Akron, OH — As the end of last week neared, Steve Stricker had to make a decision, play the PGA TOUR’s John Deere Classic or head to Firestone Country Club to play in the Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship.
Ultimately one fact won out.
With a win this week in Akron, Stricker would earn his third major championship of the season and through one round he is on his way, shooting a 6-under par round of 64, owning a two-stroke advantage over Scott Parel.
“It was a tough choice, tough decision because John Deere is a place where I’ve had a lot of success at and it feels like home and I get a lot of support there.” Stricker said. “So I wish they were different weeks so I could play them both, but I decided to come here. I’m happy I’m here and I’m not second guessing my decision at all. Hopefully, just keep playing the way I’m playing, see what happens.”
In his round, Stricker hit 10 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens. while only requiring 26 putts.
Stricker was aided by a hole-in-one on the par-3 seventh hole hitting a 7-iron 182 yards. It was the 15th hole-in-one in tournament history and first for Stricker on the PGA TOUR Champions.
“It came off good, it was just a little bit left of the hole and then it went in with great speed,” said Stricker. “From what I could tell, it wasn’t going too fast or anything, it just disappeared. That’s always something very unexpected. That was a good way to start the day.”
First round play was completed Friday morning as Akron was hit with 1.1″ or rainfall which suspended play at 12:55 p.m. and for the day at 5:05 p.m.
Stricker was in the 18th fairway, 140 yards from the hole when the horn blew, but finished his final hole shortly after the sun rose, burying his birdie putt.
With his advantage, Stricker has led/co-led after eight of 13 major rounds this season.
Parel has six top-10 finishes on the season and currently ranks seventh in the Charles Schwab Cup standings.
Thursday, Parel opened his round with a birdie but had to regroup after recording a double bogey on the par-4 third hole, which he did by going bogey free for the remainder of the round.
Parel hit 11 of 14 fairways and hit 13 of 18 greens, taking 26 putts. His 66 matches his best first-round score in a major.
Scott Verplank was an additional two shots off Stricker’s pace, placing third after the tournament’s opening 18 holes, while defending champion Vijay Singh fired an even-par 70.
He did this despite hitting 8 of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens.
“The golf course is hard, it always is,” he said. “You have to hit it in the fairway to have some chances. This course is long for a champions event. I scored wonderfully, I didn’t really hit it all that great, I played good. I made a couple of decent putts, so it was pretty solid, just not quite as good ballstriking as I would like.”
Fred Couples who Thursday night was recognized with the 2019 Ambassador of Golf Award at 5-over par and three-time Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Champion Bernhard Langer was at +6.
Current Charles Schwab Cup points letter Scott McCarron posted a 4-over par 74.
Ken Duke who was a last-minute addition to the field when Fred Funk withdrew, fired a 1-under par 69, he is one of 17 players in the field that never played the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.
Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship First Round Leaderboard
1. Steve Stricker -6
2. Scott Parel -4
3. Scott Verplank -2
T4. Jerry Kelly -1
T4. Retief Goosen -1
Mark O’Meara withdrew after nine holes after the Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship with a back injury. He was +1 at the time… Of the 77 remaining players in the field, eight rounds were below par and 59 were over par, resulting in a 73.221 on the par-70 course.
Photo credit: PGA TOUR Champions Twitter