Padraig Harrington shot a disappointing final round 71 to finish in a tie for fifth at the Champions Tour’s first major, eight strokes behind runaway winner Steve Stricker, while Darren Clarke’s closing 65 elevated him into the top 10.
Starting the day just two back of Stricker and Robert Karlsson, the Dubliner, who claimed four titles in his rookie Champions Tour season, including the US Open and the season-ending Charles Schwab Championship, failed to ignite on the front nine, carding two birdies and one bogey to cover the nine-hole stretch in -1 while Stricker made hay in front at Birmingham, Alabama’s Greystone Golf and Country Club.
A double-bogey six at the 11th ended any hopes of a miraculous recover, and though he’d regain the dropped shots with birdies at 13 and 16, any hopes of a second senior major had long gone and he’d have to settle for a tie for fifth before turning his attention to next week’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
Darren Clarke began the day at -6, out of the overall reckoning, but still with a healthy paycheck to play for. Four birdies in a row from two to five saw him make a sizable leap up the leaderboard, and though he’d bogey the sixth and ninth holes, five birdies on the back would see him sign for a closing 65, comfortably his round of the week, and he’d secure a top-10 finish off the back of it.
There was no matching the defending champion, however. Tied with Karlsson as they got their rounds underway, birdies on each of the opening three holes saw the 2021 US Ryder Cup captain hit the front and he’d never look back, adding another at the fifth to make the turn at -5 for the day and with a healthy five-stroke lead.
With Karlsson matching Harrington’s 71, Ernie Els would emerge as the primary concern for Stricker, but though he’d go on to secure a solo second-placed finish, he never looked likely to reel the four-time senior major champion in, with Stricker covering the back nine in three under just for good measure. This saw him run out a six stroke winner over Els and Karlsson at -17 with Jerry Kelly one further back in solo fourth.
Alongside Harrington in fifth were Paul Broadhurst, Miguel Angel Jiménez and Marco Dawson, then Clarke and Alex Cejka in a two-way tie for ninth round out the top 10.
The ease of Stricker’s win was partly due to the fast start, but also thanks in no small measure to the way he closed out round three. “I needed to go around 4-under yesterday on the back-9 just to stay in reaching distance of Robert and a couple of other guys who were up there,” Stricker said, “but to get to 6-under on the back with birdieing the last four. Then to come out today and make a statement early, I think that was just as important, I birdied the first three today. I felt comfortable, my game was good, I rolled in a few putts, and so it was a great day.”
With his fifth senior major title, Stricker joins the likes of Arnold Palmer in accumulative titles, but don’t expect him to go hard in celebration. “I’m going home,” he responded when asked of his plans. “I get to go home, see my girls, and then Nikki and my oldest take off to play in tournament on the Epson Tour so I’ll just see them for a day and then they’re gone. I think Izzy is going to caddy for me at the Senior PGA. It’ll be good to get home.”
“I shot myself in the foot yesterday unfortunately,” said Els, “hitting two out of bounds, missing all of those putts. Anyways I fount hard today, I’m playing well, just Steve Stricker is amazing on this golf course. He’s playing amazing golf.”
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