Monday 5 December 2016

Harrington sympathy for Tour card hopefuls

William S Callahan

Published 21/10/2016 | 02:30

Padraig Harrington follows the flight of his ball after taking a drop on the 18th hole during the first round of Portugal Masters at Victoria Clube de Golfe in Vilamoura. Photo: Getty
Padraig Harrington follows the flight of his ball after taking a drop on the 18th hole during the first round of Portugal Masters at Victoria Clube de Golfe in Vilamoura. Photo: Getty

Pádraig Harrington's heart goes out to the European Tour players bidding to clinch their card for 2017 at the Portugal Masters in Vilamoura.

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In fact, he admits to avoiding the subject with players hovering around 110th place in the Race to Dubai rankings which is the cut-off point for securing playing rights next year.

The €2 million event being played at Victoria Clube de Golfe on the Algarve is not the richest tournament on the European Tour's schedule, but it carries a passport to future wealth for those who can stay exempt.

That's why Harrington will only discuss the dreaded subject with those he considers safe and secure.

Any players on the bubble, or those hoping for a high enough finish this week to break into 110th or better, are off limits.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Harrington said: "You wouldn't wish it on anybody. It's a really tough, tough place to be.

"The only people you can approach and talk to about it are the ones you think are already in.

"So I would say Paul Dunne's there at 101. I said it to Chris Hanson, that 105 is safe, but it's amazing, he doesn't think it's safe, and guys never do.

"But you'd never mention it to the 111s, 110s, 109s. It's just not a subject to be talked about.

"They're thinking about it enough without you bringing it up."

This tournament traditionally facilitates good scoring, which can work either way for those seeking security.

Harrington was pleased with his opening 66, five-under par, which included an eagle two when he chipped in on the par-four 15th hole, but the course was blitzed by birdies and eagles on the opening day.

Scotland's Marc Warren set the pace with a super 63.

That gave him just a one-shot lead ahead of a group of five on 64 - David Lipsky of the USA, Finland's Mikko Korhonen, and English trio Callum Shinkwin, Matthew Baldwin, and Eddie Pepperell.

Korhonen is 116 in the rankings, Pepperell 110, while Baldwin at 180 needs top-two finish to save his card.

This drama within a drama will play itself out over the next three rounds.

Harrington, safely exempt, commented: "I have to say, the European Tour is the toughest card to keep in the world.

"The PGA Tour is the top 125, and if you finish 126-150, you're getting 20 starts the following year, so effectively you still have a great chance of keeping your card the following year.

"Finish 125-200 (in America) and you get a chance to go into those four tournaments, play-offs, and get your card back, so there's nowhere near the stress on the guys in the States as there is on these guys.

"You finish 112th, 113th, 14th, in Europe and you get nine or ten events the next year and they're the smaller events," he said.

The Dubliner may not have to worry about keeping his European Tour card, but he has his own goals, primarily to play well enough to get back inside the world's top 50.

Unless he wins in Portugal, Harrington will go to America to play some of the pre-Christmas events with a view to improving his world status.

"You have to choose what's going to make you play the best in the Majors. At the moment, I need to get into the top 50 in the world to get into the Masters, but if I win one of the last three events in the States, I get in to the Masters.

Choices

"My choices are: if I won here I would play the Final Series in Europe because I can play myself into the top 50. I can do something in those events that's worthwhile. There's no point in me just turning up to make up the numbers.

"If I won here I would definitely play the ones in Europe, but if I don't, I'll go play those three in the States.

"My form is pretty good, so if I won one of them, I'd get into the Masters, and that's a huge bonus," he said.

Paul Dunne did not get the start he would have liked, shooting 73 for two-over par, the same score as Michael Hoey, the only other Irish player in the field, and Scotland's Craig Lee, who is in 109th position on the order of merit.

Those three were among a group of players tied-106, and will need to hit the birdie trail today if they are to make the cut.

Defending champion and Ryder Cup debutant Andy Sullivan, who shot 23-under par last year, made a solid start with a 67, four-under par.

Sweden's Alex Noren, seeking a fourth win in nine outings, also opened with a 67.

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