After returning to the winners’ circle with a scintillating, seven-stroke win at last week’s Timbertech Championship, Padraig Harrington is looking to make it back-to-back Champions Tour wins and complete a successful defence of the season-ending Charles Schwab Championship in Phoenix, Arizona.
Last year, the Dubliner captured his fourth Champions Tour win as he cruised to another seven-stroke win at Phoenix Country Club, but fell just short of New Zealander Steven Alker in the season-long Charles Schwab Cup rankings with Alker’s third-place finish enough to secure the $1 million bonus. This year, Steve Stricker has the number one ranking secured and unfortunately was forced to withdraw from this week’s event to offer support to his ailing father, but there is still a tournament to win and the three-time major winner remains focused on the task at hand.
“Anytime I tee it up I’m trying to win,” he said in his pre-tournament press conference, “so yeah, there is motivation.
“As I said, I’ve had a couple of wins this year and I’m happy with that. Yeah, but I think I probably need another one to give me — to upgrade my year a bit, let’s say, so I’m keen. I think as a player we always know trying to win back-to-back tournaments and also trying to defend a tournament, those are two things that elevate you in your ability to handle pressure. There’s a little bit more focus on you when you’re trying to do something like that.
“These are the things that I think as a player you want to be able to handle that situation. I’m sure I’m focused on trying this week, try not to be too focused and too trying, trying to treat it as normal, but yeah, I’m really keen to get another win at this stage.”
After spending much of the year playing on the DP World Tour with occasional PGA Tour starts thrown in, Harrington hasn’t featured on the Champions Tour as frequently, though did lose playoffs in both the Senior PGA Championship and the Senior Open Championship, as well as taking victory in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open as well as at Boca Raton last week.
Despite it all, he says that you’re never quite sure if it’s going to be your week or not when your name is announced and you hit that opening tee shot.
“No, I don’t think you ever know,” he admits. “I think the worst thing you can ever be is playing well on the pro-am day. Every golfer will tell you that. The expectations are a very difficult thing to handle.
“I think I personally try and ignore it. I’m not trying to go into a tournament without confidence, but I’m not necessarily trying to build myself up. I’m just trying to turn up and play every week and see what comes of it. I try and prepare the same, try and have the same attitude when I go out there.
“Yes, so I’m definitely not one for thinking hey, I’m playing great, look at me this week, it’s going to be a great week, because I’ve seen that fail many times. And I’ve performed quite well in a lot of tournaments over the years when I’ve been slightly off form because then I manage myself on the golf course.
“Personally, I don’t play my best when I’m overconfident. I definitely play — I’ve certainly performed very well at times in the past when I just, I’m just managing myself, just have a little bit of worry and trying to take the edge off something and just manage my way around. I think when you lower your expectations, it’s a lot easier to handle this game of golf.”
It was certainly his week last year, and his -27 72-hole total was the lowest by a full five strokes since the season-ending championship moved to Phoenix Country Club. It’s a course he clearly likes and has fond memories of, but he’s expecting it to play considerably tougher this year in response to the way he shredded it in 2022.
“The golf course is fantastic as always,” he said. “It really is great when we come to some of these old golf courses that hosted events, you know, back in the day because obviously we’re a little bit older at this stage, the golf course is perfectly suited to us now. We haven’t outgrown it at all.
“The course is in fantastic condition. Certainly seem to have tried to toughen it up a little bit this year, they don’t want to see 27 under par again. I don’t know if that plays into my hands, I’m hoping it does. But conditions, weather seems awesome, so we’re looking forward to a great week.”
Darren Clarke is also in the field, and the 2011 Open Champion will be keen to keep his record of winning at least once a season on the Champions Tour circuit for four seasons running. His Senior Open success of 2022 was the last time he tasted victory and, having begun the year with a runner-up in Hawaii, has seen his form dip and register just one top-10 finish in the following 20 starts.
Harrington will play alongside the evergreen Bernhard Langer who is seeking his 47th Champions Tour win, and they get underway at 19:55 Irish time, while Clarke is paired with Joe Durant and they’ll tee off at 18:15.