independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

McDowell, Harrington fail to fire at Riviera

Graeme McDowell

PRECISION is the key to survival at Riviera Country Club. Arrive here a tad rusty, as Graeme McDowell inevitably did after a 10-week winter break, or as jaded as Padraig Harrington looked over his 36 holes, and the result is almost inevitable.

Despite the disappointment of back-to-back missed cuts, Harrington should benefit from a couple of days extra rest before next Wednesday's first round of the Accenture Match Play.

The Dubliner, playing his fifth tournament in six weeks on three continents, was haphazard off the tee and imprecise with his irons and wedges, a recipe for disaster when tight fairways and sloping greens are as hard and fast as this.

He also consorted too often with Riviera's dangerously seductive bunkers. However, there was at least one encouraging point for Harrington – he managed to hole a few putts!

After three-putting the first and missing four times from inside six feet or considerably less during Thursday's nightmare 77, Harrington missed just one five-footer yesterday (for birdie at 17, his eighth).

Yet, starting with an eight-footer for eagle at the par-five first, Harrington seemed to get the measure of these poa annua greens on his inward half, potting a nine-footer for par at the next and holing out from eight feet at six and seven.

The 41-year-old may even benefit from a couple of days extra rest before Wednesday's first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson.

McDowell certainly would have liked 36 more holes of competitive golf this weekend after a lengthy break in which he and fiancee Kristin Stape moved into the new house he built at the Lake Nona resort and the Portrush man made plans for the grand opening of his Orlando bistro-bar, Lake Nona Blue, on St Patrick's Day.

G-Mac also made an amusing advertisement for Srixon golf balls in which he gets body-slammed by a cage fighter – perfect preparation, one hesitates to say, for another beating at Riviera, where McDowell has missed the cut in three out of four visits.

Korea's Sang-Moon Bae led John Merrick by one in the clubhouse after scooting to nine-under with a sizzling second-round 65. Luke Donald looked dangerous on seven-under after his 66.

Meanwhile, David Higgins flew the Irish flag with honour over the windswept, rain-splashed first two days at the Africa Open, surging into a share of eighth place on six-under-par after a polished 68.

staggering

Waterville native Higgins (40), who played the final six holes of his weather-delayed first-round 70, lay eight strokes behind runaway leader Adilson da Silva. The Brazilian went straight out after completing his staggering first round 62 and shot 68.

Da Silva (41), a regular on South Africa's Sunshine Tour, was nicely placed going into the weekend to challenge for his first victory and third top-10 finish on the European circuit.

Jaco VanZyl (33), from nearby Kokstad, was three shy of Da Silva entering the weekend after rounds of 66 and 67 which hinted he may be ready to claim a first European Tour title.

Darren Fichart, loitering with intent in a tie for fourth place on eight-under following his 67 in the second round, also appeared to have a good chance of keeping this title in South African hands.

Yet Higgins, who won back his card at Q-School last November, may have something to say about that.

The quiet Kerryman, who beat Harrington in the final of the Irish Close and South of Ireland Championships as an amateur, showed class with his top-10 finish in a world-class field at last year's BMW PGA in Wentworth.

Given half a chance, Higgins, a three-time winner on the Challenge Tour a decade back, has the game to pull off his long-awaited first win in Europe's big league.

Sadly, Gareth Maybin missed the cut by one on one-over-par after completing his second-round 71 with three straight bogeys. Damien McGrane was three-over after yesterday's 72.

Africa Open, Day 3

Live, Sky Sports 3, 11.0

Northern Trust Open, Day 3

Live, Sky Sports 3, 6.0

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