Steven Alker leads PGA Tour Champions finale after 65

Steven Alker leads PGA Tour Champions finale after 65
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PHOENIX — Steven Alker pulled away from the pack Saturday with a 6-under 65, finishing with a birdie that extended his lead to four shots going into the final round of the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

Alker began the day tied with Marco Dawson, who couldn’t keep up on the front nine and fell out of contention on the back nine at Phoenix Country Club.

Padraig Harrington was trying to keep pace until he took a double bogey on the 14th hole, and then had to scramble for bogey on the par-5 closing hole.

Alker was at 17-under 196, four shots ahead of Alex Cejka, who had a 68. Harrington and Thongchai Jaidee, who each had a 69, were five behind.

Even with a big lead, Alker believes the greens are so pure and the weather so perfect that someone can still come from out of the pack.

“Still the mindset is there’s a 63, 62 out there, who knows?” he said. “So I’ve just got to keep pedal to the metal.”

He’s done that particularly well on the front nine, playing it in 14 under over three rounds compared with just 3 under on the back nine.

At stake for Alker is a $1 million payoff on Sunday — first prize is $528,000, among the largest payoffs on the PGA Tour Champions, along with a $500,000 bonus for finishing second in the Charles Schwab Cup points race.

Steve Stricker long ago clinched the Schwab Cup with his six victories this year, three of them majors. He didn’t play in the postseason and had planned to play in Phoenix until his father was hospitalized in Wisconsin.

Stricker said his father was released from the hospital on Saturday.

Harrington also has a chance to finish at No. 2, but his chances took a big hit on the back nine with three dropped shots on two holes.

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