BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Padraig Harrington knew the U.S. Senior Open was in his hands Sunday with a five-shot lead. Part of him hoped for an easy day, a chance to wave to the gallery and maybe even show off with some aggressive play that wouldn’t cost him.
He got the win. It was a lot harder than he wanted.
Harrington went from a six-shot lead at the turn to holding off Steve Stricker, and he delivered with a 30-foot birdie putt and three tough lag putts for par to capture his first senior win.
“It’s tough to lead from the front,” Harrington said. “It’s even tougher when it’s Steve Stricker behind you. He tends to have one on me. I’m happy enough to get it done in the end.”
Harrington, who never lost the lead at Saucon Valley, closed with a 1-over 72 and became the third straight U.S. Senior Open champion to win in is debut.
Stricker, who started the final round eight shots behind, began making his run with consecutive birdies to finish the front nine, and he closed with two straight birdies for a 65.
That left him one shot behind, and the Irishman needed only pars to win for the first time on the PGA Tour Champions.
“It was a tough day,” Harrington said. “I said it yesterday, where having a five-shot lead going out there, yeah, if I went out and played great and ran away from the field, I could wave at the crowd and take shots on. If anything, maybe even improve my position. But golf just doesn’t be like that.
“It always, always — how many times do we see it? — comes down to the last couple of holes.”
Harrington had to two-putt from above the ridge on the 16th, and he trickled it down to a foot. He was well below the ridge from about 50 feet away on the par-3 17th and, after running that by 6 feet, calmly rolled in the par putt.
On the closing hole, he was pin-high but some 35 feet away with a spine running through the line of his putt. He cozied that to 3 feet and rapped it in for the win.
Harrington finished at 10-under 274.
“After I made birdie at 14 I heard someone say, ‘Well, we’ve got a game now,’ or something like that. I had a feeling I was getting close,” Stricker said. “And I was just trying to birdie as many as I could.”
Mark Hensby had a 69 to finish alone in third. Stricker, however, was the only one who had a chance to catch Harrington.
Stricker missed good birdie chances on the 15th and 16th holes, but he stuffed his shot on the 17th to a foot, and then took on a back-right pin at the closing hole to 5 feet away.
Harrington, who led by as many as six shots at one point, began the back nine with consecutive bogeys, and then he missed a good birdie chance on the par-5 12th.
Before Stricker could make his final birdie, Harrington made his 30-footer to be assured of staying in front, and his lag putting was superb when it needed to be.
“I tried to birdie them all coming in,” Stricker said.
Stricker got the best of Harrington without hitting a shot last September at Whistling Straits, when he led a stronger and younger U.S. team to a rout over Harrington’s European squad in the Ryder Cup.
That was not lost on Harrington over the final hour.
“It would have to be Steve Stricker chasing me down. ‘Steve, give me a break, please.’ Yeah, Steve’s a tough competitor,” Harrington said. “Certainly he seems to have one on me over the years. So it’s nice to get one back on him this time.”
Harrington won three majors on the regular tour, the first one at Carnoustie in 2007 when he rallied to win the British Open in a playoff. Stricker was in final group that day and shot 74.
Harrington earned $720,000 and earned a spot in the U.S. Open next year at Los Angeles Country Club. Stricker gets another big stage in his home state of Wisconsin next year when the U.S. Senior Open goes to SentryWorld.