Harrington wobbles, still leads Senior PGA at 16-under with Stricker one back
FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Padraig Harrington was in perfect position in the 16th fairway, with a great chance to set the 54-hole scoring record for a comfortable lead at the Senior PGA Championship on Saturday.
Then the 51-year-old Irishman had to go to the bathroom.
Paddy found the port-a-potty, had trouble with the door, rushed to his next shot and ended up in a native area that led to a double-bogey.
“As we are on the Champions tour, I had the longest pee ever,” Harrington said. “And then I kind of rushed down the fairway and hit my shot. I just wasn’t focused, I wasn’t into it and I hit a bad shot in the hazard. That's my excuse. That's got to be original, I would assume.”
Well, at least he still has the lead in what will be a tight final-round matchup of opposing Ryder Cup captains from 2021.
Steve Stricker, the hottest PGA Tour Champions player by far and leader of the U.S. rout over Harrington's crew at Whistling Straits, is one shot back after matching Harrington's tournament-best, 8-under 64 from the opening round.
Harrington's lead on the back nine was briefly as big as six shots. Instead, he settled for a second consecutive 68 and was at 16-under 200, one stroke off Sam Snead's 50-year-old Senior PGA record for 54 holes.
Stricker extended his Champions-record streak of rounds of par or better to 48 in a row with four birdies on each nine. The 56-year-old hasn’t finished outside the top eight in his first eight Champions starts.
“That’s a fun position to be in, to try to be aggressive and you really got nothing to lose, you’re trying to move your way up the leaderboard,” said Stricker, who is coming off a win in the first senior major of the season, a second consecutive Regions Tradition victory two weeks ago.
Stewart Cink aced the 191-yard 13th hole in the first event on the Fields Ranch East course at the new Texas headquarters of the PGA of America, about 35 miles north of Dallas in Frisco.
He is three shots behind Harrington as the last of only three within six shots of the lead on a par-72 layout set to host the PGA Championship in 2027 and 2034 and possibly a Ryder Cup in the late 2030s.
Robert Karlsson, Darren Clarke and Y.E. Yang were at 9 under, a stroke better than defending Senior PGA champion Steven Alker, who shot 69.
Harrington gave Cink a leaping high-five after his playing partner's 6-iron bounced about 20 feet in front of the 13th hole and rolled in. Cink kissed his wife and caddie, Lisa, and gave the signed ball to a fan.
Making his PGA Tour Champions debut days after turning 50, Cink had to drop out of a native area on the next hole at 14 but salvaged a par. Two birdies and a bogey over the final four holes left him at 67.
“I don’t know if I was ever eight back. I think I was seven,” Cink said. “She (Lisa) said, ‘Let’s just try to like kind of pick our way back into sort of like shouting distance here.’ It kind of gave me confidence to just, instead of getting it all back at once, I could just kind of pick away at it.”
Harrington, the 2008 PGA champion and a two-time British Open winner, was on the verge of a runaway through 50 holes, and even escaped what looked to be the first momentum-turning moment.
Right on the edge of a native area on the short par-4 15th, Harrington took several swings to see how the tall grass would affect the shot, then finally put the ball inside 15 feet and just missed the birdie putt.
There was no escaping the trouble at the par-4 16th.
Harrington knew immediately his approach shot wasn't good, and took several whacks at the tall grass before attempting the first shot. The ball barely moved, and the second attempt was a high-arching shot that landed about 20 feet from the cup. Harrington missed the bogey putt.
“I knew he went to the restroom because I was telling a story and he dipped in,” Cink said. “Must not have been a very good story, because he just had to go hit the restroom instead of listening to the rest of my story.”
Stricker tied Harrington with a birdie putt on the par-5 18th, but Harrington matched it to retake the lead, blasting a long bunker shot inside 10 feet.
Harrington is looking to become the first wire-to-wire winner of the event since Rocco Mediate in 2016.
“Some days ... you hit a bad shot and you get a break and you make birdies,” Harrington said. “Other days you play nice and solid and steady and then it just kind of gets in on you. I would be thrilled if I turn up tomorrow and play like I played today.”
Maybe with a little better timing on a bathroom break, though.
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