Padraig Harrington’s 2023 Champions Tour season came to a slightly disappointing conclusion as he came up four strokes shy of New Zealander Steven Alker in the season-ending Charles Schwab Championship in Phoenix.
Starting the day five back in a tie for third, Harrington knew he couldn’t afford to make any errors and when he holed from the greenside rough for birdie on nine – his third of the day – to go to -3 for the round, he’d reduced the deficit to two heading into the closing nine holes.
But as quickly as it was on, it was back off again as Alker, playing in the group behind, also made birdie and Harrington dropped his first shot of the day on 10, leaving him four back once again and in chase mode, he’d drop further shots on 13 and 17 with consolation birdies on 14 and 18 setting up a respectable two-under final round and a tie for fourth overall.
“A tale of two halves,” was how the Championship’s 2022 winner would describe his round on ‘X’. “Left a lot out there on the front nine and then struggled on the back nine, making some good up and downs. Shot 69 for T4th.”
Alker, who this time last year was powerless to stop the Dubliner, finishing runner-up but seven strokes adrift, had the more than adequate compensation of winning the season-long points race and the $1 million bonus. This year, Steve Stricker was guaranteed the rankings win, but Alker ensured it would be another week to remember.
And despite holding a healthy lead at the start of the day, we’d get plenty of drama down the stretch. Ernie Els and Steven Ames made big charges on the day, and though both would settle for six-under 65s, Els was within one in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 18th but found the water on his approach and though he managed to save par, it looked as though he’d be at least one shot shy.
Still, Alker almost backed up and made it a three-way playoff on the final hole. He hit his drive in the fairway and laid up, leaving himself 80 yards to the green. There had been only one bogey on 18 all day. But Alker shockingly hit his third-shot wedge long and right, missing the green.
His chip from the rough was pretty good, though, leaving him a two-footer for the title and he held his nerve to capture his second win of 2023 and his first since the Insperity Invitational on April 30.
“You know, just trying to get my swing together a little bit, it wasn’t quite there today, but the putt was huge (for birdie at No. 9) and just kind of settled me down,” said Alker, who won for the seventh time on PGA TourR Champions. “I hit a great tee shot on 10 and kind of felt good after that. I made it exciting here at 18, but that wasn’t the plan, I tell you.”
Darren Clarke had been motoring along nicely in his final round, and his bridie at 12 got him to -4 on the day. As has been the case for much of the season, errors were always lurking, and he went bogey, double bogey on 14 and 15 and closed out the week at -1 overall and in a tie for 27th.