Padraig left with sinking feeling
Published 14/03/2011 | 05:00
It was the day Padraig Harrington should have rejoined golf's Sunday matinee idols, especially after the Dubliner landed a brilliant eagle at Doral's par-five first hole to surge to within two strokes of the lead in the Cadillac Championship.
And when he then followed-up with a sweet par save out of a back bunker at two, Harrington looked like the Major-winner of old.
Yet his hopes of winning for the first time at the World Golf Championships and re-establishing himself as a power in his sport were cruelly dashed as he dumped two balls in the water on his way to a triple-bogey seven at the demanding par-four third. It was reminiscent of the harrowing triple-bogey eight at 16 which truncated his battle with Tiger Woods at the 2009 Bridgestone World Championship in Firestone.
Or the two balls he dumped in the water on his way to a heart-rending quintuple-bogey eight on the eighth the following Sunday at Hazeltine, scotching Harrington's prospects of retaining the US PGA title.
And it was almost as damaging, as the 39-year-old slumped to a closing 73 and a share of 10th place on eight-under, eight behind winner Nick Watney, who edged out fellow American Dustin Johnson by two courtesy of a majestic final-round 67.
Just as frustrating from an Irish perspective was the disappointing two-over 74 which left Rory McIlroy tied 10th with Harrington and Tiger Woods - worth $129,000 to each of them - after a wayward final day.
Tiger's final-round 66 was his equal-best of the year and clinched his first top-10 finish since last June's US Open.
Harrington hasn't prevailed on American soil since August 2008, when he clinched that sensational third Major victory in 13 months at Oakland Hills, and has won just once in 30 months on the world's 'major' tours -- at last October's Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia.
Adrenalin must have been pumping after Harrington's eagle at the first as the scent of a rare victory filled his nostrils. After slamming his opening drive 319 yards into the left fairway, the Dubliner hit a sweet 198-yard approach to 15 feet and drained the putt. Then he made that sweet par save at two, maintaining a 100pc record out of sand at Doral.
With his golf game clearly coming together after a swathe of changes over the winter, there was a confident swagger to Harrington's step as he walked to the tee at the 438-yards third.
This hole is rated by US Open Champion Graeme McDowell as "a key hole, the hardest on the front nine" at The Blue Monster, which is hardly surprising as the Portrush man took double-bogey six there yesterday on his way to a final-round 75 and prize-money of $59,000.
Harrington cut his tee shot hoping for it to come back into the right side of the fairway on the breeze... but the wind died and it sailed out into the lake instead. These accidents happen in golf. It's how you respond that makes the difference.
Instead of taking his punishment and playing a conservative shot back into the fairways, Harrington took on the 213-yards carry to the green with the five-wood and fortune did not favour the brave, his ball splashing into the water a few yards short of safety.
"There was no choice," he insisted, firmly shooting down any suggestion that he might have laid-up. "I was going for the middle of the green, lads, and hit it lovely. What else could I do?
"Five-wood was the right club and I hit a beautiful shot but it came out spinney out of the rough," added Harrington, saying he was "very happy" with his performance yesterday on a course "which played tough".
As he heads for the Transitions Championship in Tampa this week, Harrington must draw comfort from his consistency over the first 54 holes. "I seem to have got closer than most weeks recently," he joked after a sweet 68 on Saturday had left him four off the lead overnight.
"I hit the ball well, did a lot of good things," he said yesterday, summing up his final round. "I hit a few ropey ones but the course was harder and tougher. The three par-threes (he bogeyed) were disappointing. It was really tough on the greens. They were hard and firm. Every time you'd a 10-footer you'd be so careful not to run it through the break."
Like Harrington, McDowell played the third hole in an aggregate four-over-par. Yet after a lovely birdie at one, the Ulsterman's final day started to go sour at two when he pulled a six-foot birdie putt left of the hole, so the double-bogey six at three merely compounded his frustration.
After signing for a 75 which left him in a tie for 42nd on one-over, McDowell conceded: "Two was a big turning point for me, missing that putt. Then at three, I got a bit of a flier from the left rough; played the pitch exactly as I wanted but it just took off and I hit a clumsy fourth shot and walked off with six.
"That summed up the way I've played in a frustrating week overall. I didn't keep the ball in play often enough and made too many mistakes with my long game.
"We've a really nice run into Augusta, with the Tavistock Cup this week and some nice time off at Lake Nona. I know exactly what I'm working on and have some good fine-tuning to do. Yet I'm really excited about a lot of positives in my game, the short game especially."