ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia – Wearing a green shirt in a nod to Mexico’s soccer team, Esteban Toledo birdied four of the last six holes Saturday for a 6-under 66 and the lead in the American Family Insurance Championship.
Five strokes behind tournament host Steve Stricker after an opening 69 in rain Friday at University Ridge, the 55-year-old Mexican player had six birdies in a bogey-free round to reach 9-under 135.
“I wear this shirt three days ago and I wash it myself last night so I can wear green today,” Toledo said. “It worked. I wish I can wear this tomorrow, but tomorrow I’m coming in black and white.”
In Russia on Saturday in the World Cup, Mexico beat South Korea 2-1 to improve to 2-0 and close in on a spot in the round of 16. Toledo won the last of his four PGA Tour Champions titles in 2016.
“Made a lot of putts, got up-and-down a few times, hit the ball in the fairway pretty much all day long,” Toledo said. “When I looked at the leaderboard on the last hole, I didn’t know I was tied for first. I was shocked a little bit. But you know what, it’s a lot of guys right next to it, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Defending champion Fred Couples (67), David Toms (66), Kent Jones (67) and Billy Mayfair (68) were a stroke back.
“I’m surprised that someone isn’t 11 or 12 under, but the greens picked up a lot of pace today,” Couples said. “I think maybe the scoring was a little easier yesterday because we got to clean the ball in the fairways, but it’s not easy out there.”
Bernhard Langer (69) was 8 under with Madison player Jerry Kelly (69), Scott McCarron (67), Mark Calcavecchia (68), Paul Goydos (68), Joey Sindelar (68), Glen Day (69) and Brad Bryant (72).
“The conditions haven’t been that easy,” Kelly said. “The pins are in some spots where you can’t spin it and you have to hit them firm out of these kind of soft fairways, otherwise you could chunk it. It’s not that easy even though the course is gettable. There’s just a few things going on out there to keep the scoring from going too low like it normally does.”
Stricker followed his opening 64 with a 74, ending his Champions under-par streak at 30 rounds – the fourth-longest streak in tour history.
“It just was one of those days where I didn’t have a lot of energy,” Stricker said. “Nothing – hit very few good shots, really. The couple that I did hit well, I was in bad spots, and a couple bad shots even got worse.”
He had three bogeys and a birdie – on the final hole.
“That was a big birdie in my mind,” Stricker said. “It kept me a little bit closer. No one ran away with this thing today and three shots back, a lot of guys in between me and the lead. It was a good putt to make and finally get a birdie. That was my only one today.”
Stricker won in Arizona and Mississippi in consecutive starts in May for his first senior victories. The 12-time PGA Tour winner played the big tour the last two weeks, tying for 18th in Memphis and tying for 20th in the U.S. Open.
John Daly matched Stricker at 6 under with a 70.
In a nine-hole celebrity foursome match, Brett Favre and Andy North beat Derek Jeter and Lee Trevino, 4 under to 3-under.
“It’s good to be back,” Trevino said. “I don’t play much anymore. I’ll turn 79 in December. I’m still as active as ever. A month ago I got flipped off my mower so I landed in the driveway and busted an arm and a wrist.”
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.