Monday 29 May 2017

Harrington back in the old groove at Blue Monster

William S Callahan

THE real Padraig Harrington, three-times Major Champion and blessed with one of the best short games in golf, showed up at Doral's Blue Monster this week.

Harrington heads into the weekend at The CA World Championship four strokes off leader Ernie Els after rediscovering his competitive edge in challenging conditions in Miami.

Traditionally, the Dubliner needs three or four events to find his 'A' game at the start of his competitive year and 2010 had been no different ... until mother nature threw down the gauntlet on Thursday.

Few are better when the going gets tough and after emerging from a howling gale that afternoon with a commendable opening 70, Harrington's focus and short game were still sharp as he breezed into a tie for fifth place on six-under with a polished second round 68.

The wind had died yesterday morning as Harrington and the rest of the elite 68-man field set out early in an effort to dodge violent rainstorms which would howl across South Florida in the afternoon.

Harrington and Els only had around half-a-dozen holes to play when the temperatures plummeted; the wind strengthened once again, only this time blowing from the opposite direction, and intermittent showers began to fall.

Yet they were lucky enough to get back to the clubhouse before the skies really opened.

Sitting warm and comfortable in the locker room on 10-under, Els could reflect with pleasure on a bogey-free round of 66 in which he played like 'The Big Easy' once again.

Only a bogey into the teeth of the wind at Doral's daunting final hole on Thursday had denied Els a share of the first round lead on five-under with fellow-South African Charl Schwartzel, but there was no stopping his metronomic march to the head of the field yesterday.

The key to his billowing confidence has been the change Els has made to his putting action this year. After several years of angst, he's cut down his putter to 35 inches and now stands directly over his ball with arms loosely extended, leading to a more relaxed and effective stroke.

roller-coaster

If Els has been wonderfully consistent, his nearest rival, Robert Allenby, one shot back on nine-under after a second round 67, had yet another incredible roller-coaster ride around Doral.

Eight under through 12 on Thursday, Allenby then finished his first round with four straight bogeys and the craziness continued yesterday as he swept into the lead with the first ever hole-in-one at the 232-yard 13th; fell back with an awful double-bogey six at 16 and tied the lead once again with an eagle three at the first, his 10th hole.

The Australian continued to yo-yo wildly in and out of the lead right up to the par three ninth, which he three-putted for bogey. In all, Allenby had two eagles, 12 birdies, seven bogeys and a double-bogey in his first 36 holes.

Schwartzel, after his second round 70, was tied for third on seven-under with recent Bob Hope-winner Billy Haas, who marked his first appearance at a World Golf Championship with a wonderful second round of 66.

Graeme McDowell finished his rain- interrupted round in style when birdieing his final two holes for a four-under-par 68. This left him on two-under 142 and well in contention for a high placing over the weekend.

Rory McIlroy was five-over following his frustrating 73 in the company of Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen.

After Thursday's 76, McIlroy landed two birdies in his opening three holes yesterday before a hat-trick of bogeys knocked him back on his heels.

Yet he was still one ahead of Ian Poulter, wallowing on six-over after yesterday's 78. With no cut, they both have the chance to play their way back into form this weekend.

Defending champion Mickelson, who didn't have a practice round this week after delaying his arrival until Wednesday evening to spend more time at home with his family in San Diego, was three under yesterday after shooting 69 and well in contention on four-under.

Yet, along with Els, Harrington might be the one to watch as he bids for a first World title this weekend, especially if his putter stays as hot as yesterday, when the Dubliner registered five birdies and just one dropped shot after driving into the water at 18, his ninth hole.

WGC CA Championship, Day 3

Live, Sky Sports 2, 7.0

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