Steve Stricker is a step closer to filling the only hole remaining in his impressive career resume.
The self-effacing man from Wisconsin honed in on his first major championship Thursday, tying a PGA Championship record by shooting 63 in the first round to take the first-round lead at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
Stricker shot a 7-under 63, becoming the 11thplayer in tournament history to match that score. He tied the competitive course record set by Mark O'Meara at the 2001 PGA Championship and leads Jerry Kelly, his close friend and fellow Cheesehead, by two shots.
“You know, 63 is that number that no one has gotten under,” Stricker said. “But I never really thought about it at all today. (Caddie Jimmy Johnson) told me after I missed the putt (on 18), you know that was for the lowest competitive round in the history of major championships. It really never registered. I was just trying to make a birdie and finish 8-under. I was really concentrating on the putt but never thought about the history part of it.”
It was the 14th time in 43 rounds that Stricker has shot in the 60s at the PGA Championship. It bettered his best career PGA Championship score by one shot; he had a 64 in 1995 at Riviera Country Club.
Stricker isn't a long hitter, so the Athletic Club wouldn't seem to be a good match for his skill set. But he keeps the ball in the fairway and was convinced that he could compete there after playing a couple of practice rounds with Kelly. It was placement, not power, that would make the difference.
Stricker hit nine of 14 fairways on Thursday and only once had to scramble to save par, that coming at No. 11 when he blocked his tee shot and had 230 yards to the front of the green. He was able to recover close to the green and make a short par putt.
Now Stricker must try to forget about Thursday's success and begin with a clean slate on Friday. He would do well to remember that only two of the 11 players who shot 63 at the PGA have gone on to win the tournament, the last being Tiger Woods in 2007.
“This is just the start,” Stricker said. “We have three more days. It's a good start and that's all I'm trying to think about it as is a good start.