Harrington us senior open 2022 by chris keane 1
Padraig Harrington following his win in the U.S. Seniors Open. [Photo by Chris Keane]

Harrington holds on to thwart Stricker

            Reaching 10-under-par in the U.S. Senior Open at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa. might have had a calming effect on Padraig Harrington as he pulled away to a clear lead, seeking his first victory among the 50-and-over set. But that wasn’t his mindset.

            “I got it to 10-under-par at a USGA event,” Harrington said. “I was very anxious about that. Guys get there, they come backwards.”

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            Fortunately for Harrington, 10-under was spot on as he gutted out a one-stroke victory over a rallying Steve Stricker on Sunday. He led by as many as eight strokes midway during the fourth and final round but frittered that away and had to convert a clutch par putt on the 72nd hole to avoid a playoff.

            “It could have been bad, but I got the glory, instead,” Harrington said.

            A DAWDLING BEGINNING

            Harrington was a little slow to get into gear, shooting even-par 71 on Thursday, which left him in 12th place, four shots off the lead. He suffered four bogeys through the first eight holes but then went on a spree in which he wouldn’t cough up a shot until late on Saturday.

            “I struggled with the pace of the green, so a couple of three putts on the front nine set me back,” Harrington said. “But I drove the ball well and particularly well as I got into the round. I pretty much broke the back of the back nine with the driving and had a lot of opportunities. The back nine pin positions were much easier [than the front nine]. It was like two different referees set up the front nine and the back nine.”

            Harrington struck the front on Friday by shooting a bogey-free 65. A couple issues developed, however, in the form of a sore knee and a broken driver.

            “I struggled with my knee,” Harrington said after Friday’s round. “It was really bad here Monday. I’ve been getting great physio and we’re right on top of it. The physicality of 72 holes is tough at this stage [of my career]. I don’t hit as many balls now [on the range] because of it. I’ve got to take it easier. I carry a few injuries and you just have to mind yourself.”

            As for the driver, it broke during Harrington’s warmup session.

            “This [new] one flew a little higher, a bit more spin,” Harrington said. “They eventually crack. I don’t even use my tournament driver now when I’m at home practicing. Certainly wouldn’t use it with a range ball or anything like that. But I do a lot of driver work, a lot of speed work. Especially with speed work, you’re not hitting the middle of the club face.”

            Paired with Steve Stricker, a stark reminder of last fall’s Ryder Cup loss, Harrington not only stayed on top on Saturday but increased his lead from a stroke to five. An eagle at the par-5 12th hole placed Harrington at 6-under-par for the round, although bogeys at 15 and 18 took some of the shine off a round of 66.

Stricker had an especially uncharacteristic round, shooting 73, a number that would prove just high enough to leave him too much to do on Sunday. He left the course eight strokes behind Harrington, with others having passed him on the leaderboard.

The lead increased to as much as eight strokes on Sunday, although that had more to do with the field’s inability to close ground on Harrington than any heroics on his part. He went out in even-par 36 and coughed up a couple more strokes at 10 and 11.

ONLY ONE THREAT

Stricker, meanwhile, was the only meaningful threat to Harrington, having inched to within three strokes of the lead after those Harrington bogeys.

Any time you’re seeking a ruling on a lie, you know you’re running into a headwind and that was Harrington’s predicament, not once, but twice, on the back nine. He played the last seven holes a stroke under par; every putt, most of them for par, were clutch, as Stricker kept whittling away.

Stricker, playing two groups ahead of Harrington, was making it look easy as he birdied 17 and 18, forcing Harrington to sink a par putt of three feet at 18 to avoid a playoff.

            “It would have to be Steve Stricker chasing me down,” Harrington said. “Steve, give me a break, please. Certainly, he seems to have one on me over the years. So, it’s nice to get one back on him this time.”

            “Hat’s off to him,” Stricker said of Harrington. “He played great. It was close but he was the better player this week.”

            Also not lost on Harrington is that this was his first win in a USGA-sponsored event in his storied career.

            “Because I was never a U.S. Open normal champion or a junior champion, it’s great to come and win the senior one,” Harrington said. “It adds something that I never had in my career.”

            Among the spoils of victory in this event is a spot in next year’s U.S. Open at the Los Angeles Country Club in California. But that’s next year. Harrington will attempt to tame the brash younger set in this week’s Irish Open at Mount Juliet.

            Darren Clarke missed the cut at Saucon Valley by five strokes after shooting rounds of 74 and 78.

PGA TOUR

            Give Rory McIlroy this much – he always keeps it interesting. He was on fire in the first round of the Traveler’s Championship at TPC River Highlands in Connecticut, shooting 62 to take a share of the lead with J.T. Poston.

            Having begun his round at the 10th tee, McIlroy acquired his first birdie at 13, where he chipped in from 31 feet. There was also a 47-foot putt for birdie at the seventh hole. He went out in 32 and came home in 30 in an immaculate round. The post-round mood was all fun and giggles.

            “It’s like the anti-U.S. Open here,” McIlroy quipped after the round, just days removed from a trying time up the road in Brookline, Mass. “It’s like U.S. Open rehab coming here. You’re like, ‘Oh, I can actually make some birdies.’ This is nice. Thankfully, in a round of golf, you only need to concentrate for about 10 minutes in that five hours that we play. It shouldn’t be too much of a struggle.”
            The key term there is “shouldn’t be.” McIlroy was 5-under-par for Friday’s round when he addressed the ball on the 12th tee. Perhaps he’d used up his 10 minutes for the round because his play dissolved into something that can be charitably referred to as a tribute to the high handicapper.

            The tee shot sailed left out of bounds, necessitating a penalty stroke and a rehit. Now hitting his third shot, McIlroy sent his ball into the right rough. From there, he landed in a greenside bunker, next spraying his ball to the other side of the green. After his sixth whack at the ball, he still wasn’t on the green. When the carnage mercifully ended, he trudged to the next hole with an 8. Gone was his lead; he was now three strokes behind.

            There was more to come. After par at 13 and 14, McIlroy got careless with his drive at the par-4 15th hole. While the ball remained inbounds, he did himself no favors on his second shot, leaving it shy of the green. That left him to chip across the green to the flag, which was situated near the top of a ridge, behind which the terrain slopes down to a lake. His ball will likely next be seen on the range at the course as soon as it is fetched from the water. Throw another penalty log onto the pyre and all of a sudden we had the spectacle of McIlroy knocking in an 11-footer to “save” double bogey.

            McIlroy signed to 70 and stood six shots behind Xander Schauffele at that point. One feels a bit for whichever playing partner, Kevin Kisner or Webb Simpson, was keeping McIlroy’s card while tending to their own play.

            Moving on to Saturday, McIlroy had another OMG sequence at the second hole. If you’ve ever teed off from the men’s tee box only to find yourself hitting three without having passed the ladies’ tee, you can appreciate what he went through.

            McIlroy’s tee shot at the par-4 hole traveled all of 108 yards. He advanced his ball 24 feet (feet, not yards) with his second stab. The third shot moved all of 71 yards, leaving him to finally reach the green on his fourth attempt. Two putts later, he had another double bogey.

            McIlroy played the rest of the round evenly, finishing with 72. Sunday’s 67 entitled him to a share of 19th place, nine strokes under par and 10 behind Schauffele, the victor.

            Seamus Power didn’t fare any better, although he didn’t suffer any quadruple bogeys. Squarely in the thick of the chase after rounds of 67 and 65, he backed down into a tie for 25th place after consecutive 70s.

            McIlroy will now take the next two weeks off in preparation for the British Open. Power will tee it up in this week’s Irish Open, along with Shane Lowry, Tyrrell Hatton, Troy Merritt and defending champion Lucas Herbert among the more conspicuous contestants.

LPGA

            Stephanie Meadow and Leona Maguire seem to trade off good weeks with the not so good. This week it was Meadow’s turn to shine as she tied for 10th place in the Women’s PGA Championship at Congressional in Bethesda, Md. (the scene of McIlroy’s 2011 U.S. Open victory).

            Meadow strung together rounds of 73, 69, 72 and 74 to end up even for the tournament and five behind champion In Gee Chun. Meadow actually outscored Chun by four strokes over the final three rounds. The first round, in which Chun shot 64, made a huge difference.

            Maguire posted rounds of 74, 72, 77 and 74, which consigned her to a share of 54th place, 14 strokes off the low number. She was without a single birdie in both the first and fourth rounds.

            The LPGA takes a couple of weeks off now, regrouping in Michigan on July 13 before a four-week stint in Europe capped off by the ISPS Handa World Invitational at Galgorm Castle and Massereene the second week of August.

CHALLENGE TOUR

            Ruaidhri McGee in just his second outing on this circuit since returning from his own Covid-inspired exile in Florida finished second in the Blot Open de Bretagne in Pleneuf, France.

            McGee, a perennial quick starter on this circuit who has been unable to maintain form long enough to see his way to the next level, opened with a smoking 61 and a 
three-stroke lead. The round was comprised of seven birdies, two eagles and two bogeys. One of those eagles came at 17, where he holed out from the fairway.

            As so often seems to be the case, a fantastic round gave way to a sluggish round. McGee shot 73 on Friday to fall three strokes off the lead. Saturday’s 67 saw him reinstalled at the top of the leaderboard alongside Alfie Plant.

            McGee went five-up on Plant after four holes on Sunday, thanks to three birdies and two Plant bogeys. That wouldn’t hold up, however, as McGee suffered a double bogey at the sixth, while Plant managed a pair of birdies before the turn. When McGee bogeyed 10, they were once again even.

            An eagle-3 at 11 saw McGee reestablish the lead but birdies were elusive thereafter. He and Plant seemed to trade the lead on alternate holes but Plant’s birdie at 17 was critical, giving the Englishman the lead by a stroke with one hole to play. McGee had a birdie putt of about 20 feet at 18 to force a playoff but his ball was rejected after a tour of the rim.

            McGee jumped 152 places to 27th on the Challenge Tour Rankings. Top 15 at season’s end earn a card for the 2023 DP World Tour.

            Dermot McElroy also had a fine spin in France. He got a share of 11th place at 
3-under-par 277 (70-65-72-70).

DP WORLD TOUR

            Niall Kearney made fine use of his start in the BMW International in Munich, earning a share of 15th place. Weekend play looked dicey after he opened with even-par 72 but Friday’s 68 enabled him to make the cut on the number. He then ascended the leaderboard with rounds of 66 and 69 to finish nine strokes off the low number (China’s Haotong Li won the playoff with Germany’s Thomas Pieters on the first extra hole). He limited his bogeys to just two over the final 44 holes. Kearney will tee off in this week’s Irish Open.