EVEN if he'd bumped into a puff adder in the bushes, Padraig Harrington couldn't have received a more painful sting in the tail than he did on the final hole yesterday.
Six-under-par through his first 17 holes of 2012 at the Volvo Golf Champions, Harrington was second only to runaway leader Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium as he stood over the daunting tee shot on the final hole.
Yet a classy afternoon's work was undone when the Irishman blasted his drive deep into bushes to the right of the fairway and, after dropping out under penalty, eventually three-putted for a desperate double-bogey.
"It was a very comfortable six-under par for 17 holes, but that was a far from comfortable seven down the last," said Harrington dejectedly.
The 549-yards 18th at Fancourt, venue for the 2003 Presidents Cup and officially ranked as South Africa's finest course, is a great finishing hole, with the cooling breeze wafting off the nearby Indian Ocean made it slightly harder yesterday.
"It was a nasty tee shot, up a hill with a left to right wind, trouble on the left and trouble on the right," Harrington explained. "It's a tough old hole, a good hole. Get the tee shot away and you've a good birdie chance. If you don't, such is life. It was a mental error on my part. I hadn't lost a drive all day, but where you're aiming there, it doesn't take much to get yourself in trouble. Ernie (Els) hit a decent drive and ran through the fairway and I was afraid off doing the same thing," added Harrington, who was equally unhappy with the putt he missed for bogey.
"It was an ugly six-footer, only matched by the putt I hit," said Harrington, who still signed for a 69 that left him tied fifth on four-under par, five off the lead set by Colsaerts with a stunning course-record 64.
While Harrington looked like his old, Major-winning self for much of yesterday and can be fancied this weekend to improve his shocking current ranking of 89th in the world, Colsaerts (29) is a real star in the making.
"Nine-under is exceptional around here --but so is he," said Colin Montgomerie of Colsaerts, who rivals Spain's smiling assassin Alvaro Quiros as the longest hitter on Tour.
"Nicolas is fantastic, as good as it gets," added the 2010 Ryder Cup captain, nominating Colsaerts and, interestingly, Tom Lewis as hot contenders for the European team in Chicago next September.
Montgomerie played yesterday with Lewis (21), a sensational winner of last October's Portugal Masters on only his third outing as a professional.
Lewis showed his class by recovering from a dispiriting double-bogey seven at 16 to birdie the two closing holes for an opening 68, two shots better than Monty, the young Englishman setting-up his tap-in at 18 with a phenomenal putt which ran 25-yards straight along the narrow hog's back which crosses the green before hitting the hole.
"After the double-bogey, I thought to myself 'what's he going to do here'," said the Scottish veteran adding: "And he finished birdie, birdie. It was most impressive."
Monty rates Lewis among the top-three players he's witnessed to come out of the amateur ranks. "Rory McIlroy made a big first impression on me; Matteo Manassero has got the best head on young shoulders I've seen, while this young lad here is very good.
"He's very steady and, importantly, has a good caddie in Dubliner Colin Byrne, who has won at the Majors (with Retief Goosen). It's very wise to have to have him on the bag."
Darren Clarke's new fitness regime is just one element of a complete physical make-over for the Ulsterman, who wore new contact lenses and dark glasses for the first time in competition yesterday.
"The lenses are as weak as you can get," explained Clarke. "If I went in for a regular eye test, they'd tell me I'd got 20-20 vision and to come back in two years, but my consultation was for three and a half hours.
"That's why I've got contacts and that's why I'm wearing sun glasses. The eye doctor discovered that when I look into bright light, it takes seven seconds for my eyes to refocus," added Clarke, who attributed his opening 74 to ring rust after the winter break.
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