Johns Creek: Steve Stricker made his intentions clear early on at the PGA Championship but on Saturday he backed up his first-round statement with solid golf that left him perfectly poised in pursuit of his first major title.
The 44-year-old`s opening 63, a record-equalling score in a major, remains the best round this week at Atlanta Athletic Club and gives Stricker a chance to go one better than his best ever performance in a major -- second place at the 1998 PGA Championship.
Unlike some of those who have soared briefly before crashing and burning on the challenging Highland course, world number five Stricker, who wobbled with a 74 on Friday, kept himself in the frame with a third-round 69 that owed much to a one-under-par 34 on the treacherous back nine.
His position would have been even better had he not bogeyed the sixth and seventh but he finds himself just three strokes off the lead and, with 11 PGA Tour wins, the most experienced of the five Americans at the top of the leaderboard.
"Everybody is going to be dealing with their nerves and the pressure of trying to win," Stricker told reporters after keeping his cool to make par on a brutal final hole that undid so many others.
"I think it`s who can keep it together the best and be patient and play some good golf."
The American wisely took a conservative route at the 507-yard par-four 18th, laying up and playing a wedge rather than taking on the pond that guards the front of the green.
"I didn`t want to give one back on the last hole," the 44-year-old said. "That just leaves a bad taste in your mouth at the end of the day. I really wanted to make that putt and get it up and down.”
"I don`t mind playing that hole that way, the way David Toms played to win back in 2001. You know, it kind of takes a big number out of play.”
"But it`s a very difficult hole to make a birdie on. It`s very easy to make bogey or higher. Like I say, I don`t mind. I feel comfortable hitting a wedge up there and trying to make a putt, and fortunately I did today."
His 74 on Friday risked ruining the work of one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour this year but Stricker said he was pleased to end the third round with his dream of finally clinching a major still within reach.
"I came out today excited about today," said the American, a double winner on the PGA Tour this season. "I still felt like I was in a good position. I was only two shots back.”
"How I got there wasn`t really very desirable, you know, 63 and 74. But I was still in a good position, and that`s what I kept telling myself going into today.
"You know, shooting a 69, making a great save on the last leaves a good taste in my mouth heading into tomorrow."