PHOENIX — Padraig Harrington could win by 10 shots this week and it might not matter.
Harrington, second in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship points race, lit up Phoenix Country Club on Saturday, bombing his way around the 6,860-yard, par-71 course to the tune of a 9-under 62 to take a sizable five-shot lead after 54 holes.
Harrington has put himself in great position to win the tournament but to win the series title, he needs to win and have Alker finish outside the top five.
“Today was a good day. I think I’ve been playing pretty solid all the way through and just waiting for a good day like today,” Harrington said.
Alker was a little more direct with his assessment.
“Padraig kicked my ass today, that’s basically what happened,” he said.
The problem for Harrington, who is at 21 under, is that Alker shot a 3-under 68 on Saturday to get to 16 under, and while he’s still five shots back of the tournament lead, he’s still ahead of everyone but Harrington. In other words, as gaudy as Harrington’s lead is now, the steady Alker is now just 18 holes away from his first series championship.
Harrington jump started his round with an eagle on the first hole, just the second eagle the entire field has produced over 54 holes. Starting the day a shot back of Alker, Harrington quickly had the outright lead.
Birdies on Nos. 5 and 7 helped him get to the turn in 32. On the 11th hole, Harrington made birdie to get to 17 under for a three-shot lead. He then poured in a curling left-to-right putt from about 12 feet to get to 18 under. That birdie on No. 12 was made possible after Harrington converted a ridiculous second shot over some tall trees.
Even a stray tee shot on the 14th hole didn’t faze Harrington. Hitting from the rough off the right side from 111 yards out and just a few feet from the perimeter fence, Harrington stuffed his approach, then made yet another birdie putt to be the first one in the field to get to 20 under for the week.
On 18, Harrington had his fifth eagle putt of the day, this one for a 61, but he missed left. Still, his two-foot birdie gave him a 62, the tournament’s best score of the week. It also got him to 21 under.
“I think I’m better than, you know, I’ve been in past years,” Harrington said. “I’m bold, I do my own thing, which has never been my strength. I’ve always been a better chaser than leader. We’ll go and see tomorrow what happens. I’ve certainly given myself a few options. You know, five ahead, so hopefully I’ll go out there and play well and can wave at the crowds which if it doesn’t happen that way, well, we’ll have to dig deep and find another way of winning.”
Alker’s birdie on 18 capped a bogey-free 68. In fact, he’s bogey-free through 54 holes.
“I’ve got a lot of chasing to do now to win the tournament, but yeah, get a good night’s sleep and we’ll be all right,” he said.
Brian Gay shot a 66 on Saturday and is solo third. He’s six back and not counting himself out just yet.
“[Padraig’s] playing great, obviously. I didn’t really pay much attention to the scores, and then late in the round my caddie said he was 20 so he’s still rolling,” Gay said. “So, you never know, just go out and try to play well and make as many birdies as you can and see what happens.”
For about an hour Saturday, Alex Cejka held the honor of round of the week at Phoenix Country Club after his 8-under 63. He’s in solo fourth at 14 under. Retief Goosen is solo fifth at 13 under after shooting a third-round 68.
Alker and Harrington entered the season finale as the only two golfers who had a shot to claim the Cup.
There was a light moment on the 16th hole Saturday. Harrington stepped up to the tee box, but “there was a bunch of guys who were sitting in the corner of the grandstand on 16, and the shadows late in the day were just coming across,” Harrington explained. “They were moving. They wouldn’t know, so I needed them to move, which they’d been sitting there I assume all day waiting for this; I hope they were waiting for me all day. I got them to move.
“They still got a good view, but I did buy them a beer afterwards.”
Langer now a long shot
Bernhard Langer entered the week chasing a different kind of history. A week ago, he won his 44th title on the Champions tour; a 45th would tie Hale Irwin’s all-time Champions mark, set 15 years ago.
After opening 66-69, Langer shot a 1-under 70 Saturday and will start the final round at 8 under, 13 shots back. His record-tying win will have to wait until at least January in the 2023 season opener at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai in Hawaii.
Prize money this week
First place at the Schwab Cup is $440,000. Whoever wins the series title banks a $1 million bonus. In fact, the top five finishers in the final Cup standings will earn a lump sum deposit into a Schwab brokerage account:
- First place: $1,000,000
- Second: $500,000
- Third: $300,000
- Fourth: $200,000
- Fifth: $100,000
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