which he birdied to keep his name in the mix entering Sunday's final round. The two-time PGA Tour Champions major championship winner this year bogeyed Nos. 1, 8, 12 and 15 before his lone birdie — ending a streak of 26 consecutive holes without one for a guy who made four and a hole-in-one Thursday — kept him within two shots of the lead.
"It's just a good golf course," said Stricker, who is looking to join Gary Player (1988), Jack Nicklaus (1991) and Bernhard Langer (2017) as the only golfer to win three senior majors in one season. "I mean, if you don't hit it in the fairway, it's a struggle. Sometimes you do hit it in the fairway and you've still got to maneuver a ball around a tree or overhanging limbs or branches.
"But the wind came up a little bit at times today, made things a little bit more difficult. A different direction as well, three different days really wind-wise. But it's a course you need to be on, and if you're not, it exposes some things and you've got to fight your way around. And that's what I did (Saturday)."