Pádraig Harrington will take a five-shot lead into the final round of the US Senior Open after he put on a ball striking clinic on his way to a five-under 66.
Rounds of 71, 65 and 66 have put the Champions Tour rookie on the cusp of his maiden Seniors win and first Senior Major title as he rolled back the years.
Teeing off with a one shot advantage over Steve Stricker the Dubliner opened with a brace of birdies before a birdie on the par-5 6th saw him stamp his authority on proceedings and move four shots clear of the field.
The three-time major champion eased to the turn in 33 and took the championship by the collar with a birdie on the tenth before landing a stunning eagle on the par-5 12th which played over 600 yards.
The 50-year-old was the only player in the field to reach the green in two after a towering 5-wood landed on a sixpence to leave himself 7-feet for an eagle.
Once he rolled that in his lead was a staggering eight shots as the likes of Stricker and Thongchai Jaidee began to fall by the wayside on Saucon Valley’s back nine.
Harrington can be considered a young gun on the Champions Tour and he feels taking advantage of the par-5s has been key for him this week and his second into 12 had shades of the 17th in Birkdale in 2008.
“So 263 and I hit 5-wood. The wind had laid down nicely at that stage. It was a nice shot that I could aim at the middle of the green. It just turned ever so nicely onto the pin,” said Harrington who generated 183mph ball speed with the driver.
“I wasn’t trying to hit it left of the pin, but obviously it was nice — you know, I have an advantage on those holes. So if I don’t take that advantage, it feels bad for me.
“It’s all very well that you can reach these par-5s. When you don’t do it, it’s kind of a little bit of — you know, it gets you down a bit if you don’t do it. It was nice for once to make not just a birdie, but an eagle.
“Obviously I had a nice eagle try on 6 as well.
“Yeah, for me, to feel good about how I’m playing I’ve got to make those birdies or eagles on those par-5s, and it was nice to do it there.”
One of the features of Harrington’s round was a series of sensational recovery shots. After a superb up and down on the short par-4 10th for a birdie, he carved a magnificent recovery shot around the trees from the right rough to ten feet on the 13th. Unfortunately the putt slipped by bringing a run of four three’s in a row to an end.
His first bogey in 43 holes arrived on the short par-4 15th as his lead was reduced to five but he recovered instantly with another mammoth recovery shot from the thick left rough on 16 to set up a kick in birdie.
Harrington was swinging the club beautifully with plenty of aggression as the fire burned in his eyes while staring down several approach shots. However, his only real miss with an iron came on his 54th hole when he pulled his second on 18 left and into position Z.
In the end he left himself over 30-feet after taking no chances with the pitch and it was a closing bogey to give Gene Sauers and Rob Labritz (both –6) a glimmer of hope.
Generally known as one of the deep thinkers of the game of golf, the former Ryder Cup captain will be trying to stay clear headed for as long as possible between now and his final round tee time.
“Just stay rested. Don’t overthink it between now and tomorrow. That would be it. Just chill out in the morning, as I did today.
“I know, when it comes to this course with a five-shot lead, I’ve given myself plenty of options to win this tournament. That’s the important thing. When you’ve got a lead like this, in not even a perfect world, but in dreamland, you think you’re going to go out there and play well and run away with it, which is a possibility.
“I could play good tomorrow and have a nice comfortable day. I could play average tomorrow, and someone will have to come at me. Or I could play badly tomorrow, and I’ll still have a chance.
“As long as I keep my head on my shoulders, even if I play badly, just stick in there. I’m sure I’ll have a chance coming down the stretch to turn things around if I’m not having a good day.
“I’ve basically given myself a lot of hands to win this,” added Harrington who can arrest a six-year winless run.
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