BMW CHAMPIONSHIP: Schedule change continues to benefit Stricker

Play less, but play better. Not a bad formula for a golfer as long as it works.

It’s definitely worked for Steve Stricker this season. Seeking more family time Stricker cut his PGA Tour schedule almost in half but that didn’t reduce his skill level. On Saturday the University of Illinois alum from Madison, WI., posted a 7-under-par 64 at Conway Farms to move into second place in the BMW Championship.

Even Stricker has been surprised by the results and wouldn’t be surprised if other PGA Tour player scale down their schedules in light of his success.

“I thought about it a lot of years,’’ he said after moving within one stroke of leader Jim Furyk with 18 holes to go in the $8 million tourney. “Doing it was the hard part. I had no expectations. I didn’t plan to play much in the playoffs, but then I finished second (at the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks ago in Boston) and got to thinking `I’ve got a chance to win this thing.’’’

Indeed he does.

He went to Boston in hopes of winning a spot on the U.S. Presidents Cup team. He accomplished that goal, so he came to Chicago and – after a few days deliberation – decided to skip a hunting trip and go to The Tour Championship next week in Atlanta as well.

Thanks to his hot round on Saturday Stricker is on the brink of moving into the top five in the FedEx Cup standings. If he does that in Sunday’s final round he’ll control his own destiny next week. Any player in the top five going into Atlanta will get the coveted $10 million bonus if he wins there.

That’s a ways off, but Stricker went on the prowl Saturday. Furyk and Brandt Snedeker led after two rounds and Stricker trailed them by six strokes but still had hope.

“I had a number in mind, which I don’t typically do,’’ said Stricker, who set 8-under-63 as his target in good scoring conditions on Saturday. He missed by a stroke but his score still had the desired effect. It pulled him closer to the lead.

The key to Saturday’s good score was the 99-yard sand wedge that Stricker put straight in the hole for an eagle at No. 15.

“I heard the clank, but it was a shock to see it go in,’’ said Stricker. “Holing that shot was something I really needed to get back into it.’’

He gave one of those shots back at the par-3 17th when he hooked his tee shot into the bleachers left of the green, but he got up and down from a green-side bunker for birdie on the finishing hole. That got him within striking distance of Furyk, who ignited the tournament with his 59 on Friday.

“That was an incredible round,’’ said Stricker, “and then (early starter Matt) Kuchar got 61 today. I knew the conditions were going to be a bit easier but it really didn’t have much influence. I was just trying to get to 13-under.’’

Paired with Furyk in the final round, Stricker has developed a reason for why his reduced schedule is paying off.

“It’s because I have a good balance in life, and I’m comfortable with the decisions I’ve me,’’ he said.