Stricker, Jimenez share Champions lead in South Dakota

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP)Steve Stricker and Miguel Angel Jimenez shared the lead going into the final round of the Sanford International, with Fred Couples, Darren Clarke and Kevin Sutherland a shot behind after a low-scoring day.

The only player at at Minehaha Country Club set to play next week in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Stricker birdied the par-5 16th and par-4 18th on Saturday for a 6-under 64 to post at 9-under 131.

”I like my spot and I’m going to have to go out tomorrow and put up another good round,” Stricker said. ”That’s my focus anyway, to get out there and make birdies and try not to make any mistakes.”

The U.S. Ryder Cup captain won the inaugural event in 2018, then skipped his title defense last year.

”I feel like I’m the defending champion,” Stricker said. ”I haven’t been here since two years ago, but I enjoy the layout. You’ve got to put it in the proper spot. If you don’t hit it in the fairway, sometimes hitting it on these small undulating greens is tough, as you saw a couple short holes for me today that you end up scrambling.”

Jimenez, the Spanish star tied for the lead with David Toms and Dicky Pride after the rainy first round, birdied the par-4 15th as well as 16 and 18 in a 66.

”Tomorrow, I look to keep my rhythm, keep focused and let it happen and enjoy,” Jimenez said. ”The guy who play better and shoot low will win. The main thing is enjoy and keep the rhythm and keep focused.”

Clarke birdied the last four in a 62, while Couples and Sutherland matched Couples with 64s.

”What a day!” Clarke said. ”I played so badly yesterday. I played so poorly, hit the ball awful yesterday, went back and watched a bit of YouTube and watched a bit of Instagram and found a little tip from somebody and came out and hit some balls this morning and thought, `Well, that felt pretty good.”’

Sutherland birdied his last three holes, playing alongside Couples.

”It’s going to take something in the mid-60s, I think,” Sutherland said. ”It’s just so packed together. There’s guys that are in 15th place that are only like two or three back. It’s going to take a really low one.”

Couples holed out from 97 yards for eagle on the par-4 ninth.

”I drove it in the rough, which was a great lie, and I had 97 yards,” Couples said. ”I just cut a little 54 and I couldn’t see the hole, but I didn’t see it bounce. It was a real quick yell that it went in. You don’t do that very often.”

Toms had a 68 to fall into a tie for sixth at 7 under with Bernhard Langer (65), Rod Pampling (63), Glen Day (64) and Woody Austin (65).

John Daly, two days after revealing he’s being treated for bladder cancer, was 6 under after a 66.

Country singer Colt Ford was last in the 81-man field in PGA Tour Champions debut. Playing on a on a sponsor exemption, he followed an opening 74 with a 78.

The tournament is the senior tour’s first with fans since returning from a break because of the coronavirus pandempic.

”So many weeks without playing with fans, getting here to see the fans and the people, the people in the club, we’re missing in all the tournament,” Jimenez said. ”I hope from now on we’re going to start having people on the golf course. It’s nice.”

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