Sport Golf

Saturday 25 March 2017

Harrington hails 'home support' as birdies flow in Portugal

William S Callahan

Padraig Harrington of Ireland. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Padraig Harrington of Ireland. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Pádraig Harrington could not stop smiling as he reflected on his second round 63 in the Portugal Masters at Victoria Clube de Golfe in Vilamoura yesterday.

Harrington reeled off nine birdies and just a single bogey to reach 13-under par, leaving him just a shot behind joint leaders Marc Warren of Scotland and England's Andy Sullivan.

Overnight leader Warren did not do much wrong on a course set up for low scoring, but his 65 paled in comparison to Sullivan's blistering 61, ten lower than the course par of 71. It was a thrilling day for the galleries, but for the men who mattered, the guys inside the ropes, it was just as much fun.

Harrington enjoyed plenty of vocal support from a sizeable contingent of Irish people in the gallery, and enjoyed every bit of it.

"I was holing a few putts, of course I was having fun. It's nice to be making a few birdies. I felt I had home support out there today. Obviously there's a lot of Irish people down here.

"I suppose it's a little while since I've been getting those sort of cheers on the golf course, so I was appreciating it and enjoying it," he told Sky Sports.

Notching

Harrington set the tone for his day right from the start, notching four birdies and a par on his first five holes. He turned in 31, and got back on the birdie trail with a three on the 10th, and a chip-in three at the par-four 11th.

That shot caused a stir. The Irishman's ball was in a nice lie just off the green about 35 feet from the pin.

The practice swings suggested he might loft the ball onto the putting surface but when it came to the actual shot, he struck the middle of the ball with the blade of his wedge, sending the ball on its way and into the hole.

A 'bladed-chip', but very effective.

"It's something you learn as a kid. Not something I practise week to week but I hit it at least once every tournament I play. It's a go-to shot, put it like that. It's one in the memory bank," said Harrington.

The opening rounds have whetted his appetite for more of the same, and Harrington knows he cannot afford to back off because the leading players are on top form and the course is wide open for scores in the low-sixties.

Defending champion Sullivan and Scotland's Richie Ramsay each carded 61, with Ramsay well in the hunt at 10-under par.

Robert Karlsson of Sweden (nine-under) had 62, the second best score of the day. Another Swede, Jens Fahrbring, joined Harrington on 13-under with a 63.

Last year Sullivan won by nine shots at 23-under par, and despite bad weather being forecast for today, Harrington considers the 20-under par mark or better is achievable by the end of the tournament.

When asked if he would prefer the shoot-out birdie-fest to continue or for bad weather to made it a bit of a grind for the opposition, Harrington was prepared to accept the challenge however it is presented.

"It should be another nice weekend, so I expect somebody's going to go low over the weekend and get it into the twenties," he said.

With 36 holes to go, anything can happen, but the experienced Harrington knows that as the pressure intensifies, the players at the top end of the leaderboard could tighten up.

"You will see somebody shoot 14-under par at the weekend, no doubt about it, but not all the leaders are going to do it. It's going to be tougher for leaders," he said.

Paul Dunne and Michael Hoey, the only other Irish players in the field, both missed the cut which fell at four-under par.

Dunne improved on his first round 73 with a 67 yesterday, but two-under was not enough to keep him in the tournament.

Hoey registered a second successive 73 for four-over par.

Meanwhile, Ireland's Leona Maguire shot 67 for 139 in the second round of the LPGA and Symetra Tour qualifying School event in Venice, Florida.

World number one amateur Maguire was just three shots behind the early clubhouse leader, Maia Schecter of the USA.

Portugal Masters Live, Sky Sports 4, 2.0pm

CIMB Classic Live, Sky Sports 4, 4.0am

Irish Independent

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