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Harrington and Els discover fire in their bellies

William S Callahan

Published 22/06/2013 | 05:00

Ernie Els acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green during the second round of the BMW International Open
Ernie Els acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green during the second round of the BMW International Open

ERNIE ELS and Padraig Harrington, two multiple Major champions who found salvation in the long putter, are surging into top form just in time for massively significant missions in coming weeks.

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Harrington looks ready to thrill his fellow countrymen in next week's Irish Open at Carton judging by the way he tucked away a succession of chances as he opened with back-to-back 66s at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut.

On the other side of the Atlantic, British Open champion Els showed he's winding up nicely for next month's defence of the Claret Jug at Muirfield by loping into the 36-holes lead at the BMW International Open in Munich.

While the South African underscored his recent good form by taking a share of fourth place at last weekend's US Open, there was a renewed spring in his step at TPC River Highlands this week, with the 41-year-old's new belly putter, albeit controversial, giving him good cause to smile once again on Tour greens.

Harrington counted a 51-foot monster among the six birdie putts he landed on Thursday and he'd another half-dozen birdies on the card yesterday as he moved into a share of second on eight-under with American Patrick Reed, two shy of leader Bubba Watson.

COMPETENT

Watson hinted he might be ready to win for the first time since donning the Green Jacket at last year's Masters when he followed up Thursday's first-round 63 with a competent 67, while last Sunday's US Open winner Justin Rose completed 36 holes in five-under after a 68 yesterday.

Harrington was exciting to watch as swirling winds made the going tough in Connecticut, even if he played down suggestions that his five-year win drought on the world's Major tours may end tomorrow.

"I'm very pleased with my score but I'm not shouting from the rooftops," he said. "That score is flattering. I've holed a few long putts but I feel I need to play better. Let's just say I'm not buzzing with confidence."

A spectacular run of five consecutive one-putt greens, which started when he potted a 15-footer for birdie at 12, suggested otherwise.

Though he three-putted from 47 feet (and across a large ridge) at 17, Harrington nearly shot the lights out with a remarkable 350-yard drive down 18, while the birdie he made out of a difficult lie in a fairway bunker at three was absolutely spellbinding.

Harrington showed he can thrill his Irish supporters on the Montgomerie Course next week as he holed another monster for birdie after hitting a loose wedge into six.

His frustration probably was founded on another loose wedge into nine, his last, where he was 30 feet wide of the cup from 115 yards.

Yet he still goes into the weekend at Cromwell with the rare scent of victory in his nostrils. A finish in the first three would propel Harrington back into world golf's elite top-50.

As Els eased one stroke clear of his closest challengers on 12-under with yesterday's 69 at Golfclub Eichenried, Dubliner Peter Lawrie matched that effort by the South African to propel himself within four strokes of the lead in a share of 11th place.

Shane Lowry (69) and David Higgins (68) were both tied 30th on six-under through halfway and still in with a shout in Munich, but Gareth Maybin (70) missed the cut by one on two-under par.

BMW International Open,

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The Travelers,

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Irish Independent

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