Harrington fires opening-round 66 to keep Schwab Cup hopes alive

Mark McGowan

Padraig Harrington (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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Padraig Harrington kept his hopes of a Charles Schwab Cup victory alive with an opening-round of 66 at the season-ending Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix, leaving himself one shy of leading trio Steven Alker, John Huston and Stephen Ames.

Only a victory will do for Harrington, and even then he’d need help from Alker because the New Zealander just needs a top-five finish to top the rankings.

Playing together, Harrington took an early lead with birdies on the opening two holes to Alker’s one, but Alker, whose card was blemish free, nudged ahead on the front-nine. Alker birdied the 10th and 13th holes, but Harrington birdied the 11th and 12th, and made a trademark up-and-down for par after catching a flyer on the 14th, leaving himself short-sided, in the rough, and with the green running away from him.

A birdie on the par-3 15th saw Harrington draw level with Alker again, but he pushed a three-foot birdie putt to the right on the short 17th to hand the advantage back, and matching pars on the final hole left the Dubliner one stroke shy of the lead and he is just focusing on winning the tournament and isn’t thinking about any permutations. 

“Five under is OK, I certainly would have taken it going out. Obviously left a couple at the end there, which is — yeah, you know, would have been nice to play — you know, missed a short putt at 16 and then a very easy up-and-down on 18,” explained Harrington.

“I thought my bunker shot, it wasn’t a good shot, but I thought it was better. So yeah, I left a few, but over 72 holes you’re going to leave some shots out there. Doesn’t matter that much. Fifty-four holes to go, it’s a long way. 

“Yeah, I’m in a good place in the tournament. I’m in a bad place in the Schwab Cup. That’s the way it is. I’m in a good place in the tournament. But Steven played very nicely today, very steady. Doesn’t look like, you know, he’s going to do much wrong between here and the end of the week going on today, so it would be hard to see him not finishing in the top-5.

“So yeah, it’s not looking great for that. But the only thing I can control is try and win the tournament. I’m sure that would give me enough joy if I managed to do that on Sunday.” 

First man off John Huston set the early target, and early it was. Playing solo because of late withdrawals, Huston recorded seven birdies and a single bogey, eventually signing for a 65 in a lightning-fast two hours and 17 minutes.

Huston, who’s making his first Charles Schwab Cup Final appearance having twice recovered from brain surgery, is well known as one of the fastest players on any circuit, not just the Champions Tour.

“There’s not that many guys that like to get around, but there’s a few,” Huston said afterwards, “it was pretty nice just to play at my own pace.”

Huston 65 was eventually matched by Stephen Ames. The Canadian birdied four of the first six holes, and then two more back-to-back on 12 and 13, before parring in to end the day bogey-free, one stroke ahead of six-time Charles Schwab Cup winner Bernhard Langer.

A birdie at the par-5 final hole would’ve seen the ageless Langer his age again, having gone two better in his second-round 63 enroute to winning the TimberTech Championship last week. A seventh season-long title may be beyond the German’s reach, but with a win this week he’d tie Hale Irwin’s record of 45 Champions Tour wins.

Meanwhile, Darren Clarke mixed five birdies with two bogeys to sign for a three-under par 68. After a frustrating front-nine that began with a bogey on the par-five first hole, the reigning Senior Open champion regrouped on the back nine to come home in three-under to keep in touch with the leaders.


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