BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Robert Karlsson and defending champion Steve Stricker surged into the lead Saturday at the Regions Tradition, with Karlsson shooting a 9-under 63 to match the low score since this PGA Tour Champions major moved to its current venue.
Stricker closed with four straight birdies for a 64 to match Karlsson at 16-under 200 on the Founders Course at Greystone, two shots ahead of Padraig Harrington (65).
The 56-year-old Stricker, a two-time winner at the Tradition and a four-time major champion on the over-50 tour, got up and down on the par-5 18th hole to cap off his birdie string and close a bogey-free round. The Charles Schwab Cup points leader has two wins and two runner-up finishes in his last four appearances at Greystone.
The hot finish caught him up with Karlsson after the 6-foot-5 Swede turned in the lowest round of the tournament since it moved to Greystone, one shot behind the overall tournament record last reached by Brad Bryant in the first round at Sunriver in Oregon in 2009.
Karlsson eagled the par-5 13th hole and closed with his eighth birdie. An 11-time winner on the European tour, Karlsson has never won on the PGA Tour or the PGA Tour Champions.
“There’s a lot of good players up at the top, so it’s going to be enough for me to focus on my game and try to keep what I’m doing going, and then we’ll see what happens,” Karlsson said.
Second-round leader Ernie Els made double bogey on the par-5 second hole and shot 72 to fall six shots off the lead.
Karlsson had two runner-up finishes in 132 PGA Tour starts and four more in 59 appearances on the senior tour. A two-time Ryder Cup player, he won the 2008 money title on the European tour after top-eight finishes in the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open.
Karlsson bounced back with a birdie after his three-putt bogey on No. 14. He bounced his second shot high off the grandstand on 18 and back onto the green to set up another birdie. He has been putting in extra work on site with swing coach Mark Blackburn, who is based out of Greystone.
“Over the last few months, I’ve been working quite a bit,” said Karlsson, who was 21st and 58th in his last two events. “Even though I haven’t put it together, I’ve seen sort of signs – at least I’ve seen the signs, even though it has felt horrible at times.”