Harrington Extends Lead to Three as Major Champion Pack is in Hot Pursuit
Golf can come so easy sometimes for the best players in the world.
And sometimes, it can be the hardest of battles.
Both instances have come to fruition for one Padraig Harrington, who came out sizzling in Round 1 of the KitchenAid Senior Championship with a seamless 64.
Today? Well, today was pretty good, too — the Irishman fired a 68 to lead by three over Japan’s Katsumasa Miyamoto — but to him, it was a battle to get there. Gritty. Grindy.
That’s what you need sometimes though in major championships and Harrington should know — he’s won three. But now comes the hard part in closing it out, and the leader at PGA Frisco’s historic first major has some heady company: ten players inside the top 15 are major or senior major champions, making the task of hoisting the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy all the more difficult on Sunday.
“Sometimes when you're leading you just get a little bit cautious,” said Harrington after his round on Friday. “That's why, I suppose it happens all the time in golf, it's very, very difficult for a leader to move away from the field. It's easy for the field to chase 'em down. Because there's a bit of freedom. They have nothing to lose.
“So obviously I have another 36 holes of that coming up, so it's going to be a long weekend for me.”
Harrington’s probably not referring to the Memorial Day holiday weekend either, but more the grueling position of holding a lead with so much golf to play at Fields Ranch East. Perhaps it’s a little bit of gamesmanship though, because the stats the three-time major champion has put up over two days are Texas-sized.
Today, 16/18 greens in regulation (GIR). Yesterday — 15/18. He’s tied for the lead in GIR, leads the field in scrambling (5/5) and has made a birdie on every third hole he plays, tied with Miyamoto in the Birdies or Better category.
So Harrington is indeed playing well, and he knows it, adding: "Just generally the game has been good. Clearly all parts of it. All through my game has been very solid.”
But winning majors is hard, and maybe there’s some Irish guile inside that’s keeping him from showing his cards too early. Plus, when you can sense a 64-65 ahead of you, 68 tastes a little less sweet.
“I'm happy to be where I am (but) I feel I kind of missed a chance today,” said Harrington. “When you're going out for your second round and you're still on top of the leaderboard, and you're hoping you can shoot a low one and get away from 'em — it didn't play like that. It was a bit constrained, I would say. Yesterday was a very easy 64. Today was a harder-fought 68.”
No matter the case, the facts are that Harrington is leading his first senior major championship of his career, and has plenty of experience to guide him to victory on Sunday at PGA Frisco.
The problem is, so does everyone else.
While Miyamoto is in a new position in his career, Stewart Cink and Steve Stricker know what winning the big one feels like. Cink, brand new on the PGA TOUR Champions rode to 68s to sit in solo third.
“To be honest, after playing the two rounds in practice I thought that 8-under would be probably pretty close to leading after two days,” Cink said. “But I'm pleased with the way I played. I've been pretty clean. I'm in good shape going into the weekend and it's going to be fun fighting it out.”
Stricker’s 5-under 67 put him in solo fourth, and he’s been on a hot streak as of late, carding 47 consecutive rounds of par or better — plus a Regions Tradition win a few weeks ago.
“I expect to play well and have confidence in my game and what I've been doing lately,” said Stricker. “I've been messing around with this putter grip that I changed at Regions Tradition and I've been holing a lot of nice 10- to 20-footers, something that I haven't been doing. So that's kind of the difference.”
Add in eight other senior major or major champions to the mix, and it’s going to be a fun weekend in Frisco — if the wind stays down, the birdies (792 so far) will keep coming.
But as Harrington, Stricker, Cink and the others in contention know, professional golf is fickle.
Professional golf at a major championship? Even more so.
“You're always on the knife’s edge from setting the world on fire to setting your house on fire,” Cink said with a laugh after his round. “It's not that great of a difference from contending and finishing top 10 and being in the mix a lot of times, to trying to figure some things out and shooting 72 and going home on the weekend. It's not that big a difference. Golf's always such a work in progress, but a little mentality shift definitely is a boost.”
The question is, who shifts their mentality enough to not only play well over the next two days … but make some history and win?