PHOENIX — For just the third time since it started in 2001, the Charles Schwab Cup Championship has been decided before reaching the final event of the year.
Steve Stricker lapped his over-50 cohorts in 2023, winning six times, including three senior majors. He’s closing in on the $4 million mark in earnings for the season, and even if he were to finish last this at Phoenix Country Club, he’d earn enough to become the first Champions player to reach that plateau in a single season on tour.
Stricker had more than doubled the No. 2 golfer on the money list, Steven Alker, and with such a sizeable lead, Stricker chose to skip the first playoffs event. Then, anyone with a shot to catch him finished far enough down the leaderboard that he was able to clinch the season title without even playing.
He also chose not to play last week’s TimberTech Championship but will compete in the 2023 Charles Schwab Cup Championship, an event he skipped a year ago. On Sunday, regardless of his position on the leaderboard, he will hoist the Schwab Cup trophy for the first time.
Stricker's dominant season
Stricker indeed had a season for the ages, with six victories, five second-place finishes and 15 top-10s in 16 outings. His lone non-top 10 came on the heels of a transglobal trip back from Rome, where he was a vice captain at the Ryder Cup.
At his last tournament a month ago, Stricker talked about the snowball effect of winning.
“The more you get in there, the more opportunities you have. I didn’t have this many opportunities on the regular Tour, and then out here it’s been a lot of fun,” he said at the Furyk & Friends tournament in Jacksonville on October 5. “You get in there quite a bit and have that opportunity, you get a little more comfortable with the situation, and then it’s kind of fun to see if you can pull the shots off or the putts off coming down the stretch. That part’s been a gas. That’s what I really enjoy the most is to see how I’ve been handling the pressure come Sunday on some of the last few holes.”
Defending series champion now battling for second place
Alker won last year’s Cup for the first time. In 2023, he was second on the season-long money list and now enters the finale in fourth. While he didn’t produce the same results as a year ago (four wins, 18 top-10s in 2022 vs. one win, 11 top-10s in 2023), he says he doesn’t feel like his game was too far off.
“I was right there at some big events that I wanted to be. I didn’t finish them off like I probably would have last year, so that’s maybe the biggest difference,” Alker said at Phoenix Country Club last week for a media event.
“It’s a very fine line. I felt my consistency was still there. I was reminded last week that I was second five times this year, so I didn’t realize that. Some of them not so close but some of them close.”
Defending tournament champion returns
Padraig Harrington, who is one of the big bombers on the circuit, won the season-ending tournament last year and comes into Phoenix fresh off a win last Sunday. He has two wins and nine top-10s in just 12 events played. He competed in seven PGA Tour events, making the cut in three majors.
Harrington’s sixth and latest Champions win was by a whopping seven shots.
“You want to get yourself open to contention and then when you’re there you want to handle the pressure and the nerves. This is why we do it, this is why I’m still doing it at 52 years of age for days like this.”
Harrington is third in the standings heading into the finale.
Bernhard Langer, who won the series title two years ago for a sixth time, is the ageless wonder. Now 66, he won twice in 2023 and has 12 top-10s in 23 starts. He has climbed into the second spot, but, like everyone else, is really just battling for the runner-up spot.
Schedule, format, TV info
The Schwab Cup finale is, outside of the five majors on the circuit, the only 72-hole event. The top 36 players left in the points race have qualified for the tournament, which does not have a cut.
First place is good for $528,000 out of a $3 million purse. Only the majors have bigger paydays.
There is a pro-am set for Wednesday. The first round is Thursday with the final round scheduled for Sunday.
Unlike the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, where the winner of the season-ending Tour Championship is the winner of the FedEx Cup, the Charles Schwab Cup Championship can produce tournament winner different from the season-long champion.
Qualifiers for 2023 Charles Schwab Championship
Miguel Angel Jimenez
First five out