Thursday 29 September 2016

Padraig makes cut with last-gasp birdie

Golf

William S Callahan

Published 12/03/2016 | 02:30

I want to win another Major before I’m done, says Graeme McDowell. Photo: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
I want to win another Major before I’m done, says Graeme McDowell. Photo: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Padraig Harrington showed all his fighting qualities to produce a birdie on his 18th hole and squeeze through to the weekend of the Valspar Championship on the cut-mark.

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The triple Major winner began the day on three over, and drew on all his experience to grind out a level-par 71 on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Florida.

Starting on the 10th, he had two bogeys on his outward nine and looked doomed to an early exit, but pulled back a shot on the first.

A bogey at the par-three fourth was followed by a birdie at five, and after two pars, he closed heroically with a well-judged approach shot from 167 yards to four feet on the ninth, and then slotted the putt for a birdie.

Graeme McDowell is another gritty street fighter who is at his best when the options are running out and his back is to the wall.

The Ulsterman dug deep once again yesterday, but missed out by a stroke.

He had hoped to gain some early momentum after an opening 74. He started well, getting down in two from 18 feet for a birdie four on the first, before dropping a shot on the second, and then grabbing a birdie three on the third hole.

Another birdie on the fifth suggested he had the wind in his sails, but that notion died a death with double-bogey on the sixth, and further bogeys on seven and eight, leaving him at two over for his round at the turn.

The struggle with the daunting Copperhead layout continued on the homeward stretch. He battled hard, picking up two shots on the closing sixth holes, but he missed birdie chances at 16 and 17, and went home early.

As far as the bigger career picture is concerned, he has been invigorated by the end of a struggle with his game which lasted, by his own estimation, almost two and a half years until he won the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, Mexico last November.

"When you're not playing well, you're slipping down the world rankings, you're outside of the Top 50 and all these kind of automatic monies, and more ranking points, and all the things you get from being in Majors, and WGCs and playing well in those, you have to get raw with it, and think 'this is my job, this is my living, what am I going to do about it to make sure I've got a job to go to in a couple years' time?'," he said.

"I really put a Band-Aid over something (in 2014). I knew my game wasn't in good shape. 2015 didn't play well. By the end of 2015 I was really panicking.

"It's been a two and a half year process and I've come out the other end."

Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke got no joy from his 36 holes and filed a second consecutive 77 to finish on 12-over.

Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, shot a shocking 76 on day one but utilised his renowned short-game skills to avoid the embarrassment of missing the weekend.

Spieth's shot of the day was a pitch-in from the rough at the back of the 15th green for birdie en route to 68 and two-over par.

The joint leaders were Will MacKenzie (41) a two-time winner on the Tour, and veteran Steve Stricker.

MacKenzie's 67 and Stricker's super 66 brought them to five-under par.

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