Steve Stricker leads hometown PGA Tour Champions event

Steve Stricker plays a shot from the fifth hole during the third round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, Saturday, June 16, 2018, in Southampton, N.Y. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) Steve Stricker made himself at home at the top of the leaderboard on a rainy and breezy Friday at the American Family Insurance Championship.

The hometown star and tournament host shot an 8-under 64 at University Ridge to take a one-stroke lead over 63-year-old Brad Bryant in the PGA Tour Champions event. Stricker birdied five of the first eight holes, bogeyed the par-5 ninth, and birdied Nos. 11, 12, 13 and 16.

”The wind was out of the northeast, which is a wind that we don’t see very much of this time of year,” Stricker said. ”So there were some holes to start with that played pretty tough and I got through those holes in good shape. Then just kept giving myself a few opportunities. A little hiccup on No. 9, but other than that it was a good round today.”

Because of the wet conditions, the players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairways.

”It’s the same for everybody,” Stricker said. ”It’s a little wet out there at times. I think the mowers even had a hard time getting into some of the spots because of the softness, but not that big a deal. The course is in great shape. It’s the best it’s been in three years we’ve been here. It won’t be a problem if we have to play it down. We did get some mud balls today here and there, so it was good to play it in hand, but I could see with the forecast looking good that we might play it down.”

John Daly, Colin Montgomerie and Steve Flesch shot 67.

Splitting time between the PGA Tour and the 50-and-over circuit, the 51-year-old Stricker had his 30th consecutive Champions round under par, the fourth-longest streak in tour history.

Stricker won in Arizona and Mississippi in consecutive starts in May for his first senior victories. The 12-time PGA Tour winner played the big tour the last two weeks, tying for 18th in Memphis and tying for 20th in the U.S. Open.

”It is a little bit different, but it’s still golf,” Stricker said. ”Get it in the fairway and then get it on the green, give yourself an opportunity, and did I that today. I took one shot at a time. For the most part I never got too far ahead of myself.”

Fellow Madison player Jerry Kelly and Illinois coach Mike Small, Stricker’s teammate with the Illini, were at 68 with Bernhard Langer, Scott Verplank, Jeff Sluman, Glen Day, Billy Mayfair, Doug Garwood, Jerry Smith and Rocco Mediate.

Bryant had seven birdies in a bogey-free round.

”I had golfing success today – I started and finished with the same ball,” Bryant said. ”It’s the truth, so that was good. I’m a little bit surprised at the moment. I haven’t played all that much golf and I’ve worked pretty hard on my golf swing, and my wife has me on this fancy diet where I’ve lost some weight. I don’t know, things just kind of happened today.”

He made his only other tour start this year in February.

”I’m a retired person,” Bryant said. ”I mean, c’mon. I go home, I get up in the morning, I go to McDonald’s and then I hit golf balls for exercise and then I have lunch and then I go fishing and then I go to the couch.”

Defending champion Fred Couples had a 69. Stricker’s brother-in-law, Mario Tiziani, caddied for Couples.

”My eyes aren’t that good and these greens are very tough, so he read every putt,” Couples said ”He’s caddied for Steve for several events and he’s a very good player. It was good.”

Daly returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for three events.

”For me a cart really helps not having to walk so much,” Daly said. ”I’m still waiting for the steroid shot to kick in.”

Stricker played alongside Vijay Singh and Davis Love III. Singh shot 81, and Love 72.