Alker shoots 65, shares Schwab Cup championship lead

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PHOENIX — Steven Alker matched Padraig Harrington’s early birdies and continued to play golf steadily, giving him a one-shot lead over the only player who can pass him for the Charles Schwab Cup.

The Kiwi couldn’t have asked for a better start.

Alker fired a bogeyless 6-under 65 on Thursday to share the lead in the first round of the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup championship.

“I felt good today, I hit some quality shots, I got a couple putts early,” Alker said. “I think Padraig and I felt like we were feeding off each other a bit by making a few early birdies. I am happy. One less, three to go.

Alker needs to finish at least fifth to win the Charles Schwab Cup and is in good shape after posting six birdies at Phoenix Country Club.

The 51-year-old New Zealander was level with John Huston and Stephen Ames in his bid to go from journeyman to champion.

Bernhard Langer shot 66, leaving him one shot behind as he tries to tie Hale Irwin PGA Tour Champions record of 45 wins. Harrington also shot 66, but must win and ensure Alker finishes outside the top five to win the season title.

“I’m well placed in the tournament,” Harrington said. “I am badly placed in the Schwab Cup. It’s like that.”

Alker hasn’t had much sustained success on the PGA Tour, but battled his way to the PGA Tour champions with a string of top 10 finishes after starting as a Monday qualifier at the Boeing Classic in August 2021. He won five times on the plus-50 tour this year, has earned more than $3.3 million and leads Harrington by more than 600,000 points in the Schwab Cub standings.

Alker went up and down for a birdie on the par-5 first hole, added another birdie on the No. 4 and went up and down from the short left of the par-4 fifth to reach 3 under. He added a 15-foot birdie on the No. 10 and hit it close on the par-3 13th for another.

Alker’s tee shot on the 354-yard 16th hole hit a sprinkler head, carving his ball about 40 feet from the green. He kicked from 2 feet and tried to replace his ball, but was forced to play it when Harrington protested and a rules official was called.

“I thought it was cut, but apparently it wasn’t,” Alker said. “It was like a dimple that had come off the ball.”

Alker still made the putt and saved the par with a 15-foot putt on the par-4 17th. He was unable to take advantage of the accessible par-5 18th, missing a birdie putt from 35 feet.

Langer, 65, beat his age with a second round of 63 last week and won the TimberTech Championship, breaking his own record as the oldest player to win the PGA Tour Champions.

Langer finished with three straight birdies for a 4-under 32 on the front nine and struck it from 3 feet for another birdie on the par-4 12th. The age-defying German offset a bogey on the No.13 with a birdie on the No.13.

Harrington matched Alker’s birdie on No. 1 and added another on the par-3 second before dropping a shot at No. 3. Harrington hit his drive to the front of the par-4 court fifth and two putts for a birdie to turn in 2-under 34.

The 51-year-old Irishman had back-to-back birdies at numbers 11 and 12, then added another at 13. He hit his second shot on the par-5 18th into a greenside bunker, but couldn’t get up and down for a birdie.

“I was pretty comfortable with the game,” Harrington said. “Just keep doing this for another 54 holes and let’s see where it leads.”

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