Stricker delivers commanding performance at Kapalua
Hawaii: Steve Stricker took centre stage at the PGA Tour`s season-opening Tournament of Champions in Hawaii; eagling the par-five 15th on his way to a commanding five-shot lead in Saturday`s second round.
The American world number six, the highest-ranked player in the elite winners-only field of 27, fired a flawless 10-under-par 63 to take control at the picturesque Kapalua Resort.
Back to full health after being hampered by lingering neck and shoulder pain late last year, Stricker delivered a brilliant display in blustery conditions to post a 15-under total of 131.
"This game is never easy but I had it going today," a smiling Stricker said greenside after covering the back nine in six-under 31. "It`s always fun when you get rounds like this going."
Webb Simpson birdied three of the last four holes for a 68 to lie second at 10 under, a stroke in front of fellow American Kevin Na who spectacularly finished eagle-eagle for a 64.
First-round leader Jonathan Byrd, one ahead overnight after opening with a 67, failed to replicate the same form on Saturday while carding a 71 to share fourth place with Britain`s Martin Laird (70).
Saturday was largely all about Stricker who has long been renowned as one of the best putters on the PGA Tour.
Using his wedge game to full advantage, the 44-year-old birdied the par-five ninth to grab a two-stroke lead and then gave himself scoring chances on virtually every hole after the turn.
Birdies at the 10th and 14th put him three ahead of the chasing pack before he reached the green in two at the par-five 15th and coolly sank the 10-foot eagle putt to forge four ahead.
"I felt like I was going to make every putt I looked at there for a while and I gave myself a lot of opportunities, which is the key," said Stricker, an 11-times champion on the PGA Tour. "It was a good round, a good start, but we`ve got a long ways to go yet."
South Korea-born Na, who had opened with a level-par 73 on Thursday, rocketed up the leaderboard with a scintillating back nine of eight-under 29.
He finished in sizzling style, holing out with a five-iron from 220 yards at the par-four 17th before reaching the green in two at the par-five last and sinking a 10-foot putt.
"That was exciting, that was a lot of fun," a beaming Na said. "I got off to a slow start but I birdied nine to get it to under par and all of a sudden on the back nine I started getting it together.”
At the 17th, he struck his five-iron second shot from an awkward `hook` lie to perfection.
"I looked over to my caddie and said: `Where is it?` and he goes: `It`s in the hole.` Then I thought to myself, I can finish with back-to-back eagles," Na said.
"So I guess I`m thinking positive and then I hit a beautiful second shot into the (18th) green and I just kept telling myself: It`s for a 29, a 29.”
"It was exciting to make that (eagle) putt. It was an inside right putt and I hit it right on line. As soon as I hit it, I knew it was in."