Sport Golf

Saturday 21 October 2017

Harrington turns back the clock as short game rises to occasion

Germany's Martin Kaymer hits his approach to the 16th green during the second round of the Byron Nelson Championship
Germany's Martin Kaymer hits his approach to the 16th green during the second round of the Byron Nelson Championship

William S Callahan

IT was like the good old days in Dallas yesterday.

Not so much 'who shot JR?' but who shot back-to-back rounds in the 60s for the first time in 11 months on the PGA Tour?

In the process, Padraig Harrington delivered a performance with his putter that turned the clock back nearly six years to the days when he won three Major titles in 13 months.

That once-famous Odyssey Two-ball Blade suddenly looked trusty again as Harrington compiled a second successive two-under par 68 at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.

The 42-year-old made the cut for only the fifth time in 12 tournaments in a fruitless and frustrating year.

IMPRESSIVE

And at four-under par, Harrington was just two strokes shy of the early clubhouse lead shared on six-under by Canadians Graham DeLaet and Mike Weir, New Jersey native Morgan Hoffman (24), Irish Open champion Paul Casey and, most impressive of all, newly-crowned Players Champion Martin Kaymer.

Yet for the first time in a long time, it didn't seem to matter what misfortune came the Dubliner's way from tee to green ... one swish of the wand would put it right.

Harrington actually hit two drives into the water yesterday and, even though he shipped a double-bogey at the hugely difficult 528-yard par-four third, he sank an eight-foot putt for a decent six there after being penalised stroke and massive distance for the errant tee shot.

He had 11 one-putt greens. Though Harrington holed from as far away as 39 feet at nine for one of his four birdies yesterday, the piece de resistance came at 18. After hitting his final tee shot left into the lake, Harrington got up and down from 179 yards, impressively sinking a 15-foot putt for his par.

In all, he had just 25 putts yesterday, one more than on Thursday, while his only three-putt so far this week came from 48 feet at the first hole, his 10th, in the first round, where he missed from just inside four feet for the par.

All that work Harrington has invested in his short game is paying off.

Before heading for Texas, he spoke about a season spent in the shadow of the guillotine and how "I just can't seem to get away from (the cut). I just can't seem to get a week where I've a nice relaxed run at it." At last, it seems, that time has come.

Casey's 63, the low round of the tournament thus far, boosted the Englishman's morale as he tries to win back his playing credentials in the US.

However, Kaymer's back-to-back 67s stand as a monument to the German's focus and concentration after his exhilarating but exhausting victory at Sawgrass late last Sunday night.

Across the ocean in Girona, several other Irish golfers who have spent too much time on the wrong side of the cut line this year surged through to the weekend at the Open de Espana.

Ulsterman Gareth Maybin shot a fine second-round 70 at PGA de Catalunya, one of the most challenging courses on the European Tour, to share 10th place on one-under with pre-tournament favourite Sergio Garcia, among others.

They were just five off the pace set by Belgian Tour rookie Thomas Pieters (22), who delivered on the promise of a stellar US college career with two rounds of 69 to lie one ahead of Joost Luiten and Eddie Pepperell.

Pieters, a graduate from Q-School at PGA de Catalunya last November, has made just three cuts in 11 outings this season, though he tied for eighth at last month's Malaysian Open.

Considering the pressures of his office as Ryder Cup captain and the fact he spent all last week in a TV commentary box at Sawgrass, Paul McGinley's share of 19th on even par after back-to-back 72s on this set-up was excellent.

FIGHT

Shane Lowry (74, +2), Kevin Phelan (71, +3), David Higgins (74, +3) and Simon Thornton (76, +4) also lived to fight another two days in Girona.

Yet the men to watch this weekend are big-hitting Spanish hero Alvaro Quiros and the ever-precise Francesco Molinari of Italy, after both posted 67s.

Meanwhile, Stephen Browne, a two-time winner on the European Challenge Tour during eight years as a pro, will play the City North Hotel East of Ireland at Baltray for the first time in 13 years from May 31 to June 2.

Browne, now playing off plus-0.8 at Hermitage, finished fourth behind Ken Kearney on his last appearance in Leinster's amateur 'Major'.

BYRON NELSON CHAMPIONSHIP

LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 9.0

OPEN DE ESPANA,

LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 12.30

Irish Independent

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