PHOENIX — It should come as no surprise that two of the best players on the PGA Tour Champions in 2022 are dominating the field at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
It should also come as no surprise that the golfer who has taken this tour by storm in the last 15 months has put himself in the driver’s seat to claim his first series title.
Steven Alker, tied for the tour lead with four wins this season, including a major at the Senior PGA Championship, came into the playoffs leading the points race. Padraig Harrington, in his first full season on the tour, is No. 2 in points and has won three times, including a major at the U.S. Senior Open.
Once the computers crunched all the numbers, Alker and Harrington were the only ones mathematically alive who could claim the season title. After the two pre-tournament favorites went shot-for-shot on a sunny Friday afternoon at Phoenix Country Club, it’s Alker and Harrington atop the leaderboard.
Harrington, playing in the third-to-last group in the second round, posted a birdie-birdie finish to shoot a 64, tied for low round of the week. He is at 12 under after 36 holes. For Harrington to claim the Cup, however, he needs to win but he also he needs Alker to finish outside the top five.
That’s starting to look like a long shot.
“Steve is relentless,” Harrington told Golf Channel after his round.
Alker was tied for the lead after 18 holes and after a 7-under 64, he holds the outright lead. Alker opened his round Friday with a pair of birdies, took his first outright lead with another birdie on No. 5. For the next couple hours, he would share the lead with Harrington a couple more times. Birdies on 15 and 17 got him to 13 under for the week so far. Alker has 13 birdies over two days and has yet to bogey a hole.
“I know what I’ve got to do, the numbers are all there. It’s kind of black and white. I just try and put myself in position to win a golf tournament, that’s big for me,” Alker said. “I’ve got to keep hammering those birdies out.”
Alker, a New Zealander who moved to Scottsdale in 2002, has his family following him this week, including his wife Tanya, son Ben and daughter Skye. That rooting section will be down one Saturday as Skye, a member of the Fountain Hills High School cross country team, will be competing in the state championships.
“Go Falcons,” Alker said.
Alker and Harrington are the only two golfers who can win the Cup this week. Even if Harrington wins this tournament, he needs Alker to finish outside the top five.
What about Langer?
Bernhard Langer, the ageless wonder who at 65 won for the 44th time on the Champions tour last week, has posted scores of 66 and 69 and is tied for eighth at 7 under. A 45th win would tie Hale Irwin’s mark set 15 years ago, but he’ll start Saturday’s third round six shots off the pace.
Lots of birdies but no eagles
The quirky stat of the week after 36 holes: it took until late in the day Friday for the first eagle to be finally recorded.
Thongchai Jaidee rolled in a birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole to give him a second-round 68 and move him into the top 10. It’s the only eagle after 1,188 holes of competition. There have been 284 birdies so far this week.
What’s on the line?
First place this week is good for $440,000. The winner of the Cup race banks a cool $1 million bonus.
In fact, the top five finishers in the Cup standings will earn a lump sum deposit into a Schwab brokerage account:
First place: $1,000,000