Padraig Harrington 'very close to a big week'
DESPITE a rousing start, Padraig Harrington slipped off the pace necessary to extend his season by one crucial week as darkness fell on a storm-disrupted opening day at the Turkish Open.
By his own reckoning, Harrington needs to finish 10th on his own or better to make next week's $8m DP World Tour Championship, which is confined to the top-60 on Europe's money list.
Though he picked up three birdies in his first five holes, the Dubliner then stalled, registering 11 pars before dusk brought play to a close with 63 of the 78-man field still on the course.
Thunder and rainstorms, which raged overnight and into morning, caused the first Tour event in Turkey to start three hours behind schedule. An even greater storm is brewing within European golfing circles.
Charl Schwartzel yesterday threatened to quit the Tour in protest at controversial regulations which require members to play in two of the first three events in the inaugural 'Final Series' to be eligible for next week's Dubai showpiece.
In a forceful response to the South African, Colin Montgomerie urged the Tour to "call the bluff" of Schwartzel and other dissenters.
Schwartzel didn't tee it up in either of the two events held in Shanghai in the last fortnight. To do so would have meant him playing continuously for more than two months, as he represents South Africa in the World Cup in Melbourne the week after Dubai, and then contests three European Tour events in his homeland, where he feels "a responsibility to play."
Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els have also been excluded from next week and the sponsors aren't pleased. The new rules seem especially absurd when Swede Jonas Blixt will be allowed play in Dubai after just seven Tour outings this year, against Schwartzel's 13.
"It's very disappointing as I want to play next week," Schwartzel said. "It makes you think about your future on the European Tour if they are going to carry on making these rules."
The Tour told the 2011 Masters champ they're looking into the issue, but Montgomerie urged them to "hold firm", adding: "For goodness sake I played 13 in a row when I was at my peak. Four in a row isn't a lot, particularly the way they're treated.
"They're like royalty with their private planes and suites. It's hardly a hassle is it? Players shouldn't have to be told to play for $7m, The tour's struggling, it's difficult to find sponsors ... call their bluff," he added.
For Schwartzel (who was four-under through 12) and many others the scoring was almost as hot yesterday as preferred lies were allowed on damp fairways and the greens were receptive
Argentina's Ricardo Gonzalez and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen shared the early clubhouse lead on six-under after 66s. On the course, Irish Open champ Paul Casey and Darren Fichardt, seven-under through 14, were tied at the top with Steve Webster, who'd played 12 by sundown.
Like Harrington, Tiger Woods found scoring difficult. Erratic off the tee, Woods hit just two fairways; registered only two birdies and faced a daunting pitch out of the left rough and over sand to the 11th green as play ended.
Yet the stakes are far higher for Harrington as he tries desperately to extend his season by just one more tournament following recent improvements in his short game and putting.
"In some ways, I'm unhappy the season's coming to an end as I'm very close to a big week," he revealed on Facebook.
"However, I also know I need a break. I've played a lot over the years and feel it's catching up with me."
Reaching Dubai would give Harrington a precious chance to get back into the world top-100. Yet at No 67 in the Order of Merit, the 42-year-old no doubt noted nine of his closest rivals on Europe's Money List ahead of him on the Turkish leaderboard.
A 72 left Shane Lowry well down the pecking order, but the Clara man registered three birdies and was delighted to make the first €300 donation to his 'Movember' campaign.
Though late invitee Damien McGrane had little opportunity to practice, the Kells man was two-under through 11 holes of his first round at close of play.
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