Monday 23 October 2017

Harrington pays for 'false start' as putter goes cold

Karl MacGinty

IT was like watching Usain Bolt trying to sprint in treacle!

Nobody played sweeter than Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington during the Irish Open, but these two Major champions made absolutely no headway on the beautiful but lush greens at Royal Portrush.

The experience was particularly frustrating for Harrington (right) as a glorious chance to end his long victory drought on the European Tour went abegging.

With the experience the 40-year-old had garnered in gathering three Major titles, Harrington looked every bit a classic thoroughbred among the dark horses clustered around the top of the leaderboard yesterday morning.

Just two off the lead in a tie for third as he acknowledged a throaty roar from the masses gathered around the first tee, Harrington made the golfing equivalent of a false start.

After backing off from his opening shot at least twice, he hit his ball into the right rough, where it bounced back off a spectator's shoe and then, clearly fearing a flyer out of the longish, wet grass, left his next a good 50 feet short of the pin.

Harrington left the first putt 10 feet short and missed with the next. As he tapped in for a jaw-clenching three-putt, one sensed yet another frustrating Sunday afternoon was in the offing.

As at the US Masters, the US Open and the previous week in Connecticut, Harrington was about to fritter away priceless world ranking points on a Sunday afternoon.

As the other contenders went to town in sublime scoring conditions at Portrush, Harrington never really got going. As on Saturday, Harrington played nicely from tee to green but needed 32 putts as a final-round 70 left him tied sixth on 12-under, with a cheque for €51,600 in his back pocket.

"I'd rather putt well than play well," Harrington said, though he disputed any suggestion that the first hole had been decisive.

"One didn't kill me," he insisted. "I left four shots out there on eight, nine, 10 and 11 -- that's probably what killed me, though maybe I should have holed putts on 13, 14, 16 and 17.

"I'm sure I left a lot of shots out there the whole week and not just today," Harrington continued. "It's tough when the putts aren't dropping. I kept hitting good putts, though I was lost in terms of confidence on the reading of the greens.

"So I'm thinking there's not too much wrong with the putting (stroke) but you've got to hole them to gain any momentum."

No question, Harrington has rarely hit the golf ball better or more consistently since he started working with swing coach Pete Cowen last summer and it was no surprise to see him finish fourth in greens-in-regulation at Portrush.

McIlroy led that category but couldn't come to terms with the slow pace of the greens, making him struggle to find the right line and length of many putts. As a result, he took 126 over the four days (32, 31, 32 and 31).

A bogey-free closing 67, which left the 23-year-old tied 10th on 11-under (worth €33,900) in no way did justice to the quality of McIlroy's play.

However, one suspects McIlroy will find the putting groove in this month's British Open at Royal Lytham, where the deft touch he showed in the wind at Portrush should also come in useful.

Yet one suspects it will be more difficult for Harrington to find consistent confidence in reading the greens.

Irish Independent

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