Nobody ever said winning a major championship – at any level – is easy. Just ask Padraig Harrington. What looked like it would be an easy Sunday stroll around Saucon Valley Country Club’s Old Course turned into a much-too-close-for-comfort final round of the 42nd U.S. Senior Open Championship.
Harrington, who began the day with a five-stroke cushion, had to sweat out a one-stroke victory over 2019 champion Steve Stricker, becoming the third consecutive player to win this championship in his first appearance, and the 11th overall.
The 50-year-old carded a 1-over-par 72 for a 72-hole total of 10-under 274 to become the first player from the Republic of Ireland to hoist the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy. He also joined World Golf Hall of Famers Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus as the only multiple winners of The Open Championship to also win the U.S. Senior Open. Harrington, a three-time major champion, claimed the Claret Jug in 2007 and 2008.
Harrington sealed his victory by holing a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-4 15th hole, and closing with three solid two-putt pars.
“I think it's special for me to win this one just because I've never won a USGA event,” said Harrington, who finished second to Stricker in the season’s first senior major, the Regions Tradition, in May. “I think that adds more than if you could turn around and win a different senior major. But because I was never a U.S. Open champion or a junior champion, it's great to come and win the senior one. It adds something that I never had in my career.”
Said a gracious Stricker, who captained the USA side to victory over the European side led by Harrington last September in the Ryder Cup: “Hats off to him. He played great. It was close, but he was the better player this week.”
Stricker looked to be an afterthought on Sunday when he bogeyed the par-4 third hole to drop seven strokes behind the front-running Harrington. But Stricker showed why he’s won four senior majors in his last 11 starts. He closed the front nine with birdies on Nos. 8 and 9, then added another birdie on the par-5 12th.
As Harrington struggled to pull away, Stricker trimmed the deficit to a manageable three strokes, sending folks to the record book to see who owned the greatest final-round comeback in U.S. Senior Open history. That belongs to Allen Doyle, who rallied from nine back in 2005 at NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio, with a final-round 63.
When Stricker, who trailed by eight entering Sunday, birdied No. 14 to get to 7 under for the championship, that comeback story was alive and well. But two excellent birdie chances inside 10 feet on Nos. 15 and 16 will likely haunt Stricker. Those misses came before he nearly aced the 144-yard, par-3 17th hole, his ball stopping less than a foot from the hole. Then on 18, Stricker’s 155-yard 9-iron approach to 6 feet set up a final birdie and a remarkable 65.
Just a few moments before Stricker’s birdie, Harrington drained his 30-footer on 15 to momentarily lead by two.
“We came out with a goal of shooting 6 or 7 under, my caddie (Mario Tiziani) and I, and we ended up shooting the 6,” said Stricker. “Yesterday really hurt (2-over 73); put me behind the 8-ball. I know how difficult it is to win a tournament, let alone a U.S. [Senior] Open.
“I knew if I could get up there and put a little pressure on him and get to that 9-under number, you just never know. And it did. I had to watch it all the way to the end. There were a couple putts at 15 and 16 I wish I had over again. Could have been a little different. [But] excited and happy about the way I played.”
By the time Stricker signed his card, Harrington still had three holes remaining. Yet he didn’t make it easy on himself, having to two-putt from 30-plus feet on 16 and 17 and from 25 feet on 18. He made a clutch 5-foot par save on 17 to keep his one-stroke cushion.
“I'm not a leader board watcher, but when I got through nine holes I looked up and saw a six-shot lead,” said Harrington. “I was quite chuffed with that. I hadn't lost anything. I didn't think I played 10 and 11 badly, and I ended up making two bogeys, which really set me back.
“At that stage I had to start thinking about the leader boards. When I got around to 13, I think I saw a leader board that Steve was 7. I thought he was 6, then he was 7, and that meant a two-shot lead. I knew things were tight.”
Qualifier Mark Hensby, who has no status on any professional tour, finished solo third at 4-under 280, one stroke ahead of qualifier Rob Labritz, 2016 champion Gene Sauers and Thongchai Jaidee.
“I really appreciated the type of week it was. The USGA set up a fabulous course, much tougher than I had expected. I knew that would play into my hands, but it was a tough golf course. Saucon Valley is excellent. Obviously, there's a lot of pressure on this type of style of golf course when you're leading. You don't want to make a mistake. It was definitely a tension-filled day.” – Padraig Harrington
“I won the state high school there one year. I think 1984. So, it will be almost 40 years since I last won there. Yeah, it will be fun. And they've redone it a couple times since then, so it will be interesting to see and I’m excited to go see the changes.” – runner-up Steve Stricker when asked about next year’s U.S. Senior Open site, SentryWorld, in his home state
“We had a huge contingent of my team at GlenArbor, my family, members, members from my other clubs that I've been at, friends. I mean, it was amazing. Then we made some new friends here this week at Saucon Valley, which is really, really cool. It's so cool how the crowd got behind me. I can't wipe the smile off my face. I'm trying, I'm trying, but I can't do it, and I'm blessed.” – Rob Labritz after tying for fourth
“This is our senior National Championship. This is just about the most important tournament that we play. So, yes, it makes a huge difference that it's a USGA event. I played here in '83 in the U.S. Junior. I saw my scribbled signature at that age on the wall. There's no way I was going to pull out. I was going to grit out everything I possibly could. This tournament means an awful lot to me. I'd certainly like to have it someday.” – Jerry Kelly (4-under 67) when asked about his balky back and whether he considered withdrawing
“Every time I play one, I think, man, this could be my last one. Somebody said [on Wednesday] that I had never missed a cut in a [U.S.] Senior Open. Maybe I should keep that record intact.” – Jay Haas (T-7) when asked if he’ll play in an 18th U.S. Senior Open next year
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.