Steve Stricker now five clear after 36 holes of Senior Players Championship

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AKRON, Ohio — Steve Stricker increased his lead to five strokes Friday in the Senior Players Championship, following an opening 7-under 63 with a 68 at breezy Firestone.

The 54-year-old U.S. Ryder Cup captain had a 9-under 131 total on the difficult South Course, playing bogey-free for the first two rounds.

“It was a little bit more of a grind today,” Stricker said. “I didn’t make a bogey, but I made a couple good saves for pars that kept the round going. Only two birdies. I didn’t really capitalize on a couple of the good shots that I hit in there today.”

The tournament is the third of the five majors on the PGA Tour Champions schedule. Stricker has six senior victories — two of them major championships — after winning 12 times on the PGA Tour.

Full-field scores from the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship

“Just got to continue to do the same things,” Stricker said “Get aggressive when I can and play smart like I’ve been doing and just try to do the same things that I’ve been doing these first couple of days.”

Paul Broadhurst was second at 4 under after a 69. The 55-year-old Englishman has five Champions wins — two of them majors — after winning six times on the European Tour.

“I think it’s a case of him (Stricker) having to come back to the field rather than us catching him,” Broadhurst said. “You’re not going to hit every fairway, you’re not going to hit every green, so a couple rounds under par made me happy.”

Marco Dawson (69) and Ken Duke (71) were 2 under.

Defending champion Jerry Kelly (70) was 1 under with Jim Furyk (68), Ernie Els (67), Jose María Olazabal (69), Paul Goydos (69) and Kevin Sutherland (69). Kelly is coming off a victory two weeks ago in the American Family Insurance Championship in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.

Stricker birdied the par-4 10th and par-5 16th.

“It’s just a tough test,” Stricker said. “The wind is up, so I think we got like, I don’t know, 15, 16 holes either downwind or into the wind, and then there’s just a couple that are crosswinds. It’s a tough test. And the pin locations are tough if you don’t drive it in the fairway. I felt like I was living in that first cut today, which is hard to control the ball coming out of that first cut.”