Darren Clarke’s hopes of capturing the Champions Tour’s Kaulig Companies Championship at Firestone Country Club appear to be over after a one-over 71 on moving day sees the Dungannon man fall eight back.
Birdies on the opening two holes saw the 2011 Open champion climb inside the top five, but unfortunately, they’d be the only red numbers on the card as he parred his way to the turn before making three bogies on the inward loop to fall back to a tie for 18th ahead of the fourth and final round.
Steve Stricker produced his second five-under 65 of the week on moving day to move back into a share of the lead he’d held on day one before uncharacteristically struggling to a 73 on day two. Stricker was back to his best, birdieing seven of the notoriously difficult Akron course’s 18 holes and rejoins Harrison Frazer at the summit.
Frazer, still searching for his first Champions Tour win, produced two birdies and two bogeys on his way to a level-par 70, and Stricker and he enjoy a one-stroke lead over Stewart Cink, with Ernie Els and K.J. Choi one further adrift on -5.
Level par rounds were the order of the day at the top of the board with Els and Cink matching Frazer’s round, with only Choi (69) and Stricker (65) making inroads.
“Yeah, good question,” Stricker responded when asked about the eight-shot differential from round two. “I’ve been playing well. Yesterday I played horribly, I just didn’t do anything very well. Hit some really bad shots, and I hit a couple more of those today, kind of pull hooks with a short iron. I worked on it last night, ironed out a few kinks, need to do it again today.
“But a solid round. I drove the ball really nicely, I put it in play a lot. But again, I hit a couple of those pull hooks with short irons that cost me bogeys, otherwise it would have been really special. Hopefully, you know, work on it, get it a little bit better and drive it like I did today tomorrow and hit some better iron shots.”
“Well, I fully expect Steve to play well,” Frazer said when asked about the the prospect of teeing it up alongside Stricker in the final round. “As straight as he drives it and as well as he putts and chips and all that stuff, so I don’t think he’s going to go anywhere. I feel like I need to have the same mindset I had today, be a little bit more confident off the tees, try to get a little bit more aggressive with the iron shots. I felt like today I hit a lot of good shots off the tee to hit the right spots, just it’s hard to hit these things. So just try to keep going, try to make a few more birdies.”