PHOENIX — Steven Alker tore up the first nine holes at Phoenix Country Club during the first three rounds of the 2023 Charles Schwab Cup Championship. He was 14 under on the front over 54 holes, compared to 3 under on the back. That was a big reason why at 17 under, he held a four-shot lead heading into the final round.
Sunday, though, was a different story. Alker, who birdied Nos. 1, 4 and 5 in each of the first three rounds, parred the first and fourth and bogeyed the fifth Sunday. He was even through eight holes before finally getting a second Sunday birdie on the ninth to make the turn at 1 under on the day, and that allowed a few others to make up ground.
Ernie Els, who opened his week with a 63, the low round of the tournament this year, was 5 under through eight holes Sunday and at one point trimmed Alker’s lead to just a shot.
Els’ round then cooled off as he parred eight straight holes but on 17, Els got to 17 under with a long birdie putt, and was once again a shot back of the lead. But on the par-5 18th, Els found trouble, hitting into the greenside lake after bouncing his second shot off the slope near the green. He would go on to make par to shoot 65 and finish 17 under. Stephen Ames also shot a 65 and tied Els at 17 under.
That left Alker needing just to par out on the last three holes to clinch the tournament. On 16, he powered his birdie putt three feet past the hole but he made his par, his lead still one. On 17, he missed the green with a wedge but putted onto the green and then tapped in for a par. On 18, his drive skirted but missed a fairway bunker. He was 201 yards out and chose to lay up. As he was lining up his third, Lanny Wadkins on the Golf Channel teldcast said Alker needed to be short and left with his approach but he just about flew green, his ball trundling down the backside into the second cut of rough.
Needing to get up and down for par to win by a shot, Alker, who was 13 for 16 scrambling up to that point this week, chipped on to about two feet. With Ernies Els on the practice green and Stephen Ames sitting in the clubhouse waiting, Alker drained the putt to finish it off.
Alker won the season-long title a year ago and he now leaves Phoenix Country Club two years in a row with some hardware in his adopted home state. The New Zealander has lived in Scottsdale for the last 21 years.
As Alker collected his tournament trophy on the 18th green, there was another one there for Steve Stricker, who clinched the series title after the first of three playoff events. He was an 11th-hour WD for Phoenix, pulling out the night before the first round after announcing that his dad was admitted into the hospital.
The top five finishers in the Charles Schwab Cup season-long race earned even more money Sunday.
Steve Stricker, $1 million
Steven Alker, $500,000
Ernie Els, $300,000
Padraig Harrington, $200,000
Bernhard Langer, $100,000