Padraig Harrington produced another scintillating round of golf to run out a seven-stroke winner at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.
Starting the day with a five-shot advantage over New Zealand’s Steven Alker – whose solo third was enough to top the season-long rankings and the million-dollar bonus – the Dubliner produced a bogey-free 65 to run out a comprehensive winner over German Alex Cejka.
Starting a final round with such a healthy lead brings a pressure of its own, but any nerves were quickly dispersed with a birdie on the par-5 first, and the three-time major champion added two more on the third and fifth holes to stretch his lead to six.
In the group ahead, Cejka was doing everything possible to heap pressure on the final two-ball. After eagling the first, he followed up with birdies on two and three, but a bogey on the fourth put the brakes on, and though he’d pick up two more strokes on the front-nine, Harrington’s solid outward nine meant that, in all likelihood, the race was for second place.
With Harrington maintaining his advantage, Alker’s focus shifted to the top-five finish necessary to seal the Schwab Cup title, but back-to-back bogeys on the 12th and 13th holes and with the chasing pack closing in, a collapse was a real possibility.
But to the Kiwi’s credit, his showed incredible character and responded with birdies on the 14th and 16th holes to take a four-stroke cushion to the closing two holes.
But Harrington was relentless, refusing to give the opposition a glimmer of hope, and three more birdies on the back-nine meant he reached the final hole with a seven-shot lead, but in typical fashion, remained laser-focused to the end. His second shot on the par-5 closing hole was a professional’s miss to the left with water to the front and right of the green. His chip came up about twelve-feet shy, and though he gave his birdie putt a solid run, he had to hole a four-footer back to record his third-straight round without a blemish on his card.
The victory – his fourth of the season, including the Senior US Open in June – meant that the 2021 Ryder Cup Captain earned almost $4 million, including the $500,000 second-place Schwab Cup bonus, also setting a new scoring record for the Championship, a full five-strokes better than Vijay Singh’s 262 in 2018.
“It’s very nice,” Harrington said afterwards, “to come here under pressure, I came into this event knowing I had to win to give myself a chance in the Charles Schwab Cup, so that brings a certain amount of stress and focus. And to go out and win the tournament from that position, I’m happy with that. That brings a bit of confidence going forward. It’s nice to win for a fourth time during the year. There have been several of us who have won four times, so yeah, it caps off a great year.”
Asked about the abnormality of both players in the final pairing walking away as winners – Alker’s celebration was considerably more conspicuous than Harrington’s – the Irishman admitted that the scenario was unsettling at times. “Yeah, you know, at the start of the week I was very focused on the fact that I’m competing against Steve for the Charles Schwab Cup and I’m trying to win the tournament. It just kind of got in the way.
“By the end of the week, he was playing so well, I kind of went out there today and just said, look, I’ll focus on trying to win this event, do my own thing, play my own game, he looks like he’s going to be the winner. I’m not a person when I’m on the golf course, I hate watching my opposition and wishing them bad. I much prefer a rising tide lifts all ships, so I just didn’t want to get involved in what Steve needed to do and just focused on what I needed to do. I think we both played well the three days we played together and we both played well every day.”
Earlier in the day, reigning Senior Open Champion Darren Clarke signed for a closing two-under 69 to finish the week in a tie for 20th place. Clarke carded five birdies on the day, however, as had been the case for the week, he couldn’t keep bogeys off the card.
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