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Defending champ Stricker leads Deere Classic

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

SILVIS, Ill. -- As he chatted about his day at the John Deere Classic, Steve Stricker was reminded that he now held the tournament's 36-hole record.

"So far," he said with a smile.

Stricker had good reason to be cautious because Paul Goydos, who had sent a buzz through the golf world by shooting only the fourth 59 in PGA Tour history on Thursday, was just starting his round.

But the deft putting touch that had put Goydos in golf's most exclusive club deserted him Friday and he settled for a 68, leaving him one stroke behind Stricker, the defending champion, heading into Saturday's third round.

"Reality kicked in today," Goydos said.

Stricker, who almost matched Goydos with a 60 in Thursday's round, came back with a solid 5-under par 66 for a two-day total of 126, which is 16 under at the TPC Deere Run. The old 36-hole record was 127 by David Frost in 2000, the first year the tournament was played at Deere Run.

Showing no ill-effects from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for six weeks earlier this year, Stricker overcame a bogey on his fifth hole with accurate approaches that left him with makeable birdie putts.

"It's always tough to follow up a good round with another good round and for whatever reason, I thought I did a pretty good job of that today," Stricker said.

Goydos appeared to be on his way to another sizzling round when he birdied his 11th hole, the par-5 No. 2, to go 17 under and move ahead of Stricker by a stroke. Then his game unraveled.

He failed to break par on any of the last seven holes and bogeyed two of them. After needing only 22 putts on Thursday, he slogged through this round with 32, essentially the difference in his scores.

"Yesterday was one of the greatest putting rounds maybe of all time and today was not," Goydos said. "But that's not -- I think they call it the Sports Illustrated jinx. It's just a reversion to the norm. Things tend to want to work their way to the center."

Still, he admitted: "I hit some pretty squirrely short putts coming in."

Jeff Maggert, Matt Jones and George McNeill were tied at 11-under 131, Maggert and McNeill shooting bogey-free 65s and Jones stumbling in at 67 after bogeying his final two holes.

South African Brendon de Jonge, buoyed by two monster putts, matched those 65s to tie Aaron Baddeley at 10 under.

The course is drying out from rains early in the week and the soft greens that allowed players to attack them so aggressively figure to be slicker this weekend. But it'll still take low scores to stay in contention, perhaps really low scores.

"I've got to figure somewhere around 25 under is probably going to win," Maggert said. "So I've got to keep playing hard to try to shoot six-, seven-under on the weekend."

Stricker is thinking the same way.

"Low scores are out there, and you've got to acknowledge that," he said. "You've got to think somebody could come from behind and shoot a real low one."

Goydos and Stricker certainly have gone low in the first two rounds.

Stricker finished on a bit of a downer, though. On the par-4 ninth, he sliced his second shot into the bunker right of the green, then looked as though he'd get up and down when he blasted out to 2 feet. But he missed a putt he normally could make with his eyes closed and walked off with a bogey and a bit of a sour feeling.

"Missing a 2-footer doesn't sit very well right now," Stricker said.

It could have been worse.

Stricker bogeyed No. 14, a par 4, after he flew the green not once, but twice. All things considered, he was happy to get out of there with a 5.

"If you would have given me a 5 as I'm sitting back there trying to figure out my options, I would have taken it," he said. "So that was good."

Later, Stricker salvaged par on No. 4 after almost losing his ball in the tall grass lining the right side of the fairway. He was walking back to the fairway, resigned that his ball was lost, when some keen eyes spotted it.

Rejuvenated, Stricker hacked out and gave himself a 6-footer for par, which he knocked in.

Maggert, who's been bothered by a sore shoulder most of the year, had failed to make the cut or withdrew from nine of his last 10 tournaments. But he's playing well this week and fashioned a workmanlike round Friday highlighted by a 37-foot birdie putt on the par-3 third.

"I've been struggling putting the ball for the last two months," he said. "For some reason, all of a sudden, everything is going into the hole. That's a good problem to have."

De Jonge, a 29-year-old from Zimbabwe began the day at 4 under. He got off a rousing start by rolling in a 33-foot birdie putt on No. 1, followed with a 44-footer at No. 7, missed an eagle from 46 yards out on No. 17 by less than a foot, then made an 18-footer for birdie on 18.

Goydos didn't act put off by his round, though he had every right to feel that way because he was missing the kind of birdie putts he had drilled with regularity on Thursday.

g Rain halts U.S. Women's Open: Heavy rain that began with 100 of the 156 golfers still to begin or complete the second round caused play to be suspended for the day at the U.S. Women's Open.

Play will resume at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at Oakmont Country Club, with the third round to begin with threesomes teeing off at 2:30 p.m. Normally, golfers play in pairs the final two rounds.

Sophie Gustafson was the leader on the course at even par when play was halted, but she had completed only one hole of the second round.

Cristie Kerr, coming off her 12-stroke victory in the LPGA Championship two weeks ago, and first-round leader Brittany Lang were the clubhouse leaders at 1-over 143.