Darren Clarke among stellar field for the Champions Tour’s fourth Major of ’24

Kevin Kent

Darren Clarke (Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher/Getty Images)

Kevin Kent

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The storied south course of Firestone Country Club plays host this week as the PGA Tour Champions heads to Akron Ohio for the 2024 Kaulig Companies Championship.

A stellar 78 strong field will tee off for the fourth of five majors of the season over four days from the 11th to the 14th, with Darren Clarke, a winner here in 2003 at the WGC, the sole Irish interest.

A stacked field will see the Charles Schwab Cup rankings’ top five all in town and set to duke it out on Firestone. Ranking leader Stephen Ames and Ernie Els (3) head into the event both looking for their third win of the 2024 Champions Tour season. Els is one of five World Golf Hall of Fame players teeing up this week, with Goosen, Singh, Monty and Jose Maria Olazabal all set for battle.

Olazabal and Vijay Singh both know how to win around here, the former tasting success at Firestone twice in 1990 and again in ’94. In all, the 2024 field includes 17 PGA Tour Champions major winners, 13 PGA Tour major winners, 46 players who have won on PGA Tour Champions (combining for 196 wins) and 55 players who have won on the PGA Tour (306 wins).

Firestone’s South Course will play a testing par-70 for the week with just two par-5s including the 640-yard 16th to test the more ‘experienced’ of the pack. A pair of par-3s on each nine will see opportunities for pin seeking including tempters on the 200-yard fifth and again on the 180-yard twelfth holes. With no cut this week, the field will have plenty of time to familiarise themselves with the tricky Firestone and the weather too, is expected to play ball, with little wind to speak of and only Sunday seeing moderate threats of rain.

Thursday afternoon Irish time sees the action kick off in the year’s fourth major and Darren Clarke in among the first groups heading out around Firestone from the 10th tee-box at 3.10. Clarke will have his good friend and fellow Team Europe Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn and Jerry Kelly with him on the opening three-ball away on the back nine.

With such a strong field there are eye-catching groups throughout the day, none more so than the 3.31 grouping, again on the back-nine, of Steven Alker, Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jiménez. Defending champion Steve Stricker is part of one of the marquee groups away from the first with Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen. No shortage of experience in that three-ball, they head out at 4.44.

Stricker comes into the week off the back of a fourth place in the last major, the U.S. senior open, and the defending champ was asked how his game was shaping up heading into Thursday: “Yeah, my game is not as sharp as I’d like it to be”, he said.

“I’m doing some good things, I’m doing enough bad things to kind of keep me, you know, out of that opportunity to win. Out here, no matter where you’re playing, you have to do it all and do the things especially down the stretch to win and I haven’t been doing that much, so a little bit frustrating. Worked hard yesterday. It’s in there somewhere, just trying to get it all out and hopefully I can do that this week.”

Stricker was seen on the putting green on Tuesday with two putters and was asked what was the strategy for the week, the old one or the new?

“I think it’s going to be the old putter for now. There’s a lot of good things with that new putter that I found” he explained.

“I don’t know, it’s a face balanced putter, it’s a mallet size shape putter that I’ve never really putted with before, so there’s different tendencies with that that I think what I really want to try is that same kind of counterbalance but more in line with my neck, my head maybe a little bit. They have a little slightly bigger version of my head that maybe I’d like to try.”

Whichever putter he decides on, Stricker is sure the be among the shake up this week in what promises to be a mouthwatering battle on Firestone for the 2024 Kaulig Companies Championship.


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