PHOENIX – Steven Alker continued to play consistent golf as he matched Padraig Harrington’s early birdies, giving him a 1-shot lead over the only player he could pass for the Charles Schwab Trophy.
The Kiwi couldn’t have asked for a better start.
Alker shot a bogey 6-under 65 on Thursday to take the first-round lead at the West End Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
“I felt good today, hit some quality shots, got a few early,” Alker said. “Me and Padraig made some birds early and felt like we were feeding a bit. Nice. One down, three to go.”
Alker needs to finish no worse than fifth to win the Charles Schwab Trophy and is in good shape after posting six birdies at Phoenix Country Club.
The 51-year-old hails from New Zealand in his quest to go from journeyman to champion alongside John Huston and Stephen Ames.
Bernhard Langer shot 66, 1 shot back as he tries to match Halle Irwin’s record of 45 PGA Tour Champions wins. Harrington also shot a 66 but needs to win and Alker finish outside the top five to clinch the season title.
“I’m in a good spot in the tournament,” Harrington said. “I’m in a bad spot in the Schwab Cup. That’s how it is.”
Alker hasn’t had much consistent success on the PGA Tour, but has played his way to a top-10 finish at the PGA Tour Championships since qualifying at the Bong Classic in August 2021. The -50 tour has earned more than $3.3 million this year and leads Harrington by more than 600,000 points in the Schwab Cub rankings.
Alker got up for birdie on the par-5 first hole, added another birdie on No. 4 and left the short left of the par-4 fifth to get to 3 under. He added a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 10 and hit it close for another on the par-3 13th.
Alker hit a tee shot on the 354-yard 16th hole and hit a tee shot, landing the ball about 40 feet from the green. He attempted to replace the ball by hitting it 2 feet, but was forced to play when Harrington protested and a rules official was called.
“I thought it was cut, but it wasn’t,” Alker said. “It was like a dimple coming off a ball.”
Alker made the putt anyway and saved par with a 15-foot putt on the par-4 17th. He missed the reachable par-5 18th, a 35-foot birdie putt.
Langer, 65, shot his second-round 63 last week to win the Timberlake Championship, breaking his own record for most PGA Tour championships.
Langer finished with three straight birdies for a 4-over 32 on the front nine and hit it to 3 feet for another birdie on the par-4 12th. The age-defying German improved his bogey on No. 13 with a birdie.
Harrington matched Alker’s birdie on No. 1 and added another shot on the par-3 second before bogeying No. 3. – Under 34 years old.
The 51-year-old Irishman had consecutive birdies on Nos. 11 and 12, then added another on the 13th. At the par-5 18th, he hit his second shot into the greenside bunker, but couldn’t get in and out for birdie.
“I was comfortable enough with the game,” Harrington said. “Keep doing that for another 54 holes and let’s see where it goes.”
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