Steven Alker of New Zealand celebrates with the Charles Schwab Cup. Photo / Getty
Kiwi Steven Alker shot 3-under 68 to finish third behind record-setting Padraig Harrington in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship on Sunday, completing his climb from career journeyman to champion of the PGA Tour Champions.
Harrington needed to win and have Alker finish outside the top five for Harrington to claim the season-long Charles Schwab Cup in his second season on the PGA Tour Champions. The 51-year-old Irishman took care of the winning by running away from the field, shooting 6-under 65 in breezy conditions at Phoenix Country Club.
Harrington finished at 27-under 257 to break the PGA Tour Champions 72-hole record of 258 set by Tom Lehman at the 2012 Schwab Cup Championship. The 27 under matches the record set by Jack Nicklaus at the 1990 Kaulig Companies Championship.
Alker trailed Harrington by five shots heading into the final round, but the players behind were his only concern in terms of the Schwab Cup.
It got tight on the back nine.
Alex Cejka made an early move, opening eagle-birdie to move ahead of Alker on the front nine.
Alker had his first bogey of the tournament when his tee shot on the par-4 12th landed against the lip of a fairway bunker and he had to punch out to the fairway. He added another on the par-3 13th hole, dropping to 17 under.
That put Lee Janzen a shot behind Alker, with Miguel Angel Jimenez two back and Stephen Ames still within reach at 14 under.
Alker gave himself more of a cushion with a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-4 14th and added another at the short par-4 16th. The 51-year-old from New Zealand left a birdie putt on No. 18 on the lip to finish at 19 under and claim the Schwab Cup in his second season on the 50-and-over tour.
The triumph takes his earnings for the year to $7.44m, including a $1.63m bonus for clinching the Schwab Cup.
Cejka shot 65 to finish at 20 under. Janzen (66), Jimenez (66) and Ames (67) tied for fourth at 16 under.
The PGA Tour Champions gave Alker another opportunity in a career that took him around the world.
Starting in New Zealand in 1989, Alker played on six tours that received world ranking points, including three seasons on the PGA Tour and two in Europe. His best year was 2014, when he earned $261,901 on what is now the Korn Ferry Tour and reached his highest world ranking at No. 191 in 2002.
Alker began his PGA Tour Champions career as a Monday qualifier at the Boeing Classic in August 2021, picking up a top-10 finish that earned him a spot in the following week’s tournament. He followed with four more top 10s to keep playing, earned his way into the post-season and eventually won to secure a full card.
The confidence snowballed into this season, when he won five times while earning more than $5.4 million.
Alker arrived in the desert with a lead of more than 600,000 points over Harrington in the race for the Schwab Cup and played nearly flawless golf through the first three days. He entered the final round trailing only Harrington, who shot a 9-under 62 in the third round.
Harrington kept pouring in birdies, turning the front nine in 3-under 33. He added another at No. 12 and curled in a slick 40-foot birdie from the fringe on No. 15.
Harrington hit into the grandstand left of the par-5 18th and, after a drop, hit his pitch to 12 feet. He missed the putt and the chance to break Nicklaus’ record.
Alker never had a chance to catch Harrington, but he didn’t need to. He kept playing his steady game and ended up with the bigger trophy.