Wednesday 13 December 2017

Harrington in 'bonus' territory in Scotland as McIlroy crashes out

Pádraig Harrington shares a joke on the fifth tee during day two of the Scottish Open at Dundonald Links. Photo credit: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire.
Pádraig Harrington shares a joke on the fifth tee during day two of the Scottish Open at Dundonald Links. Photo credit: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire.

Richard Bath

On a benign day of low-scoring pyrotechnics on the Ayrshire coast, there were good news stories aplenty at the Scottish Open yesterday.

There were storming performances by Ian Poulter and Pádraig Harrington, two veterans whose year has been ravaged by injury. Dundonald also witnessed the unexpected sight of German Alexander Knappe and former boxer Callum Shinkwin, who has never been ranked in the world's top 200, sharing the tournament lead.

Yet a week before the Open at Royal Birkdale, all eyes were on Rory McIlroy as he tried to avoid a second missed cut after finishing 118th at the Irish Open. With an opening round of 74, thanks to a display of wedge play that would shame a 12-handicapper, for most of yesterday McIlroy, still recovering from a rib injury, looked as if he would avoid the ignominy of another missed cut.

Three birdies in the outward nine put him on one-under, a position from which his involvement today seemed assured. But when he found a fairway bunker on the 13th, then took two shots to get out as he recorded a double bogey at the hole for the second successive day, his day took a dramatic turn.

As it became clear the cut would be at par, while McIlroy remained becalmed on one-over, he became increasingly ragged.

At the 18th, a hole he needed to birdie to make the cut, his approach shot veered into the crowd, only to hit a greenside spectator and bounce back on to the fringe. A good chip and run took him to within five feet of the flag but a woefully awry putt that assured an early exit just about summed up his week.

"I'm frustrated but I thought I saw some good signs out there, certainly compared to last week," said McIlroy. "I shot one-under today so I'm close. It's not like I'm shooting 76s and 77s.

"I'm just waiting for something to go right because the last couple of weeks have been hard, but I'm going to keep plugging away."

If McIlroy was unable to make the most of the favourable conditions, the same was not true of Harrington. The Dubliner, who turns 46 next month, defied a year of injuries to put in a wonderfully controlled four-under-par round of 68 to end the day as one of the three joint leaders on nine-under.

"Anything that comes my way from here would be a bonus," said Harrington, who has played just nine events in 2017 and underwent surgery on a trapped nerve in his neck in March.

Even when his game frayed at the edges, he found a way to keep his score down, and although missed a couple of birdie opportunities, especially at the par-three sixth, but he also saved several pars, his sublime up-and-down at the eighth a thing of beauty. The unrivalled links experience of a man who has played in three Walker Cups and won two Opens means he is in the box-seat, but there are challengers.

Late charges by Shinkwin and Knappe saw both of them join Harrington on nine-under to take a share of the lead. Knappe's seven-under round of 65 included an eagle, seven birdies and two bogeys, and at one stage he went on a run of birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie, birdie.

While Shinkwin's round didn't contain a similar hot streak, four birdies in the back nine put him joint top. There were several other stellar performances, with Frenchman Alexander Levy and Spaniard Adrian Otagui both shooting six-under rounds to end on six-under and five-under respectively. But the presence of the four big names shadowing the leading trio will give Harrington most cause for concern. Poulter's year has been ruined by an arthritic big toe, but he was back to his mercurial best with a combative round of 69.

Rickie Fowler, who won this tournament two years ago, reaffirmed his love of links golf with a smooth two-under 70 to finish on seven-under alongside Belgian Ryder Cup player Nicolas Colsaerts, while Matt Kuchar finished three shots adrift of the leaders on six-under. Paul Dunne (73) and Graeme McDowell (68) both made the cut, with Dunne in a tie for 20th on three-under and McDowell at one-under.

On the US PGA Tour, Seamus Power holed a testing six-footer for par on the last to help him towards the cut in the John Deere Classic. Two rounds of 70 left the Waterford man right on the mark at two-under par, seven behind clubhouse leaders Chesson Hadley and Chad Campbell. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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