ARDMORE, Pa. – Steve Stricker started the third round of the U.S. Open at even par.
He ended Saturday’s play at even par.
At the U.S. Open, that’s a good thing.
The Wisconsin native is tied for second heading into today’s final round at Merion Golf Club. Should the 46-year-old Stricker win, he would become the oldest U.S. Open champion and he would become the oldest first-time winner of a major championship.
Stricker is even par after rounds of 71, 69 and 70. He trails only fan favorite Phil Mickelson, who is 1-under after 54 holes. No 54-hole leader at the four previous U.S. Opens held at Merion have gone on to win, though.
The round was vintage Stricker as he put up 15 pars, two birdies and one blemish, a double bogey on the par-3 9th, on his card.
On the final hole, a par-4 that was playing 530 yards Saturday, Stricker reached the front of the green in regulation. But he misjudged the break on his birdie putt, and was left with a sizable par putt.
But Stricker poured the putt into the cup, and fist-bumped his caddie, Jimmy Johnson, in celebration.
“That was a big putt. I wanted to make that,” Stricker said. “I wanted to be at even par. I thought maybe the lead could be 2 under, so I didn’t want to lose another shot and be three back potentially. And, as it turns out, I’m only one back. So that was a big putt. Keeps my momentum going for tomorrow and keeps me closer.”
Stricker’s position comes as a bit of a surprise since he announced at the beginning of the PGA Tour season that he was cutting back his schedule to spend more time with his family.
After a pair of runner-up finishes before the Masters, Stricker has only played one tournament since Augusta. That was a month ago at The Players Championship, where he tied for 37th.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” he said of his game. “I’ve been playing well at home, been hitting it well at home, but that’s home, it’s not out here.”
On Saturday, Stricker reeled off eight consecutive pars to start his round. But at the 9th, he pushed his tee shot and it caught the creek fronting the green. He took a penalty shot, pitched on and two-putted for double bogey.
Stricker bounced back by driving the short par-4 10th and two-putted for birdie. He added another birdie at the 12th, then closed his round with six consecutive pars.
Stricker is enjoying his family time this week. His wife, Nicki, and his two daughters, Bobbi Maria and Isabella Nicole, are in attendance. Plus, the daughters brought along a friend.
“So the girls are all up until 11:30, it seems like, every night,” Stricker said. “No curfew here. And frozen yogurt at night. And they’re loving life.”
Now Stricker gets a shot at the major championship that has eluded him in his career. His best finish in a major came in 1998, when he was runner-up at the PGA Championship.
“The major, the win would be -- it would be unbelievable,” he said. “But I’m not trying to think about that yet. I’m just trying to execute the shots that I know how to do and take one shot at a time and go from there.”