Harrington playing catch-up for Open after Scottish exit
MOST would be delighted to have this weekend off but British Open champions Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els and Darren Clarke certainly are not among them as next week's battle for the Claret Jug looms at Muirfield.
All three missed the halfway cut yesterday at the Aberdeen Assets Management Scottish Open, Harrington and Clarke by the narrowest of margins on three-under-par and reigning Open champion Els by two after a second-round 70.
Damien McGrane was Ireland's leading challenger after a 68 lifted him into a share of 13th place on eight-under, four behind leader Chris Doak (35), a Glasgow journeyman who has set himself up for the best week of his life on the European Tour after back-to-back rounds of 66.
Buoyed by his victory at last month's BMW International in Munich, South African Els will not be unduly concerned, but Clarke and Harrington could have done with another 36 holes of competitive links action over the weekend after also failing to progress beyond halfway at the Irish Open.
Harrington, who enjoyed superlative back-to-back wins at the Open in 2007 and 2008, had hoped to leave Castle Stuart with his game in good shape for Muirfield.
"The last thing I want to be doing is walking away from this tournament trying to find something on Monday morning," explained the Dubliner (41) on Wednesday.
Well, Harrington at last has the opportunity to do a bit of work on his game over the weekend.
Judging by his second-round 71, in which he once again hit several tee shots well wide of the generous fairways at Castle Stuart and missed a few greens in awkward places too, he has a good bit of work to do before he can step with confidence into the far tighter confines of Muirfield.
In fairness, some of Harrington's golf was outrageously good, like the birdie he made at six, where he almost turned the clock back to Birkdale as he followed a sizzling drive straight down the middle of the fairway with a thrilling 240-yard fairway metal which rolled to a halt 10 feet past the pin.
Yet after rolling the eagle putt over the right lip and tapping in for his four, Harrington crucially dropped shots at eight and nine. The eight-foot putt he missed for par at the latter betrayed once again his worrying inability to trust his reading of putts.
In contrast, Harrington's new belly-putter is working very well indeed from long range. Meanwhile, his touch around the greens yesterday was almost on a par with that of his playing companion Phil Mickelson, which really is saying something, considering a couple of ingenious flop shots played by the American.
For example, Mickelson appeared to be badly short-sided when he took on one effort from a tight lie deep in a swale to the left of the third green. Completely undaunted, he made a big swing of his lob-wedge, lofting his ball a good 20 feet into the air before it touched down gently 30 inches from the pin. Wow!
Mickelson's putting wasn't up to the same exalted standard, so he had to be satisfied with a 70 and a share of 13th place on eight-under par with McGrane.
"That was good," said the Irishman. "I played lovely again and gave myself some opportunities. The pins were tight out there and there were a couple of firm greens, so it was a case of just hanging in.
"I made a lot of pars and kept horseshoeing out for birdie. Then, all of a sudden I made three in a row on the back nine, so that was sweet," added the Meath man, who expressed particular satisfaction with the quality of his medium-length putting.
Shane Lowry fell back off the pace with a 73 that left him tied 46th on five-under alongside Gareth Maybin (70) and Paul McGinley (72).
Ryder Cup captain McGinley had to bite back his frustration after making double-bogey six on his final hole, the ninth, where his sand-wedge approach screwed back off the putting surface and into the same deep swale to the left of the green in which Harrington would later find himself.
Live, Sky Sports 1, 2.30