Padraig Harrington’s title defence at the Champions Tour’s Charles Schwab Championship got off to a sluggish start as the two-time season winner opened with a two-under 69 to trail first-round leader Ernie Els by six.
Given his length and the advantage it affords, particularly on the Senior Tour, Harrington playing Phoenix Country Club’s three par-5s in a combined one-over tally will be particularly disappointing, as will bogeying two of his final six holes.
After three pars to start, he’d fire back-to-back birdies on the par-4 fourth and fifth holes and added another at the 11th to move to -3. HIs first dropped shot came on the par-3 13th, and though he’d make amends at the next short hole and put a two on the card, he bogeyed the par-5 closing hole to fall back to -2 which saw him placed 16th overall.
Darren Clarke’s struggles of late continued as he traded four birdies with three bogeys and a double bogey to sign for a one-over 72 to lie tied for 32nd, but it was South African Ernie Els who was the hottest man on day one, opening the tournament with three birdies in succession, making eight in total, for a bogey-free 63.
He holds a two-stroke lead over Thongchai Jaidee, Harirson Frazar and Stephen Ames, with Retief Goosen and Miguel Angel Jimenez a shot further back in a tie for fifth.
This is the fourth time that Els has taken first-round leader honours this year, but has yet to convert any 18 hole leads into a victory. He did taste success at the Hoag Classic earlier this year – his third Champions Tour success – and has placed in the top 10 in 14 of his 22 starts.
Els’ driving was particularly impressive and after his round he explained what the major change in his setup had been.
“Yeah, I thought the last week of the year I’m going to try something new,” he said, “so I put a little lighter shaft in my driver and I actually went with a different driver head from XXIO this week. I’ve used it before like in March, but I put a little lighter shaft and I’m thinking I’m getting a little tired at the end of the season.
“Just overall I felt good, my body felt good and I got off to a nice start birdieing three out of the first four. I just kept it going. Conditions were perfect and I felt comfortable. It was one of those days when each shot felt comfortable kind of, off the tees and the iron shots and made some putts. I felt I needed to get off to a good start. The golf course is there for the taking if the weather’s like this. I knew golf scores were going to be good today, so yeah, good day.”