Thursday 26 April 2018

All that's missing is trust for frustrated Padraig Harrington

Padraig Harrington escapes from a bunker in South Africa yesterday
Padraig Harrington escapes from a bunker in South Africa yesterday
Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa holds the trophy after his victory

Karl MacGinty

It's taken years for Padraig Harrington to understand the pain he inflicted on so many of his opponents, especially during his amateur days, when the Dubliner specialised in breaking hearts with deadly putting.

"I just realised what other people went through playing against me and you can print that," said Harrington with a smile. "I just want to tell them all I'm sorry. This is my official apology to all the amateurs in Ireland for all the putts I holed against them and how I could never understand how they found it difficult."

He certainly does now!

Though he shared with Thomas Aiken the distinction of posting the lowest round, a 67, on a blustery final day at the Volvo Golf Champions, Harrington missed a handful of putts from inside six feet, effectively forfeiting his chance of a first European Tour victory since the US PGA in August 2008.

In just 21 words, he neatly summed-up a bittersweet week which should have yielded more than a share of fifth, three behind back-to-back winner at Durban Country Club, Louis Oosthuizen, and €116,761, albeit the Irishman's biggest pay cheque in 14 months.

DISTRAUGHT

"Like the end of last year, I'm happy with how I'm hitting the golf ball but distraught with how I'm putting," said Harrington, who opened his 2013 season with a fourth-place finish behind Oosthuizen here last January (this year's purse doubled to €4m, yielding a €507,655 prize for the South African).

For all his frustration after two years on the dark side, including a dose of the yips in 2012, Harrington's ability to make light of the situation yesterday and offer that jocose apology suggests redemption might not be too far away.

"It's nice to get close and to feel I had a chance at the end of the day," he said. "I was in there pushing, made a nice birdie at 17 and hit a nice tee-shot at 18, so there's good signs there at the end.

"I like that the ball came out down the middle most of the day and I got a few nice breaks but, at the end of the day, I capitalised from some of my good shots and missed too many short putts, which is kind of the story of my week.

"For a good while my short game hasn't been good enough but my chipping was excellent out of the rough this week. I just need to convert more birdie putts but I've been there for a while.

"I'll just keep putting away and we'll get there for sure. There's nothing particularly wrong. At this stage, it's a change of attitude and certainly not technique," Harrington went on.

"I've holed putts in my day and know it's a question of figuring out how to get a bit more trust and confidence. I'm reading the greens well now and the day I start trusting it, I'll be okay."

Harrington's caddie, Ronan Flood, fully recovered and rehydrated after a severe stomach bug forced him out of the fray after six holes last Friday, was back on duty on Saturday.

After five hours' work on a sweltering hot and humid summer's day in Durban, Flood revealed that the only remnant of his second-round drama was a little soreness "where the doctor gave me the jab".

Harrington, Dutchman Joost Luiten and South African duo Branden Grace and Oosthuizen were among those who loomed largest in the mirror of overnight leader Tommy Fleetwood as the Englishman (22) faltered, dropping three shots in five holes to the turn.

After holing a 16-foot putt for eagle at eight to ease to three-under for his round and seven-under for the tournament, Harrington set pulses racing when he hit a superlative wedge out of the rough to inches at 11 for birdie which put him within two of the lead.

Yet his victory hopes were dashed by an ugly three-putt bogey at 13 and he knew that further birdies at 15 and 17 were never going to be enough.

"There was a kind of chance if I got it to 11-under but I kind of had that feeling coming home there were too many guys doing well."

In the end, 2010 British Open champion Oosthuizen birdied his final two holes of a closing 68 to pip Grace by one for the honour of being South Africa's seventh winner in seven events at this little beauty of a golf course on the Indian Ocean shore.

Despite its spectacular setting, superlative condition and the splendid strategic challenge it posed as the Ocean breezes blew, the greens at Durban were bumpy and unpredictable.

Still, this didn't make the pain of Harrington and fellow Irishman Darren Clarke much easier to bear. The Ulsterman officially took 33 putts yesterday but it felt like a lot more.

"I think I've missed eight times from inside six feet today," said Clarke after a 77 brought a promising week to a frustrating conclusion in a share of 22nd place on one-over, worth €40,431. "I just struggled to read them. I missed everything and then missed the ones coming back."

Clearly still under the weather with a persistent respiratory infection, Michael Hoey slumped into a tie for 29th on four-over (worth €36,080) after a closing 74. Still, he felt better than caddie Gerry Byrne, who was forced to retire after 10 holes by severe stomach cramps and was replaced by Hoey's coach Johnny Foster.

Simon Thornton played nicely in the company of "absolute legend" Jose Maria Olazabal yesterday, outscoring the Spaniard by two with the 71 which left the Newcastle, Co Down local €34,448-the-richer on five-over.

Irish Independent

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