Padraig Harrington has another chance this week to show he really is coming back to his best.
After finishing eighth at the US Masters in April, Dublin's three-time Major champion was fourth at the US Open on Sunday -- when a birdie at the last would have put him in a play-off with Webb Simpson. Next up is the Travelers Championship in Connecticut. For the first two rounds, Simpson joins Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson, current holders of the US PGA and Masters titles, while Harrington tees it up with fellow British Open champions Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Leonard.
"It was a case of so near, but yet so far," said the 40-year-old Dubliner. "It was my best finish of the year so far, but I am coming away from San Francisco knowing that I could so easily have got to the winning score."
He four-putted twice and three-putted once on the opening day, then on the final hole pulled his approach "a fraction" and found a bad lie in the bunker.
Harrington thought he needed a birdie there and, after failing to get up and down, was relieved to be proved right. "I must admit that I was very happy to see Webb finish on one-over-par. Had two-over played off, I would have been devastated."
Harrington had gone into the week 94th in the world and came out of it 75th. That is still a long way from where he wants to be, but it makes him look forward to the British Open at Royal Lytham in under a month's time even more.
"Looking back on the week, it only hammered home to me that the most important thing at a Major is your short game. It all comes down to wedges, chipping, putting and bunker play," he said.
Despite having played five of the last six weeks, Harrington also has the Irish and Scottish Opens before the next Major. That will make it nine tournaments in 11 weeks.
He hopes it will be a run that also brings him back into the Ryder Cup reckoning. One of Colin Montgomerie's three picks two years ago, he is down at 23rd on the table and captain Jose Maria Olazabal has gone for only two wild cards.
As well as moving to a career-high fifth in the world, Simpson leapt from 25th to third on the American Cup standings behind Jason Dufner and Watson. He and Watson were partners -- and rookies -- at the Presidents Cup last November and, sent out first each time by captain Fred Couples, won three of their four games together.
Meanwhile, with only 100 days to go to the Ryder Cup and only 10 weeks to make the side, it's good news for Paul Lawrie, but bad for Paul Casey.
Missing last week's US Open was a calculated move by Lawrie as he tries to earn a second cap 13 years after his first. It could have backfired, but it didn't. He dropped only from second to third in the points race and so the 43-year-old Scot is close to clinching his place as he returns to action at the BMW in Cologne today.
Missing the San Francisco action was not part of Casey's plan, however.
After a setback in his recovery from the shoulder dislocation he suffered snowboarding on Christmas Eve the former world No 3 pulled out of the season's second Major championship.
Casey is now hoping for the best in Germany, but at 30th in the cup standings he has no more time to lose.
"I think I'm done with the recovery. I just need to get the golf game back now -- I just need to play," he said.
Aware that his whole game "needs sharpening up" the 34-year-old's aim is to "go out and make a bunch of birdies and enjoy it. And from there just start cranking up the intensity and focus."
Leading the Irish charge is Offalyman Shane Lowry and he is joined by his fellow countrymen Paul McGinley, Damien McGrane, Michael Hoey, Gareth Maybin and Simon Thornton.
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