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Harrington needs to find Grace notes in Abu Dhabi


Padraig Harrington, playing into the 18th hole yesterday at the Volvo Champions in South Africa, is hoping for a better finish to this week's Abu Dhabi Championship

Padraig Harrington, playing into the 18th hole yesterday at the Volvo Champions in South Africa, is hoping for a better finish to this week's Abu Dhabi Championship

Padraig Harrington, playing into the 18th hole yesterday at the Volvo Champions in South Africa, is hoping for a better finish to this week's Abu Dhabi Championship

A dramatic week in the Volvo Champions event simply fizzled out for Padraig Harrington, though the hard-pressed Dubliner still drew encouragement as he headed for this week's date with destiny in Abu Dhabi.

The course of Harrington's season in 2012 is likely to be shaped by his performance at the star-studded Abu Dhabi Championships, where the presence of the world's top-four, not to mention Tiger Woods, means ranking points-a-plenty will be on offer to the top finishers next Sunday.

And the 40-year-old Dubliner needs every point he can muster if he's to make it into global golf's top-64 by the February 12 cut-off for the first World Championship of the season, The Accenture Match Play.

Harrington's disqualification after posting a brilliant first-round 65 in Abu Dhabi last January was so unjust it prompted golf's ruling bodies to change the rules.

Penalties now can be added to a player's score after he signs his card, provided he could have had no knowledge of a transgression which later comes to light.

Despite last year's drama in the desert, which helped set the tone for a thoroughly miserable season for Harrington, he insisted yesterday: "I don't think Abu Dhabi owes me anything. That's not how golf works. I'm only concerned about things within my control and, in that regard, Abu Dhabi has been good to me scoring-wise in the past.

"So, it's just nice to be going back this week to a golf course where I've played well. Only this year for the first time, I go there with four competitive rounds under my belt."

Just three off the pace after 54 holes, Harrington stalled during yesterday's final round at Fancourt, a three-over par 76 leaving him tied for tenth, eight strokes outside the play-off.

Branden Grace (23), born and raised in the nearby city of George, thrilled his family, friends and neighbours by beating his one-time idols Ernie Els and Retief Goosen with a birdie on the first hole of sudden death, the daunting par-five 18th at Fancourt.

A graduate just last month from Q-School, Grace is the first player since Freddie Couples in 1995 to follow up his first win on the European Tour, last week's Joburg Open, with another victory the following Sunday.

"It's been amazing, simply phenomenal," he said. "It's been a dream to play on my home course at Fancourt in such a prestigious event and I think the confidence I took from winning last week really stood to me."

Grace actually missed a four-footer for birdie and outright victory on the 72nd hole in regulation, but was Mr Cool in sudden-death.

Els, whose closing 67 was yesterday's best round, drove into the left rough on the tie hole, while Goosen put himself behind the eight ball when he left his chip from a difficult lie in the rough just to the right of the green well short of the cup.

Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, who'd posted a stunning course record 64 to take the tournament lead last Thursday, agonisingly missed a three-footer for par at 18 and a place in the play-off after enduring high drama on that finishing hole.

Colsaerts landed in such deep trouble with his tee-shot his only option was to hit his ball out sideways towards the nearby first fairway. He then pulled out his rescue club and slammed his ball over the packed gallery surrounding the 18th, through the green and into the right rough.

Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal stirred memories of former glory days by joining the tournament lead on 10-under with splendid birdies at the first and second yesterday.

The Spaniard (45) has not won on Tour in seven years after persistent health problems. Yet he'd bank €80,000, his biggest cheque since 2007, in sixth place after outplaying his Irish playing companion Harrington as he compiled a level-par 73 in the final round.

As Olazabal surged forward with those opening birdies, Harrington three-putted from distance for bogey at the par-three second, setting the keynote for a frustrating day-long battle to find momentum.

In all, the Irishman took 34 putts yesterday, while his tally of three-putts at the tournament rose to five as the stumbled to a late bogey on 17. "I could have done with holing a few more, but some of the game is in great shape and I know how to fix what's missing," he said.

"I just need to get a bit more flow in my routine all the way through my game," added Harrington, who earned €47,050 for his week's work.

Darren Clarke shared 20th with Simon Dyson (worth €32,150) on one-under par after his closing 76, while Michael Hoey tumbled to 33rd on 16-over (€23,400) following an 82.

Irish Independent