Sport Golf

Saturday 24 February 2018

Irish pair slip out of contention for glory

Dermot Gilleece, in Atlanta

Old hands eyed a decidedly odd leaderboard with growing frustration in the third round of the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club yesterday. Nor was there any comfort for the surviving Irish challengers as Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy slipped totally out of contention.

Harrington, with a 75 for seven-over-par, clearly made the correct decision in submitting a late entry last Friday for this week's Wyndham Championship at Greensboro, which is the last qualifying event for the lucrative FedEx Cup. Having arrived here in 130th place, the top-15 finish he would need to get among the 125 qualifiers now seems beyond his reach.

"The plan was to play well enough this weekend that I wouldn't have to go to Greensboro," said Harrington afterwards. "Obviously I'm anxious to play in the FexEx but to be honest, I don't really know how I'm fixed right now. We'll see how things go tomorrow."

With no such target, McIlroy's continued presence was all the more baffling, given the damaged right forearm he sustained when hitting a tree-root on Thursday. ISM colleague, Lee Westwood, attempted to put some perspective on things when saying: "At 22 I probably would have taken the shot on. But as a 38-year-old, I probably wouldn't. I guess that's why people turn up to watch Rory."

Still, one is reminded of the life-long problems Christy O'Connor Snr had after damaging his left wrist when he, too, hit the root of a tree in similar circumstances. "It happened during the 1950s at Royal Waterloo in Belgium in the Joy Coupe," the 86-year-old recalled recently.

"When I came to this par-five where I drove just off the fairway, the ball looked to be lying beautifully on moss. So I gave my two-iron the full treatment and hit the root of a tree that I couldn't see. The pain was unbelievable. I did major damage to my left arm, right up to the shoulder. In fact the lump is still there."

Ironically, McIlroy's main problems en route to a 74 were on slick greens where considerable nap heightened the challenge.

"I putted terribly," he admitted, having begun with a three-putt double-bogey at the first. And the arm? "I don't want to make any excuses. I just didn't play well enough, but I've got to give it my best tomorrow and then have a couple of weeks off."

Meanwhile, the Highlands Course continued to tease and test this elite field, albeit seriously trimmed of big names by Friday's cut. Rees Jones, the architect responsible for its upgrading said yesterday: "In the first three rounds of a Major championship, it's golfers versus the course. And in the last round it's golfers against golfers."

With a state-of-the-art blend of grasses requiring less water despite the sweltering conditions, it played even faster and firmer than in the opening rounds, placing a premium on accuracy and shot-making. Which was meat and drink to a seasoned campaigner like David Toms, who shot a sparkling 65 while revelling in low-spin approach shots which rolled obligingly towards the pin.

See Page 12

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