Harrington Takes Control at Saucon Valley, Leads by 5
Padraig Harrington was asked at the end of his Tuesday pre-championship press conference what it would take to win the 42nd U.S. Senior Open at Saucon Valley Country Club’s Old Course. The wily veteran from the Republic of Ireland with three major championships to his name outlined three keys.
Drive it well.
And above everything else, have a great attitude.
The 50-year-old who is playing in his first U.S. Senior Open has mastered all three phases through 54 holes. He followed Friday’s 6-under 65 with a 5-under-par 66 on Saturday to take five-shot advantage over 2016 champion Gene Sauers and qualifier Rob Labritz.
“Just stay rested,” said Harrington, who sits at 11-under 202 for the championship, of his game plan. “Don’t overthink it between now and tomorrow. That would be it. Just chill out in the morning, as I did today.”
By the manner in which Harrington has used his power and skill the past three days on the 6,940-yard, par-71 layout designed by Herbert Strong, it doesn’t appear there will be any letup by the man with 32 worldwide victories, including the 2007 and 2008 Open Championships, and the 2008 PGA Championship. Harrington posted three top-5 finishes in 16 U.S. Open starts between 1997-2013.
“Padraig is tearing it up,” said Sauers, who will play alongside Harrington in Sunday’s final pairing. “He’s playing a 6,500-yard golf course and I’m playing a 7,500-yard golf course.”
Harrington, who is looking to become the third consecutive player to win this championship in his first start (Steve Stricker, 2019; Jim Furyk, 2021), might only be sixth in driving distance (296.9), but he leads the field in greens in regulation (46 of 54). And even though there have been two consecutive days of sunshine and hot temperatures, the course hasn’t completely firmed up after more than a half-inch of rain on Thursday.
Even when Harrington was offline with drives, he showed an uncanny ability to escape, especially on holes 7, 13 and 16, hitting a 122-yard approach from the left rough to 5 feet for a birdie on No. 16. His only two mistakes came on No. 15, where he recorded his first bogey since the eighth hole of Thursday’s opening round, a span of 42 holes, and the 444-yard closing hole, when his approach from the left rough landed near the grandstand left of the green, and he was unable to get up and down for par.
Harrington seized control of Round 3 right off the bat with birdies on the par-5 first and 474-yard second, statistically the toughest hole for the championship (4.55 stroke average). A two-putt birdie on the 568-yard, par-5 sixth gave him a four-stroke lead over 2019 champion Steve Stricker, who started the day just one shot behind but faltered to a 2-over 73.
An up-and-down birdie from greenside rough on the 282-yard, par-4 10th got Harrington to 10 under. Two holes later, he laced a 5-wood approach from 263 yards to 6 feet to set up an eagle on the downhill, 608-yard, par-5 12th. It was the fourth eagle of the week by the field, but the first on a par 5.
“It's all very well that you can reach these par 5s,” said Harrington. “When you don't do it, you know, it gets you down a bit. It was nice for once to make not just a birdie, but an eagle.”
Sauers and Labritz, who will play in the penultimate pairing with two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els (67–209), both know they likely will need some help from Harrington to have a chance to hoist the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy on Sunday afternoon, but this is a senior major and anything is possible. Allen Doyle trailed by nine at NCR Country Club in 2005 and won. Brad Bryant was five back in 2007 and prevailed at Whistling Straits.
Sauers birdied his final two holes to get into the last pairing, while Labritz, a PGA Tour Champions rookie who is the director of golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, N.Y., birdied 15 and 16 to get to 6-under 207. He is the only player in the field to shoot three rounds in the 60s. He also is looking to join Don Pooley (2002) as the only qualifiers to win this title.
Last December, Labritz earned his PGA Tour Champions card by earning medalist in the final stage of Q-School at TPC Tampa. The three-time New York State Open champion will go into Sunday with an underdog mentality.
“I'm not worried about it,” said Labritz, who owns one top-5 finish in 11 PGA Tour Champions starts. “I'm going to go out there and play my game, shoot under par, and wherever the chips fall, they fall. There are guys out here that have been doing this for 30 years. If they play better than me, so be it. I'm learning. I'm getting better. I'm improving. I feel like I'm so close.”
Steven Alker, last month’s Senior PGA Championship winner, 68-year-old Jay Haas and Stricker are all tied for fifth at 3-under 210. David Toms, the 2018 champion, is among a group tied for eighth at 211.
Sunday’s final round will begin at 9:40 a.m. EDT, with the final pairing of Harrington and Sauers starting at 2:50 p.m. Peacock will stream live from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., followed by Golf Channel’s live broadcast from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. A two-hole aggregate playoff will take place, if necessary, at the end of the round.
“I know, when it comes to this course with a five-shot lead, I've given myself plenty of options to win this tournament. That's the important thing. When you've got a lead like this, in not even a perfect world, but in dreamland, you think you're going to go out there and play well and run away with it, which is a possibility. As long as I keep my head on my shoulders, even if I play badly, just stick in there. I'm sure I'll have a chance coming down the stretch to turn things around if I'm not having a good day.” – Padraig Harrington
“Somewhere along this line I'm going to need to have a two-shot swing … just to keep me going. I'm just going to try to hit the ball solid on every shot and give myself [birdie] chances.” – 2016 champion Gene Sauers on his Sunday approach
“I've got to be honest, the adrenaline rush on the first tee and the last putt were nothing like I ever felt before in my life. I had to back off the putt [on the 18th green]. I had Baby Shark stuck in my head. There was a lot going on. I just had to get the putt in the hole.” – Rob Labritz after shooting a third consecutive 69
“Very impressive. He's really moving the ball out there, killing it off the tee and swinging at it pretty hard. So he's got that working for him.” – 2018 champion David Toms on the play of Harrington
“It was a fun run. Then I came back to reality and made some bogeys.” – Ken Tanigawa on establishing a U.S. Senior Open record with six consecutive birdies, followed by three straight bogeys
“The greens have remained kind of soft, and I don't see them getting that much firmer. There's not a lot of wind to dry them out. The heat will help that maybe a little bit. The ball is starting to run in the fairway a little bit, though. The course is in immaculate condition. After all the rain we had on Thursday morning, you would think the balls would be plugging or picking up mud, but they're not doing that. Congrats to the superintendent and the whole crew that set it up and worked countless hours. It's pretty incredible.” – Jay Haas (3-under 210) on the course conditions
“Even on the 1st tee there was a ton of people out. Great reception this morning, and really cool to come back to Pennsylvania and see all the folks. They had a nice crowd yesterday and I didn't play very well and give them something to cheer for, so it was nice to get out here today and hit some good shots and shoot a good number.” – defending champion Jim Furyk (66) on the reception he received despite the early starting time on Saturday
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.