Madison, Wisconsin native Jerry Kelly entered the final round of the American Family Insurance Championship trailing leader Miguel Angel Jimenez by two strokes.
The leaderboard was loaded with big names at the top, Jimenez in the lead at -10, Fred Couples sitting in solo second at -9 and Retief Goosen and Jim Furyk tied with Kelly at -8.
The leaderboard stood as it did thanks in large part to a Kelly double-bogey on Saturday’s final hole---the slip-up coming after he had played his first 35 holes bogey-free. Then, after his first hole on today's picture-perfect Sunday, he slipped even further, missing the green with his approach and finishing with a bogey to drop back to -7.
After that, it was all systems go for the defending champion.
He birdied the Par-5 5th, Par-3 3rd and Par-5 9th to enter the back nine at -10, still two back of Jimenez. Then a scalding-hot stretch on the back nine with birdies at 11, 12, 14 and 16 sent him into the solo lead at -14 stepping to the 18th tee.
Chasing him at the time was 2017 champion Fred Couples, former World No. 1 and Masters champion. As Kelly was teeing off on the final hole, Couples stuck his tee shot on the Par-3 17th to three feet and went on to birdie his way into a tie for the lead.
It’s all you can ask for in a golf tournament: a co-lead on the 18th hole with only putts left to decide a champion.
Kelly, in the group ahead of Couples, had to do just that. After a short chip got away, a mid-range par putt was necessary to stay at -14.
He made it, and put pressure on Couples in the group behind to match his total.
Just minutes later, Couples’ approach from the left rough ran through the 18th green. His attempt at a low-running chip then sailed by the hole, leaving a similar distance as Kelly had to save his par.
His putt stayed high, giving the trophy back to the hometown hero and now two-time defending champion.
“Well, 17 I hit a good shot. 18, I've been there before, I don't mind driving it over there,” Couples said after the round. “Then I chose to be long coming back this way. I knew I wasn't going to get it close and it just came out hot and rolled through the green. I thought I was putting and then chipped it strong and pushed the putt and that was it.”
Kelly’s finishing score of 66 gave him the one-shot victory. Couples and Jimenez tied for second at -13 and Furyk and Goosen tied for fourth at -12.
"Can't get any better than this," Kelly said after the win. "After doubling the 18th hole yesterday and bogeying the first hole, I was reeling a little bit, and those two birdies settled me down and just tried to grind as hard as I could. It means so much for me to win around here, and now twice, I'm over the moon."
The win is Kelly's eighth on the PGA Champions Tour and No. 11 total as a PGA professional.
The AmFam Championship will be back at University Ridge Golf Course next June where Kelly will have the chance to go for three straight victories.
by Ben Kenney
It was another picture-perfect day at the American Family Insurance Championship on Saturday, highlighted by sunshine, hot weather and a welcomed June breeze.
Malaga, Spain native Miguel Angel Jimenez entered the day with the lead after a stellar first-round 65. Joining him on the first tee was 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk and Madison, Wisconsin native Jerry Kelly, the three following the second-to-last trio of Fred Couples, Retief Goosen and Ken Tanigawa.
Steady play defined Angel Jimenez’s day, two front-nine birdies propelling him to nine-under and back-to-back birdies late on the back nine pushing him to -10 and the solo lead.
"Not as good a score as yesterday," Jimenez said, cigar in hand. "Still hitting good, hitting some good shots there, a couple up-and-downs...But the game is solid, 3 under par I think is a fair result, maybe a couple more birdies, but that's golf."
Consistency was also the story for defending champion Kelly, as he played his first 35 holes of the tournament bogey-free and sat at -10 for much of today’s back nine. Or, at least, it was the story until the 18th hole.
The Madison native found a bunker off the tee, hit the lip of the bunker with his second shot, sent his third shot off the back of the green, finally found the green with his fourth shot and finished with a two-putt for double bogey. The 6 on the par-4 18th sent the 54-year-old back to -8, tied for third place entering Sunday.
“I didn't hit it great again today. I was making the most of it again, just not making any big mistakes, and then I made a big mistake,” Kelly said. “It was a bummer to finish on, but I'm the same amount of shots back that I was yesterday. I know it's there. But boy, I would have liked to be in the last group putting pressure on, but second-last group putting pressure on is okay.”
Then there’s Fred Couples, former World No. 1 and 1992 Masters champion. The 61-year-old started slow with a front-nine 35, but then took advantage of a scorable final stretch to close with a five-under 67.
He sits in solo second and will join Angel Jimenez in tomorrow’s final group.
“I felt like I hit the ball pretty well. I'm not going to say I wasn't getting anything out of my round, because it was blowing in the first seven, eight holes,” the smooth-hitting Couples said. “Then the back nine, you know, I just -- I just started to hit it a little bit better, a little closer to the hole and made some putts.”
The tournament leaderboard is loaded at the top heading into Sunday’s action. Miguel Jimenez leads the way at -10, Fred Couples sits in solo second at -9, Retief Goosen, Jerry Kelly and Jim Furyk sit T-3 at -8 and three more names sit at -7, just three shots back.
The PGA Tour Champions returned to University Ridge Golf Course in Madison, Wisconsin this weekend for the first time since 2019.
Leading off the tournament was a well-known and well-accomplished trio of Steve Stricker, Fred Couples and Jim Furyk. And judging by the crowds on the first tee and following the group, they were the three to watch during Friday’s action.
Tournament host and fan-favorite Stricker was stuck in neutral for much of his first round. A birdie on 1 started him in the right direction but he went on to play the next 14 holes at +1 and enter the final stretch at even par.
“Yeah, it was a bit of a struggle at times. Just had a hard time getting going. Birdied the first hole right out of the chute, but then bad swing at No. 3, put it in the hazard over there and made a good bogey. Just had a couple opportunities here and there, didn't make them,” Stricker said. “Then a couple of divots on the back side with sand wedges, lob wedges in my hand...The second one I got on No. 14 was awful; super wet, sitting in a divot, down in a little bit of a hole. I should have probably just chipped it out sideways and got it up on the green somehow for my third to make par and move on.”
There were some good signs to build on at the end for the U.S. Ryder Cup Captain, however, as he eagled 16 and birdied 18 for a first-round 2-under 70.
“I hit the ball actually okay today at times, it just got on the wrong side of a few things, but finished strong with some really nice shots...I just made a couple nice putts and I hit some nice shots, and I've been doing that,” Stricker said. “In practice rounds here I've done well, the pro-am I played really nicely, so it's in there. First round here trying to play well, feel like there's a little extra pressure. I want to play well, so got this day out of the way and hopefully get going tomorrow and get off to a good one and keep it rolling.”
The same story cannot be told about Furyk and Couples’ opening 18 holes.
Despite inconsistent play off the tee, Furyk hit all 18 greens in regulation and finished with a bogey-free 4-under 68.
“The golf course is in good shape,” Furyk said after his round. “A couple tough pin placements out there, a couple difficult ones...I’m really still in my first year on the Champions Tour and seeing a lot of these golf courses for the first time, so really trying to kind of figure out how to play them, where the pin placements are going to be, where you have to attack, where you have to be a little more patient. I'm still learning that, but enjoying that process”
Couples, a clear favorite of the fans in attendance, was a birdie machine all day with three in his first six holes, three straight on holes 9, 10 and 11 and one more on 16. The 2017 AmFam Champion battled through three preventable bogeys---one on the par-4 15th hole---to finish with a 4-under 68.
“I think I could go play where I was on 15 a thousand times and maybe bogey it once and I happened to bogey it today just because I was in a groove and I thought it was not a difficult shot,” Couples said. “Other than that, it was a good round. Bogeyed 17, mis-clubbed a shot, made a good bogey, two-putted from 100 feet. But I made my share of putts, I made a lot of putts.”
With Miguel Angel-Jimenez and Jerry Kelly out in front at seven-under-par and five-under-par respectively, Furyk and Couples will enter Saturday T-3 at -4 and Stricker at T-14 at -2.
Even despite the condition of the course and the golf itself, though, the story of the day for both the fans and the golfers was the weather.
“Well, you know, to be honest with you, if we did this for another month or so, it wouldn't be a problem, but it's like our first tournament with humid and hot heat. It will whip you,” Couples said. “No, I'm not going to die. I mean, I hope not. But again, it's the first day. Last week I played in Des Moines, it was a little warm but nothing like this. You just get drenched on the range. There's no wind, so it's just hot. Hate to use the word, it's a challenge, but it's not an easy day to keep thinking and keep fresh.”
Wisconsin native Stricker echoed Couples’ statement.
“Oh, is it hot. Yeah, this is August weather in Wisconsin. Like on 18 there with all the stands around there, there's no breeze whatsoever, so it was very hot at times. Then the wind would kick up and you'd be like, wow, like the air conditioning unit turned on. It was extremely hot. I thought it was a great crowd considering the conditions.”
The three will tee it up again tomorrow, look to rise up the leaderboard and gain ground after tournament leader Angel-Jimenez’s opening round 7-under 65.