He parred his first four holes and birdied No. 5 to move to 2 under par.
'You know, I got off to a really good start,' he said. 'I was driving the fairway and hitting them on the green.
'The first five holes I played solid. After that, it was a struggle.'
A bogey on No. 6 and two more on 8 and 9 blunted his momentum, and a double bogey on 14 pushed him toward a 76 that left Stricker at 5-over 215, three strokes behind co-leaders Phil Mickelson and Kenneth Ferrie.
Stricker's existence on the PGA Tour has been a struggle over the past few years. He hasn't won a tournament since 2001, lost his exempt status after the 2004 season and needs to finish in the top 125 this year to get his PGA Tour card back.
He's still counting on a solid paycheck for his work at Winged Foot, but at this point his main focus is rebounding from a back nine in which he lost four strokes to par. Over his last five holes, Stricker had two pars, two bogeys and a double bogey.
'I really didn't drive it that well on the back side,' he said. 'I struggled to get it on the fairway, and around here if you struggle to get it on the fairway, you're in deep trouble. That just puts too much stress and pressure on your game.'
Stricker knows he played poorly off the tee, but he lamented some of the poor rolls he got after finally making it to the green.
'I just couldn't get anything to go in. I mean, I had some opportunities, whether they were par saves or birdies,' he said. 'I just couldn't get them to go.'
Still, it was an experience he will savor for a long time. There have been lesser tournaments in which Stricker never even made the cut, but on this day, he was the last player off the tee in the third round of the 106th U.S. Open.
'I really enjoyed it. I thought I handled it well at the start, not so well at the finish,' he said. 'But you know what? I've still got a chance. I'm only three back. Maybe that's a better position for me, to be three back instead of in the lead.'