Steve Stricker is still kind of being “a jerk,” which his friend Billy Andrade playfully called him on Friday. That's because he is being a brilliant, record-breaking automaton of a player.
The Wisconsin native hasn’t made a bogey since the sixth hole on Thursday and continues to break scoring records in the 40th U.S. Senior Open. He holds a six-stroke lead over his good friend Jerry Kelly with 18 holes to play at Notre Dame’s Warren Golf Course after firing a 4-under 66 on Saturday that gave him an 18-under 192 total, the best 54-hole score in championship history.
Of course, no one should simply hand him the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy, but Miguel Angel Jimenez suggested that such a thought is not out of bounds. “It looks like Stricker is untouchable this week, but we’ll see.”
Indeed, we will.
Stricker, 52, has a chance to become the ninth player to win the U.S. Senior Open in his first appearance. The others are Roberto De Vicenzo, Arnold Palmer, Dale Douglass, Lee Trevino, Larry Laoretti, Don Pooley, Peter Jacobsen and Roger Chapman, who was the last man to do it in 2012.
Even with Stricker owning such a large lead, there are still 18 holes left and some drama to be witnessed. Here are three things to know for the final round:
4-1-2. The area code of Pittsburgh? Yes. That’s also the rank in difficulty of the three-hole stretch starting at the par-4 third at the Warren Course. Holes 3-4-5, which are comprised of two daunting par 4s followed by the longest of the par 3s, is the area that has dogged the likes of would-be contenders Bernhard Langer, Retief Goosen and Chris DiMarco. Meanwhile, your championship leader, Steve Stricker, played them in 2 under on Saturday and is 4 under overall without a single bogey – by far the best performance in the field. How he and his nearest pursuers handle that early challenge will go a long way toward determining the winner.
Short is Sweet
With the Warren Course finally drying out and sharpening a few of its teeth, there is even more of a premium on the tried and true U.S. Open formula of fairways and greens. Par wasn’t a desirable score until Saturday afternoon, and the place is only going to dry out more for today’s final round. Everyone is going to miss a few fairways and a few greens. That means there will be a premium on the short game. Kirk Triplett talked earlier in the week about the ability to make ugly pars. But par is still par, ugly or not. “Short game is the most important thing when you’re playing in a U.S. Open,” said Jeff Sluman. “Under pressure, you have to have it.”
Fight for 15
Not many players have a legitimate shot at winning the championship, given the large lead Stricker has built. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t goals to achieve in today’s final round. “I always try to do my best,” Jimenez said. “I think I’m hitting the ball well all week. I hope I can hole a few more putts and finish as high as possible.” For some players, a finish in the top 15 would be meaningful. The top 15 finishers are exempt into the 2020 championship at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island. Among those who likely have an eye on that prize include Ken Duke, currently tied for 14th after carding a third-round 66, equaling the best round of the day. There’s also Mark Brown, the club pro from New York, who is T-17. And with a strong finish, Steve Jones, the 1996 U.S. Open champion, could jump from his current T-30 position into a 2020 U.S. Senior Open berth after having to go through sectional qualifying this year.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based writer whose work appears regularly on USGA digital channels.