There’s a decent chance that the winner of the American Family Insurance Championship will come out of the Stricker house. But it may not necessarily be Steve who pulls it off.
Scott Verplank, longtime friend and houseguest of the Strickers for the tournament week, shot himself into contention on Saturday with a 6-under-par 66 to move into a tie for second place with Lee Janzen at 10-under at University Ridge Golf Course.
First-round leader Paul Broadhurst shot a 3-under 69 to maintain his lead, but many of the biggest names in the field are lurking within striking distance a few shots back.
Edgerton native and Madison resident Stricker, Fred Couples and Gene Sauers are three shots back at 9-under, one shot better than Jeff Maggert and two ahead of Corey Pavin, Jay Haas and Joe Durant.
“You know the standard out here,” Broadhurst said. “Anyone’s capable of shooting 8 or 9 under. If somebody does that in the top 10, then they’re going to win.”
If that somebody turns out to be Verplank, he’ll be buying dinner for the Strickers.
“They’re feeding me pretty good so far,” said Verplank, who played with Nicki Stricker in the pro-am. “Basically we just go wherever they’re going to have us for dinner and we all show up. Sometimes I go one way and they go the other. It’s great.
“He and I have been really good, close friends for a long time. (We) had a lot of dinners together in the last 15 years on the regular tour because we were like the only two guys that were old enough to be playing out there. Great friends. His family and my family are friends, so it’s a tremendous week.”
Verplank, whose score shared honors for low round of the day with Janzen and Sauers, knew he’d have to go low to get back in contention after starting the day five shots out of the lead.
“Scoring out here is actually pretty amazing,” he said. “It’s a little tougher today than (Friday), but still, you know there’s going to be good scores. Guys play good out here.”
Janzen, a two-time U.S. Open champion, feels the urgency to go low in every round in PGA Tour Champions events, which are three rounds instead of the four on the regular tour. There’s no waiting for moving day on Saturday in Champions events.
“Moving day starts on Wednesday,” said Janzen, who birdied Nos. 13 and 14 and eagled the par-5 16th to jump up the leaderboard. “You can’t get too far behind after the first round, it’s very difficult to catch up. If you watch every week, guys shoot good scores every day.”
Sauers has shown the ability to put up a good score at University Ridge, including an opening-round 63 last year. He got off to an uneven start with four birdies and three bogeys on the front nine, but got it going with birdies on 11, 13 and 14 and an eagle on the par-4 15th as he holed out with a wedge from about 65 yards.
“That kind of boosted me up a little bit,” Sauers said. “I like the golf course. It’s in perfect shape. I’ve just got to keep hitting the ball solid.”
Couples, who shot a 68, also got it going on the back nine with five birdies after going 1 over on the front. For the two rounds, he is even par on the front and 9 under on the back.
“I had a great back nine,” Couples said. “I really did hit the ball very well. It was a lot windier. There were some holes out there that played brutal and there were some holes that if you judged the wind right, they were easier second shots.”
Stricker, who started the day three shots behind Broadhurst, got off to a fast start with birdies on the first two holes. But he quickly lost steam with 11 pars and a bogey on the next 12 holes before posting birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 to finish with a 3-under 69.
“I was pretty focused,” Stricker said. “I just had a hard time hitting a few iron shots in there. A couple wedges that I normally hit in there to have some birdie putts that I didn’t get in there and a couple putts that I didn’t make.
“It was a little bit of a grind out there for me. A couple of tough holes with the wind conditions the way we had it. So it was a good day just to grind it out. Hopefully, come back (Sunday) a little more charged up. I felt a little lazy and lackadaisical at times, but hopefully, I get it rolling.”