Wednesday 11 December 2019

Harrington narrowly avoids guillotine as Martin leads birdie fest in New Orleans

Padraig Harrington prepares to putt on the 9th at the end of his round during round two of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana yesterday. Photo: Marianna Massey/Getty Images
Padraig Harrington prepares to putt on the 9th at the end of his round during round two of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana yesterday. Photo: Marianna Massey/Getty Images

William S Callahan

In perfect keeping with a volatile season of marauding youngsters and first-time champions, Ben Martin blazed a glory trail into the weekend at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

After Martin’s course record-shattering 62 on Thursday, a remarkably resolute 67 at TPC Louisiana yesterday propelled the 26-year-old South Carolina native to 15-under, three ahead of Andrew Svoboda, 35, after a second round 68 by the New Yorker.

Pointedly, none of the top six on the leaderboard in New Orleans, from Martin and Svoboda through joint-third Seung-Yul Noh, 22, of Korea and Robert Streb, 26, to Erik Compton and Swede Peter Hanson in a tie for fifth, have won on the PGA Tour.

The old order is rapidly changing. As the end of the Tiger Era approaches, a host of upwardly mobile stars like Jason Day, Patrick Reed, Harris English and Russell Henley have joined Rory McIlroy in the rush to fill the vacuum.

One can hardly imagine a more difficult time for seasoned, multiple Major Champions Padraig Harrington, 42, or Ernie Els, 44, to re-establish themselves and re-impose some vestige of authority.

As Martin scooted to 15-under, giving himself a glorious opportunity to become the seventh golfer to claim his maiden PGA Tour victory in 10 years at the New Orelans Classic, Harrington yesterday avoided by a hair’s breadth his sixth missed cut in nine US events this year.

Els, meanwhile, was consigned to an unwanted third weekend off in five tournaments. South Africa’s ‘Big Easy’ found New Orleans anything but as he grappled yet again with his putting during the second round 71 that left him at one-under for 36 holes and beyond salvation.

Harrington, who’s endured even more pain than Els around and on the green in recent years, faced an anxious journey down the front nine at Avondale after starting his day in the shadow of the guillotine on two-under and playing his outward half in even par.

Fridays have become so horribly fraught for the Dubliner that even after he appeared to give himself precious breathing space by holing birdie putts of 13 feet and 17 feet respectively at the first and second, familiar gremlins still hounded him down the stretch.

His tee shot at four landed in a right fairway bunker; his approach in the left front bunker and then Harrington missed from four feet for par.

Another bogey followed at six, where he blazed his drive way right of the fairway and, after a decent recovery, missed with a six-foot par-saver. Harrington then failed to make birdie at the par five seventh, where he laid-up to 54 yards from the right rough but missed a 10-foot putt for four.

He ultimately signed for a distinctly unspectacular 72 in the midst of yesterday’s birdie fest to finish where he started, on two-under.

Harrington then spent several hours on tenterhooks as the mark repeatedly swung to three-under and back before fate ushered him through in a share of 67th.

Yet with 85 making it through, those at the tail end of the field must endure a second cull this evening, when only the top-70 and ties will progress to tomorrow’s final round.

So far in this wraparound season in the US, 21 of 23 ‘official’ tournaments were won by players aged 35 years or younger and should Martin win tomorrow, the number of champions in their twenties will rise to 11.

While McIlroy and Day graduated from the Tour’s school of hard knocks, recent college scholars Reed, English and Henley have been feeding off each other’s success in the professional ranks.

Martin’s three or four years older but his contemporaries, including Rickie Fowler, Chesson Hadley and this week’s defending champion Billy Horschel, were no less inspiring.

If the leader’s opening round was sensational, his efforts yesterday were equally impressive.

After a birdie-eagle start on 10 and 11, Martin then breezed to four-under through four but ran into a brick wall approaching the turn, following an ugly bogey at 17 with a double-bogey seven out of the water at 18. Undeterred, he rebounded with birdie at one and picked up another three down the stretch. Wow!

The greenhorn revolution is not confined to the United States.

Admitting he’s drawn inspiration from his good friend and French compatriot Dubuisson’s meteoric rise to global prominence, Alexander Levy, 23, burst four clear at the Volvo China Open with a career-low, 10-under 62 at Genzon Golf Club.

“I am friends with Victor. It is mainly through golf that we have a relationship but we are friends,” said Levy. “What he’s done over the past few months has been amazing and it has really had an effect on all the French players so, hopefully, I can emulate that.”  

Levy racked-up eight birdies and an eagle three in his flawless second round as he swept to 14-under and within range of his maiden victory in just his second season on the European Tour.

Just one Irish golfer, Michael Hoey, made it to the weekend, an even par 72 leaving the Ballymoney man 11 off Levy’s lead on three-under.

Former Volvo China Open champion Damien McGrane (T84, 74, +3),  Peter Lawrie (T92, 70, +4), Gareth Maybin (T92, 71, +4) and Shane Lowry (T101, 77, +5) comfortably missed the bus, Clara man Lowry by five after dropping a handful of strokes in his final  four holes!

JUST 33 players had commenced their second round when howling winds forced officials to suspend the second round of the Challenge de Catalunya in Tarragona.

Raudhri McGee and Alan Dunbar, who were three shy of Norwegian Joakim Mikkelsen’s lead after shooting five-under par 66’s on Thursday, kept their powder dry, as did Dubliner Niall Kearney (69 on Thursday).

Waterville native David Higgins was one-over for the six holes he played in his second round and two-under for the tournament.

Football legend Johann Cruyff, now 67, no doubt welcomed the opportunity to put his feet up after the former Ajax, Barcelona and Netherlands ace carried Maartin Lafeber’s bag during the Dutchman’s first round 66.

“I’ve been good friends with Johan for 15 years and we’ve always played together at the Alfred Dunhill Links in the past,” said Lafeber. “He lives close to here, and decided to come and caddie for me.

“We talked a bit about football and while he obviously doesn’t give me advice on golf, talking about other sports helps me a lot with my mental attitude. It’s great to have him here with me.”

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