Jerry Kelly finds a groove, Steve Stricker stumbles, Steve Flesch leads Friday at the AmFam

A rainy morning turned into a picture-perfect day for golf Friday at the American Family Insurance Championship. The light drizzle conceded around 11 a.m. and blue sky subsequently found its way through the clouds. When the sun began to shine down, the temperature rose…and so did the golf.

Tournament host and heavy favorite Steve Stricker almost perfectly embodied the mood of the day for his first 16 holes. He bogied the par 4 1st while the rain was still trickling down then proceeded to record five birdies in his next 15 holes as the sun was shining.

That sent him to the 17th tee at -3, where a poor tee shot led to a crushing double bogey, undoing much of the forward progress he’d made.

“Yeah, that was a disappointing way to finish really because I had it in the middle of the fairway at 16 with a 7- or 8-iron in my hand,” Stricker said. “ I’ve been trying to hit some hard shots and I tried to hit a hard one there and just didn’t go. And then make the double at 17.”

The tournament host hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation today despite only hitting 9 of 13 fairways. His only missed green on the back nine was at the 17th, where a big number can always hurt a good day’s work. Stricker now sits at -1, tied for 28th entering the weekend.

Two-time defending champion Jerry Kelly’s first-round took a nearly opposite path to that of his fellow Wisconsin native. He made the turn at -1 after solid golf on the front nine (6/6 fairways, 9/9 greens in regulation) was not rewarded with many birdies. He then stood on the 16th tee at that same number, before proceeding to play the par 5 16th, par 3 17th and par 4 18th at a combined three-under to card a four-under 68.

“I started out today just pretty weak, just not being able to do what I did last week,” Kelly said. “I mean, I had some new swing thoughts last week and it was great, and I had some new putting thoughts last week and it was great, and trying to duplicate sometimes is difficult. I kind of realized a few things going into that back side after I hit some really bad shots through like 13 or so and really got on top of it.”

Kelly sits tied for 4th place entering a weekend where he’ll look to win this tournament for a third straight time.

The trios of Stricker, Jim Furyk and Davis Love and Jerry Kelly, Fred Couples and Retief Goosen captured much of the fan attention today, understandably so. But the best golf of the day came from 55-year-old Steve Flesch. His opening-round seven-under 65 puts him one shot clear of Colin Montgomerie and Miguel Angel Jimenez for first place entering the weekend.

“You know, hit a lot of good shots, got away with a few scratchy ones,” Flesch said. “Putted great and got the ball up and down all but one time, so I had a great day out there. But the putting was better than normal and I was rewarded with a lot of good looks for birdie and capitalized on them.”

Flesch was a scrambling machine throughout the day, converting 6/7 of his scramble chances and getting around the course with only 24 putts. A three-putt bogey on 12 turned out to be the only blemish on a field-leading card.

The rest of the top 10 includes Montgomerie and Angel Jimenez at -6, Esteban Toledo, Paul Goydos, Tom Pernice Jr, Tim Herron, Kirk Triplett and Kelly all tied for fourth at -4 and eight more players tied for 10th at -3.

Another highlight from an entertaining Friday was John Daly breaking par with a first round 71. Or maybe the highlight was just the flamingo pants.

The golfers will head back to the tee at University Ridge Golf Course tomorrow morning.