KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship - Round Three
Credit: Getty Images

Padraig Harrington was cruising Saturday at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, looking like a man who was a day away from collecting his second career senior major. The 51-year-old Irishman was six shots clear of the field, was in control of all facets of his game – splitting fairways, hitting greens and had not recorded a single bogey.

Harrington's lead, however, is only one over Steve Stricker heading into the final round at Fields Ranch East at PGA Frisco. A late double bogey from Harrington, coupled with four birdies over the last six holes by Stricker, have set up the potential for a sensational Sunday finish. Stewart Cink, making his senior debut and propelled by an ace on the 13th hole, is only three shots behind Harrington, making it a three-horse race deep in the heart of Texas.

"Sixteen came out of nowhere," Harrington said.

The day started with Harrington holding a three-shot lead, one he built on with birdies on Nos. 3, 6, 7, and 8. He added another one on the par-4 12th hole and it appeared as if Harrington was about to lap the field. He won the U.S. Senior Open last summer and senior major No. 2 was not too far away.

With three holes remaining, everything went haywire.

KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship - Round Three
FRISCO, TX - MAY 27: Steve Stricker takes a club from his caddie on the fifth hole during the third round of the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Fields Ranch East on Saturday, May 27, 2023 in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Sam Hodde/PGA of America via Getty Images)
Credit: Getty Images

Stricker had just birdied 13, 14 and 15 from 25, 8 and 12 feet respectively, when Harrington came up woefully short and right on his approach into the par-4 16th green. His ball was in thick, deep grass which was in the penalty area, but he opted to take a swipe. The ball did not move. He took another swipe, extricating the ball well onto the green. After two putts for a double-bogey 6, Harrington was only one shot ahead of Stricker, who minutes later made birdie on the last hole to tie for the lead. Harrington would later make birdie on the 18th hole from 8 feet to take the one-shot lead overnight.

"I certainly could have got a low one in there today and got away from the field," Harrington said. "Golf's like that though."

Harrington followed rounds of 64-68 with a third-round 68 and is at 15 under par. He still hasn't made a bogey. Stricker shot 70-67 the first two days and shot 8-under 64 on Saturday to tie Harrington's first-round score as the club's course record. He was four shots behind Harrington with four holes remaining and is now only one back. It is his 48th consecutive round of par or better on the PGA TOUR Champions.

"I needed a round like this to get right back in there, to do it bogey free meant a lot too," Stricker said. "I've been playing a little sloppy at times. Today I tightened it up a lot and hit a lot of good shots and made a lot of good putts too."

Stricker is looking for his sixth senior major but has not yet won the Senior PGA Championship. His hot start kept him in position to capitalize on Harrington's late hiccup. Stricker, with his daughter Izzy caddying for him this week, birdied Nos. 2, 3, 5 and 6 before closing with the four on the last six holes. He realizes that Harrington handed him a late gift and that Sunday could produce fireworks until the bitter end.

"He helped us out a little bit," Stricker said. "That's lurking out here. You have to pay attention. It's so easy to do."

Cink turned 50 a week ago and is in contention after following two 68s with a third-round 67. His scorecard was chaotic as he made an eagle, three birdies, two bogeys, and the ace with a 6-iron from 191-yards on the par-3 13th hole. He is three behind Harrington.

Cink, Harrington, and Stricker will be grouped together Sunday in the final round, all three men at different stages of their senior career. Cink is in Week 1, Stricker has won 13 PGA TOUR Champions events and five majors in four years, while Harrington, the tournament leader, is looking for his fifth senior title and second senior major.

"I love playing competitive golf where you're trying to win," Harrington said. "I know it's a major tomorrow and you want to go out there and win majors more than the next event. But in the end of the day we all play for that buzz coming down Sunday evening in with a chance at winning, trying to manage our game, our thoughts.

"We put ourselves out there and you would love in a perfect world that there was no drama in it, but the likelihood is at some stage tomorrow it will be a bit of drama and we'll have to figure it out."

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