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‘I’ve given myself a lot of hands to win this’ – Pádraig Harrington five clear after moving day at US Senior Open

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Padraig Harrington of Ireland plays a shot on the sixth hole during the third round of the U.S. Senior Open Championship at Saucon Valley Country Club. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Padraig Harrington of Ireland plays a shot on the sixth hole during the third round of the U.S. Senior Open Championship at Saucon Valley Country Club. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Padraig Harrington of Ireland plays a shot on the sixth hole during the third round of the U.S. Senior Open Championship at Saucon Valley Country Club. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Pádraig Harrington didn't win the US Senior Open on Saturday, but a five-under 66 hugely increased his chances of making his first senior win a Major at Saucon Valley Country Club in Pennsylvania.

Driving the ball prodigious distances, the Dubliner (50) used his length to great effect to open up a commanding five-stroke lead over Americans Gene Sauers and Rob Labritz.

"I know, when it comes to this course with a five-shot lead, I've given myself plenty of options to win this tournament," said Harrington, who birdied the first, second, sixth and 10th before hitting a spectacular 269-yard five-wood to eight feet to set up an eagle at the 12th

"That's the important thing. When you've got a lead like this, in not even a perfect world, but in dreamland, you think you're going to go out there and play well and run away with it, which is a possibility.

"I could play good tomorrow and have a nice comfortable day. I could play average tomorrow, and someone will have to come at me. Or I could play badly tomorrow, and I'll still have a chance.

"As long as I keep my head on my shoulders, even if I play badly, just stick in there. I'm sure I'll have a chance coming down the stretch to turn things around if I'm not having a good day. I've basically given myself a lot of hands to win this."

Harrington looked to be playing a different game to the rest of the field as he extended his bogey-free run to 42 holes before dropping his first shot since the eighth hole on Thursday at the 15th.

"Padraig is tearing it up," said Sauers, who will play alongside Harrington in Sunday's final pairing after carding a 68 to get to six-under. "He's playing a 6,500-yard golf course and I'm playing a 7,500-yard golf course."

Harrington would bounce back from that bogey by hitting a 122-yard approach to three feet at the 16th to set up another birdie but although he short-sided himself at the 18th and made bogey, the three-time Major winner is clearly relishing being in contention to win his first Senior event.

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Yet even with a ball speed of 183 mph - 12 mph more than the PGA Tour average and his own average when he won his regular Majors in 2007 and 2008 — he's taking nothing for granted and thinking only of putting a score together on Sunday.

He's trying not to think about his 42 consecutive bogey-free holes or how well he is playing, admitting he missed his first green the moment he realised he'd hit 19 in a row.

"I've only an interest in 11-under par," he said. "I really couldn't care less if I've hit greens, fairways. It's the score. Nothing to do with how you go about it.

"It's the scores on the doors. That's it. I'm trying not to count anything. I'm trying not to think like that. But I was aware that I was bogey-free for a long time."

As for that five-wood to the 12th, he wasn't getting over-excited about that either when a reporter reminded him of the five-wood to the 71st that set up the eagle that won him the 2008 Open at Royal Birkdale.

"Look, obviously I wouldn't even come close to comparing those two shots," he said with a grin. "The one in Birkdale is probably the best shot I've ever hit in my life; today's was a good shot."

He added: "I have an advantage on those holes. So if I don't take that advantage, it feels bad for me.

"It's all very well that you can reach these par-5s. When you don't do it, it's kind of a little bit of -- you know, it gets you down a bit if you don't do it. It was nice for once to make not just a birdie, but an eagle. Obviously, I had a nice eagle try on six as well.

"Yeah, for me, to feel good about how I'm playing, I've got to make those birdies or eagles on those par-5s, and it was nice to do it there."

While he was tied fourth behind Phil Mickelson in the US PGA Championship last year, he's had just two top 10 finishes in his last 18 regular tour events and the competitor in him is thoroughly enjoying the week.

"I suppose this is why I've come out on the Champions Tour," he said. "I'm fed up playing in the middle of the field and not having the bit buzz that you get from having fans out there supporting you and cheering you and the excitement.

"That's why you're here. It was great to have it. Plenty of Irish people, but I think everybody out there supporting.

"Obviously, this event is surprisingly -- maybe not for you guys, but for my experience in the Champions Tour, this has been surprisingly well supported. This is like a regular tournament. So very impressed with that."

As for his gameplan for Sunday, he said: "Just stay rested. Don't overthink it between now and tomorrow. That would be it. Just chill out in the morning, as I did today."

Harrington, who is looking to become the third consecutive player to win this championship in his first start (Steve Stricker, 2019; Jim Furyk, 2021), leads the field in greens in regulation (46 of 54) and made spectacular recoveries at the seventh, 13th and 16th.

Leading by a shot from Steve Stricker overnight, he made a quick, left-to-right slider from around five feet at the par-five first, then knocked in a 15-footer at the second, statistically the toughest hole this week.

A two-putt birdie on the 568-yard, par-five sixth gave him a four-stroke lead over Stricker, who slipped back with a two-over 73.

After getting up and down birdie from greenside rough on the 282-yard, par-4 10th to move to 10 under, he laced a 263-yard five-wood to six feet to set up an eagle on the downhill, 608-yard 12th.

Sauers and Labritz, who will play in the penultimate pairing with two-time US Open champion Ernie Els (67), both know they likely will need some help from Harrington to have a chance to hoist the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Trophy on Sunday afternoon.

There are precedents, however.

Allen Doyle trailed by nine at NCR Country Club in 2005 and won. Brad Bryant was five back in 2007 and prevailed at Whistling Straits.

Sauers birdied his final two holes to get into the last pairing, while Labritz, a PGA Tour Champions rookie who is the director of golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in New York, birdied the 15th and 16th for a 69 to get to six-under

Labritz earned his PGA Tour Champions card by winning the final stage of Q-School last year and the three-time New York State Open champion will go into Sunday with an underdog mentality.

"I'm not worried about it," said Labritz, who has had just one top-five finish in 11 PGA Tour Champions starts.

"I'm going to go out there and play my game, shoot under par, and wherever the chips fall, they fall. There are guys out here that have been doing this for 30 years. If they play better than me, so be it. I'm learning. I'm getting better. I'm improving. I feel like I'm so close."

Steven Alker, last month's Senior PGA Championship winner, 68-year-old Jay Haas and Stricker are all tied for fifth on three-under with David Toms, the 2018 champion, is among a group tied for eighth at 211.

"Very impressive," Toms said of Harrington's play so far. "He's really moving the ball out there, killing it off the tee and swinging at it pretty hard. So he's got that working for him.”

Harrington tees off with Sauers at 7.50 pm Irish time.


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