Sport Golf

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Cincinnati kid ready for some down time

McIlroy to take well-earned rest as Harrington cancels holiday in bid to save season

Karl MacGinty

RORYMcILROY'S pain threshold was tested over 70 injury-wracked holes at The PGA Championship and his patience was stretched beyond breaking point by his putter ... but the Holywood star's impish sense of humour did not completely evaporate in the searing heat of Atlanta.

A mischievous twinkle glittered in McIlroy's eye as he looked forward to a couple of weeks off to rest the right wrist and forearm he injured during last Thursday's first round.

"I'm actually going to Cincinnati for a few days," he said, adding: "I hear it's nice there at this time of year." Especially if the W&S Open Tennis Championship is being played there and you happen to be dating women's world No 1, Caroline Wozniacki!

After Cincinnati, McIlroy will head home for the weekend and then go back out to New York. The US Open tennis begins on August 29, with a warm-up event at nearby Yale University, where Wozniacki has won the last three years. Now that's what you'd call a tennis courtship.

As McIlroy contemplated some well-earned down-time, Padraig Harrington cancelled a family holiday to The Bahamas this week to playin the Wyndham Championship at the Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Like McIlroy, Harrington finished the PGA Championship in a tie for 64th on 11-over-par yesterday after they each compiled a final round of 74.

Yet, if the 22-year-old Ulsterman is riding high in the world game after his record-breaking US Open victory at Congressional in June, Harrington needs at least "an average finish" at the Wyndham to lift himself five rungs up the FedEx Cup rankings to claim one of only 125 place in next week's first playoff, the Barclays Championship.


Harrington also needs to break back into the elite top 50 in the world rankings if he's to take full advantage of a change in the European Ryder Cup qualification process for next year's matches against the United States at Medinah.

"I am going to play this week," Harrington confirmed. "Though I'd love to go on holiday, I'm feeling fine and will be in good shape for the tournament. In fact, I'd hope not to get time off for the next three or four weeks," he added, in obvious reference to the ensuing FedEx Cup events, Deutsche Bank and BMW.

Referring to the new European Ryder Cup qualifying system, in which primacy has been given to world ranking points over money earned in the Race to Dubai, Harrington went on: "The change of system makes it a lot easier for players who are members of both tours.

"The fact that I've dropped out of the top 50 in the world means I'm not going to be in events like Chevron (Tiger's tournament in December), which is guaranteed easy points," the Dubliner explained.

"You look at an event like the PGA, where I've worked reasonably hard but get virtually nothing. I could turn up at Chevron, finish last and probably get five times the world ranking points I'd get this week. So I've made it tougher on myself, but, there again, I hope to play well over the coming months and therefore won't have that issue."

Sadly, Harrington's weekend at Atlanta Athletic Club did not live up to the promise the second-round 69 he posted last Friday as he dipped below 70 for the first time two years at Major -- since the third round of the 2009 PGA at Hazeltine, to be precise.

"What can I say," he shrugged, looking back over a lack-lustre weekend in which Harrington surrendered any chance of propelling himself into contention for a fourth Major title as he played his final 36 holes on The Highlands Course in nine-over par.

"I think I forced a little bit too much on Saturday and really just didn't get the breaks in the final round," he added. "I can't say was going to shoot 66-66 on the weekend, but I probably should have shot two 70s or something like that. There you go."

Harrington gave himself just a 'D' for his efforts at the four Majors in 2011 after missing the cut at The Masters and British Open and finishing in a tie for 45th in the US Open at Congressional.

"You get a 'D' for effort, don't you. If you put your name on the paper and write down the questions you'd get a pass," he said with a wan smile.

Not so long ago, Harrington made no secret of the fact that he judged himself by his performance at the Majors but with just one win (on the Asian Tour last October) in three years since his victory at the 2008 PGA at Oakland Hills, he's happy to pick up morsels of comfort anywhere he can these days.

Whether that's in the FedEx Cup playoffs or back on the European Tour doesn't concern the Dubliner. "There's a lot of golf to be played this year. There's time for me to have many wins, I could have a bumper season yet," he joked.

Harrington's optimism might not seem well placed but he certainly goes leave Atlanta a lot happier than when he arrived.

"I do believe a couple of things have improved this week that had been bugging me and I'm happy in terms of where I need to go," explained the Irishman, whose outlook certainly is not as bleak as it seemed before a recent series of conversations with English coach Pete Cowen.

"We discussed a few I liked what he had to say. It certainly is a little different. I'd be interested to work with him and explore it a bit more," Harrington admitted. "When I do get some time off, I'd be interested to spend some time with Pete Cowen and see what else is there."

Though he dropped a shot on the hugely intimidating 260-yards par-three 15th hole yesterday, Harrington picked up a sweet birdie at 17 as he played the gruelling four-hole closing stretch on The Highlands Course.

"I'd love to be able to sell my finish," he quipped. "Certainly my last three holes. I think I'd get more than my prize money for those."

Any chance pre-tournament favourite McIlroy had of challenging for a second Major title expired at the third hole on Thursday when he strained tendons in his wrist, damaged muscles in his forearm and scrapped his seven-iron by slamming it into a tree root as he played a high-risk shot shout of the right rough.

In hindsight, McIlroy admits he made a poor judgement call on that occasion and he certainly was lucky not to have sustained more serious or long-lasting damage. At present, the Ulsterman and his medics see no reason why he should not be back in time for next month's Omega European Masters in Crans. Though his right wrist still was strapped, the swelling and pain in McIlroy's forearm had subsided yesterday. All that was left was a dull ache in his right elbow and discomfort as he compressed his clubhead into the turf on iron shots.

A far more telling factor in McIlroy's failure to contend over the weekend in a topsy-turvy championship was his utter loss of confidence in his putter as he struggled to come to terms with the pace of slick Bermuda grass greens.

In all, he had seven three-putts during this tournament, including one from inside three feet yesterday as he stumbled to an ugly triple-bogey seven at the par four third hole.

No question, McIlroy charmed the world by recovering from his implosion at Augusta to produce a landslide win for the ages at Congressional. Yet he was uninspired during a wind-tossed weekend at the British Open; strangely subdued and unresponsive in front of an adoring home crowd at the Irish Open and kept his eyes down and barely acknowledged the galleries in Atlanta.

It can't have been much fun playing with an injury for four days in blast-furnace heat but there was so little exuberance or joy from McIlroy since the US Open, one suspects this young man is feeling the weight of great expectations.

Irish Independent

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