Saturday 18 November 2017

Karl MacGinty: Irish duo must go on attack to turn year around

Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy both need to rediscover their best form
Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy both need to rediscover their best form

Karl MacGinty

RORY McILROY and Padraig Harrington must both come out with all guns blazing this week as they try to stem rising crises in their careers. McIlroy has been trapped in a form slump since April and needs a big performance at the Bridgestone Invitational to break free of a disturbingly negative cycle.

At least the 23-year-old has a place in the elite 78-man field at Firestone.

Once regarded as part of the furniture at lucrative World Golf Championship events, Harrington this week misses his fourth in a row since November's HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

That partially explains why the Dubliner, despite some recent good form, lags so far off the pace in the race for a place at September's Ryder Cup and must win next week's PGA Championship at Kiawah Island to force his way into the European team at Medinah.

So instead of competing with the world's finest for $8.5m in Akron, Harrington warms up for the season's final Major in Reno, Nevada, at the golfing equivalent of a wild west shoot-out.

The $3m Reno-Tahoe Open switches to a modified Stableford format this year, in which points, not strokes, make prizes. Two points will be on offer for birdie, five for eagle and eight should anyone land an albatross.

One point will be deducted for bogey and three for double-bogey or worse.

Significantly, however, there are no points for par, requiring Harrington, one of golf's greatest grinders, to throw natural caution to the wind and start firing at pins.

It'll be fun... but as a preparation for next week's endurance test on North Carolina's exposed Atlantic shore, who knows?

When Vijay Singh and Rich Beem won both The International (the US Tour's most recent Stableford event) and the PGA Championship in 1998 and 2002 respectively, they weren't played back-to-back.

Yet Harrington needs a warm-up for Kiawah and, after four years without a win in Europe or the US, he has just one option!

McIlroy headed for Akron on Sunday for a marathon nine-week stint in the US, culminating with the Ryder Cup.

In view of Graeme McDowell's eye-opening suggestion on the Golf Channel last Friday that his good friend may have been worn out by all the travelling he's done to be with his belle, it's worth noting that Caroline Wozniacki will be in New York during that time for the US Open. Phew!

G-Mac's point was hard to fathom. Wee-Mac certainly has taken occasional commuter hops to London, Paris and Wozniacki's home in Monte Carlo. Yet his only inter-continental journeys this year have been to or from tournaments.

Could it really be more tiring for a lad, just 23, to fly from the US to Rome, Copenhagen or even Monaco than his own pad in Moneyreagh?

Of course not! Reading between the lines, McDowell was trying to point out, as delicately as possible, that his good pal merely has been trying to find new balance in his life after falling head-over-heels for Wozniacki.

McIlroy's downbeat performances on the weekends at all three of this year's Majors may have suggested to some that he'd fallen out of love with golf, by far the most exacting mistress of them all.

This week at Firestone, where McIlroy has shot eight straight tournament rounds in the 60s, he has a golden opportunity to put all that tittle-tattle to rest.

• On the home front, Europe's finest female golfers are expected to stir some of that old Solheim Cup magic at Killeen Castle during this weekend's Irish Ladies Open. Victorious European captain Alison Nicholas officially will be the toast of a tournament as six of her team go into action.

Irish Independent

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