Padraig Harrington battled tough conditions in Wales to leave himself just one shot off the lead going into the final round of the Seniors Open at Royal Porthcawl.
The highlight of his round was a sensational eagle at the 18th that pole vaulted him to within one of the lead on a day when the weather Gods were not on the older golfers’ side at the Seniors major which made Harrington’s level par all the more impressive and he is in a four-way tie for second place one shot behind Alex Cejka who sits atop the leaderboard on level par.
Speaking after a tough day, Harington told reporters, “I was just working hard for two weeks.”
His round included that stunning eagle at the last, another one on the sixth and two birdies on 12 and 14.
The Dubliner now has a great chance of adding a Seniors Open to his two main tour Opens and will be many people’s favourite going into the final day – especially if the weather stays tough.
“I didn’t feel like I had done much wrong to be three over. In one sense I felt okay about how I was playing and the other sense, I wasn’t sure. You’re never quite sure how the rest of the field is going to go. I’m four over par, the leader is four under, and you’re kind of worried you’re going to get eight, nine shots at the end of the day, which is too much,” added Harrington.
“Obviously a big break on the last. Hit 3-wood, 9-iron to five feet. It was inches. I was going to hit the putt left lip, and I was standing over and it was blowing and blowing. I ended up hitting it — tried to hit it left half, probably hit it straight and just got in the right side.
“You know, I’ve chipped poorly this week. That’s my strength and I chipped poorly. I had two big long weeks. You know, I didn’t finish as well as I would have wanted in Scotland, and then The Open, being a major, I was just working hard for two weeks. You know what, I put down a few down chips just to being mentally tired.”
Defending champion, Darren Clarke is back at seven over, but that is not that bad and leaves him in joint 32nd and set for a decent pay cheque.
The rest of the Irish playing sees Damian Mooney back at nine over, while Mark McNulty missed the cut, alongside amateurs Joe Lyons, Eddie McCormack and Eamonn O’Connor.
Ahead of Harrington, Alex Čejka birdied the last to move into the lead and the German carded four birdies and seven bogeys as he battled to a three over par 74 on day three, moving backwards to level par for the event with every other player in the black.
Harrington and Englishman Phillip Archer were two of seven players to shoot a level par 71, the low round of the day, and they are in a tie for second place alongside New Zealand’s Steven Alker and three-time Major winner Vijay Singh on one over par.
With winds gusting up to 31mph, no players were able to break par at The Senior Open for the first time since the first round of the 2005 edition, when Tom Watson went on to lift his second Senior Claret Jug.
The last time it occurred on the PGA TOUR or DP World Tour was the third round of the 2008 Open Championship when Harrington, currently one shot off the lead in South Wales, was crowned Champion Golfer of the Year for the second time.
Second round leader Steven Alker struggled to a five over par round of 76 but still remains in the hunt for his second Senior Major title after recording an ace at the par three 15th hole, the 14th in Senior Open history.
Meanwhile American Jerry Kelly and Scotland’s Grieg Hutcheon share sixth place on two over par, while 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie, America’s Mario Tiziani and Australia’s Richard Green are a shot further back in a tie for eighth.
Germany’s Bernhard Langer also remains in the hunt for a fifth Senior Open title – and third at Royal Porthcawl – as he sits in a tie for 11th on four over, alongside nine others including Welsh duo Bradley Dredge and Phil Price.
Alex Cejka said: “I really didn’t hit many great shots. I kind of drove it in play but had three, four really poor shots, cost me a bogey, but overall, I made a couple birdies. Three over is three over. It was a tough day for everybody. Still on top of the leaderboard, so I’m pleased.
“In the wind and everything, you want to do a certain shot but you just can’t pull it off. If you’re in a really, really bad lie, it’s tough to make up and down. It was a little bit frustrating. The weather, everybody had to deal with it. It was a little tough. Couple good bounces if you’re lucky, avoid the bunkers, it’s doable. But it’s been a tough day.
“I think for everybody, winning a major is special. Winning a couple years ago, it was great. In Europe, I’d like to win and it would be special.”
Vijay Singh said: “We don’t normally play wind like this, especially me, I haven’t played in conditions like this for a long, long time. But you have to control your ball. It wasn’t easy. Putting was really difficult. You know the grain is going to go right and if the wind is going that way, you miss the putt. It was interesting. I enjoy the game. I enjoy hitting balls. Golf has been my life. When I’m at home, guys say, what do you do to relax, I just hit balls. It’s either that or take it easy and don’t do anything.
“I’m looking forward to it. I think I have the game. Just have to manage the ball flight. It’s tough out there. You think you’ve got the right club but you’ve got to commit to it. Tomorrow I’ve got to make up my mind and stay positive in what shot I want to play and just play and see what happens.”