Sport Golf

Monday 24 July 2017

Harrington in a fog

Fromer champion produces another error-strewn opening gambit after mist-delayed US PGA start

Padraig Harrington eyes up his shot at the 10th green during the first round of the 92nd PGA Golf Championship at Whistling Straits yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Padraig Harrington eyes up his shot at the 10th green during the first round of the 92nd PGA Golf Championship at Whistling Straits yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Karl MacGinty

IT took more than three hours for the glaring sun to burn dense fog off the fairways at Whistling Straits yesterday morning -- but Ireland's Padraig Harrington ended up stumbling about in a mist of his own making for considerably longer during the delayed first round of the US PGA Championship.

This was yet another troubling opening gambit by Harrington at the Majors and, sadly, was very much in keeping with his lacklustre effort at last month's British Open in St Andrews, where the Dubliner missed the cut.

Harrington's three-over-par 75 left him seven shots off the pace set by early clubhouse leader Bubba Watson after Pete Dye's faux-Irish links had been turned into a veritable soft touch by torrential rain, which in recent weeks has doused the shores of Lake Michigan.

As he stumbled to his 12th successive round over par at the Major championships, it was clear that Harrington will need a dramatic turnaround in form on the Straits Course this evening if he's to make the weekend in Wisconsin.

Since winning the 2008 US PGA at Oakland Hills, Harrington has missed the cut on three of his last seven visits to Grand Slam arenas, including this year's Masters and the Open, and he certainly didn't perform like a three-time Major-winner yesterday.

While one is unlikely to find the Straits course in more benign mood, trouble still lurks in its deep fescue rough for anyone who hits his ball as far wide of its generous fairways and receptive greens as Harrington did yesterday, especially on the front nine.

It certainly wasn't pretty to watch as Harrington repeatedly conjured trouble out of thin air, starting at his first hole, the 361-yard 10th hole.

After hitting his tee shot, with a fairway metal, into the heart of the fairway, the Irishman caught his wedge so fat, he was lucky his ball held up in the heavy rough on the top rim of the pot-bunker just short of the teasing front pin.

That clumsy effort rekindled memories of the chunked wedge he hit into the Swilken Burn on the first at St Andrews, only this time he got up and down comfortably for an opening par instead of the double-bogey which had put him behind the eight-ball from the off at the Open.

He wouldn't be so lucky at the next, however. Having driven into the heart of the fairway at the 618-yard par-five 11th, Harrington laid up to wedge range and then hit his approach into the back bunker, leaving a near-impossible downhill shot to the flag.

Harrington hadn't gone for the green in two precisely because he didn't want his ball to end up where it did! He paid the price for this paradox with a bogey six.

John Daly, who played with Harrington yesterday, took a less-than-magnificent seven out of a nightmare lie high in the face of the front bunker at that par-five as he slid to three over through two holes.

Daly's court jester outfit, featuring white trousers with garish orange diamonds, entertained his legions of fans in the vast galleries a lot more than his golf as the 1991 PGA champion posted a four-over-par 76.

Yet Harrington, despite good par-saves at 12 and 13 and a sweet birdie at 14, where he hit a wonderful blind approach to 13 feet with his wedge and then holed the putt, didn't play much better than the hapless American icon.

escape

Okay, he pulled off an escape of Killarney proportions after hooking his tee-shot way left into the dunes bordering the 518-yard 15th, the toughest hole when the US PGA last visited Whistling Straits in 2004.

Yet it is indicative of the mental haze in which Harrington found himself yesterday that he actually drew his hybrid club and considered taking on a huge carry out of an improbable lie in the rough, before good sense and the urgings of his caddie, Ronan Flood, prevailed.

After wedging back out onto the fairway, Harrington hit his approach to 15 feet and holed the treacherous, downhill left-to-right putt for a Houdini save -- on a par with many of those we saw at the recent Irish Open.

However, no matter how benignly the Straits Course played, it's still not the Killeen Course and Harrington was never going to get away with shots as poor as the one he snap-hooked way left and onto rocks on the lakeshore, some 25 feet below the green at the infamous par-three 17th.

One suspects he was less than happy with himself as he played that ill-fated tee shot. Moments earlier, he'd pushed a four-foot birdie putt just wide of the cup at the par-five 16th after backing off a couple of times to let a volunteer update a scoreboard. For sure, the hapless official had been on his line but the offending scoreboard was some 100 yards away, giving clear indication of the fragility of the Dubliner's focus.

Almost inevitably, Harrington made a double-bogey five off the rocks at 17, then turned in three over after hitting his long-iron approach to the 18th into a bunker short of the green.

While he showed typical fighting spirit to recover from another morale-denting bogey at the 489-yard fourth with back-to-back birdies at five and six, another dropped shot at his penultimate hole, the eighth, left Harrington wallowing near the foot of the leaderboard.

Rekindled

Remarkably, the Tiger Woods of old seemed to emerge from yesterday morning's mist as he rekindled memories of his 14 Major championship triumphs by landing three birdies in his four opening holes.

Indeed, so vast was the difference between the Tiger who prowled the fairways of Whistling Straits early in his round yesterday and the bearded imposter who'd plumbed staggering depths of ineptitude at Firestone last week, one wondered if some magician might have pulled a switch in the dense early morning fog.

Instead of David Copperfield, this time the conjurer might be Sean Foley, the vaunted young Canadian coach who worked closely with Woods on Tuesday and Wednesday and clearly got the world No 1 back down to the business of hitting his golf ball in a relatively straight line.

Though his golf certainly wasn't infallible, there were echoes of Tiger, the 14-times Major champion, as he holed out from seven feet for birdie at the ninth hole, his last, and a first-round 71

USA UNLESS STATED

68 B Watson, F Molinari (It).

69 J Day (Aus), R Moore.

70 J Furyk, K-T Kim (SKor), M Laird (Gbr), J Merrick, M Sim (Aus), T Jaidee (Thai).

71 S Gallacher (Gbr), S Elkington (Aus), R Palmer, B Davis (Gbr), E Molinari (It), T Woods, M Leishman (Aus), C Villegas (Col).

72 S Appleby (Aus), L Donald (Gbr), JB Holmes, P Casey (Gbr), M Bettencourt, M Kaymer (Ger), DJ Trahan, YE Yang (Kor), B Gay, I Poulter (Gbr).

73 V Taylor, B Van Pelt, R Fowler, J Leonard, S Kjeldsen R Labritz, C Schwartzel (Rsa), D Love III, V Singh (Fij).

74 KJ Choi (Kor), S Marino, G Ogilvy (Aus), H Fujita (Jap), A Quiros (Sp), D Toms, M Jones (Aus).

75 S Hebert, T Petrovic, R Steinmetz, J Kelly, P Harrington (Ir), R Barnes

76 R Ishikawa (Jap), K Flinton, J Daly, R Goosen (RSA), F Jacobsen (Swe).

77 D Lamely, S Cink.

78 K Ohr, S Garcia (Sp).

80 M Brooks.

Irish Independent

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