Pádraig Harrington is the 42nd Senior US Open champion after he held off a final day charge from Steve Stricker at Saucon Valley.
Teeing off with a five-shot lead, Harrington extended his lead to half a dozen by the turn. However, in typical Pádraig fashion, he made hard work of it.
After dropping a shot on the second hole, Harrington soon rallied with a birdie on the par-5 6th to extend his lead from five to six and to seemingly put any notions of a final day collapse to one side.
A birdie, bogey run to the turn did little to change the landscape of the leaderboard but this is Pádraig Harrington and it’s never over until it’s over.
A fabulous drive on the par-5 12th was followed by a chunked 3-iron leading to a par as Stricker’s charge grew stronger.
A pair of bogeys on ten and eleven coupled with some Stricker birdies reduced the gap to two shots before a birdie from the USA Ryder Cup captain cut the deficit to the minimum.
Harrington, who won three major championships in his career, rallied with a gutsy 20-foot birdie putt on the 15th to move two in front again but Stricker had one more roll of the dice and finished with a closing birdie to force the issue.
While he didn’t have his best stuff on the day Harrington, the Champions Tour rookie, displayed some great lag putting to keep his nose in front down the stretch, particularly on the par-3 17th when his tee shot lacked distance. He crucially avoided a fifth bogey of the day as he walked in a four-footer for a clutch par to take a one-stroke lead to the 18th.
Despite what the American commentators thought, the Dubliner played the 18th hole perfectly under pressure. A solid fade down the right hand side of the fairway and a smart iron shot into the heart of the 72nd green.
The 50-year-old then two-putted without too much fuss to secure his maiden Senior major and his first worldwide win since the Portugal Masters in 2016.
In his post-round press conference Harrington was delighted to come from the wrong side of the draw and into the winners circle and he also heaped praise on his long-time lieutenant, Ronan Flood for keeping his mind in check when Stricker was on the charge.
“If I didn’t win from the wrong side of the draw, there would be no glory,” said Harrington who will head to Mount Juliet for the Horizon Irish Open.
“As kids we certainly want it to be magical and dream about it. Golf’s not like that, to be honest. It was a tough day. I said it to you yesterday, where having a five-shot lead going out there, yeah, if I went out and played great and ran away from the field, I could wave at the crowd and take shots on. If anything, maybe even improve my position.
“But golf just doesn’t be like that. It always, always — how many times do we see it? It always comes down to the last couple of holes.
“You know, when it got very tight, my caddie just kept reminding me that, if we were told we were going to be in this position on Sunday when we arrived here, a week in advance, if we were told we were going to be with a one-shot lead, we’d be very happy. I had to take it as an opportunity the last couple of holes.
“I think it’s harder with a five-shot lead. You’re definitely very defensive. The last couple of holes, I suppose when I got back to a one-shot lead, I was still somewhat defensive, but it’s a position you want to be in.
“I didn’t enjoy hitting that putt on the last from three feet, but you just have to accept it. If you want to win tournaments, you’ve got to put yourself out there. It could have been bad, but I got the glory instead.”
Stricker admitted that he only became aware of his position on the leaderboard on the 16th and Harrington was also keen to avoid gazing at the big scoreboards dotted around the course.
Despite the loud cheers echoing around the back nine for Stricker, Harrington made sure to focus on the job at hand. The birdie at 15 proved crucial and he was pleased with how he managed his way to the clubhouse from there.
“I’m not a leaderboard watcher, but when I got through nine holes I looked up and saw a six-shot lead. I was quite chuffed with that. I hadn’t lost anything. I didn’t think I played 10 and 11 badly, and I ended up making two bogeys, which really set me back.
“Yeah, at that stage I had to start thinking about the leaderboards. When I got around to 13, I think I saw a leaderboard that Steve was 7. I thought he was 6, then he was 7, and that meant a two-shot lead. I knew things were tight.
“I heard a few cheers as I played 14. Then as I was going to 15, I heard cheers. I couldn’t tell who they were for. I’m not sure.
“When I birdied I didn’t look at the leaderboard on 15, even though there’s a big one there. When I birdied it, I hit a nice tee shot down 16. I asked Ronan well, we heard a big cheer on 18. I said, I assume that’s Steve. Ronan says, yeah, he’s making birdie at the last to be 9-under.
“I knew I had options the last couple of holes. 16 particularly, I was hoping to birdie 16 to give myself a cushion.
“17 it’s a great pin if you’re trying to make a birdie, but it’s a really terrible pin if you’re just trying to make a par.
“Then 18 is another pin that’s a great pin if you’re trying to make a birdie. It wasn’t so easy from where I hit my pitching wedge.
“But as I said, I knew if I hit a good second shot, a good third shot, or a good fourth shot, I was going to win the tournaments. As Arnold Palmer says, if you’re going to hit one good shot, make it the last one,” he added.
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