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Steve Stricker doesn’t play as often as he once did, but he’s still good

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Steve Stricker and Will MacKenzie share the lead at the Valspar Championship.

Whether they can withstand the wind, we will see.

Stricker, playing for only the fifth time this year, made an eagle on the 10th and a 60-foot birdie on the fourth to shoot a 5-under 66 to take a share of the lead. MacKenzie had a 67.

Both golfers were at 137 halfway though the tournament.

That put both players comfortably ahead of Jordan Speith, who ralled for a 68 Friday after opening wit a 76 on Friday, a score that made him hustle to avoid the cut. He did.

“I’m walking off that green going, `Oh, boy. We can either somehow flip this one around today or … I don’t want that to be the key of me not being able to be here for the weekend.’ I thought it was really strong what we did after that,” he said.

Stricker had back surgery a year ago which affected how much he played.

“There are times I escaped with a few good breaks,” Stricker said. “Holing out on 10, you don’t expect to do that. And that putt at No. 4 was going pretty quick, and that ended up going in. So some things evidently went my way. I’m starting to play a little better. Definitely putting better. And slowly, things are coming together.”

MacKenzie had his second strong day for a share of the lead.

“Every shot is important, every shot is tough,” said MacKenzie, who was at 5-under 137. “Even your wedge shot from 106 (yards) can be playing right at 120 or it can be playing 85 depending on the wind.”

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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