Lowry seeing positives after his putter gets back in shape
Offaly pro in upbeat mood but Harrington's Dubai hopes fading fast, writes Dermot Gilleece
Text messages from home heightened the sense of acute disappointment. Instead of getting among the leaders as official scoreboards had mistakingly indicated during the third round of the $7m Turkish Airlines Open, Pádraig Harrington effectively relinquished his chance of making this week's Tour finale in Dubai.
Harrington's wife, Caroline, wondered what was happening as she watched her husband compile a moderate 71 in ideal conditions on the Montgomerie Maxx Royal. "I'd need to shoot eight or nine-under tomorrow to give myself a chance," he said afterwards without much conviction. Then, as if preparing himself for the inevitable, he added: "I need the break."
In fact, the only good news was the part he had played in a stunning resurgence from Shane Lowry whose 65 contained eight birdies including four in a row midway through the back nine. It represented a perfect lift for him, looking towards Dubai and then a World Cup debut at Royal Melbourne.
"It was like old times on the greens," he said afterwards about undulating, medium-paced surfaces rendered treacherous by countless double-breaks. "The important thing was to get into the right frame of mind for what's ahead of me." A total of 27 putts certainly helped, including efforts ranging from three to 20 feet in that back-nine run.
Overall, 23-year-old Frenchman, Victor Dubuisson, had the effrontery to open up a five-stroke lead over Ian Poulter, with other elite challengers including Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson a stroke further back. Should the former European Amateur Strokeplay champion hold on for victory, Poulter's prospects of depriving Stenson of a history-making money-list success would be effectively scuppered.
Meanwhile, as the European season moves towards its climax, it is interesting to note the transatlantic nature of the modern tournament game. Five leading Irish players (Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Harrington, Lowry and Darren Clarke) happen to have won combined prize money of €4,128,804 in Europe and the equivalent of €3.5m in the US. Of these, McDowell has been most successful with €2,057,395 and $2,154,517 (€1.6m).
There's the old chestnut about singing cowboy, Gene Autry, and how he was found lying in the desert, near death, after being set upon by pesky outlaws. Bending over him, one of his rescuers regrets to have to tell him that there's further bad news concerning his homestead which has been burned to the ground in his absence. Whereupon another rescuer ventures: "I suppose you don't feel like giving us a bar of a song?"
The golfing equivalent of this tale is for an eager scribe to attempt to arrange an interview with a leading player after he has just ended a tournament round by three-putting the 18th. And in my experience, few players pass the test as readily as Lowry. In fact, so successfully did the Clara man retain his calm here last Thursday that it was only after he and I had parted that he proceeded to smash his putter in anger, remembering, no doubt, an especially galling three-putt from only two feet on the 11th. Having travelled with just the one blade, he then took 34 putts with an ill-suited replacement in a second-round 75 in which he was forced to putt conventionally, rather than with his customary cack-handed grip.
Interestingly, he later made light of his misfortune. This, one imagines, had quite a deal to do with the fact that putting right hand below left, with a strange blade which was far too tilted for his liking, he holed a 12-footer for birdie on the last.
Mood changes can be a tournament golfer's greatest enemy. The point was emphasised by Harrington, who is noted for his remarkable equilibrium. How many putters had he taken with him to Antalya? "Only the one," he replied, "and I've used only about eight in my entire career." Was that not a bit risky, considering Lowry's plight? "Changing a putter can be a serious issue for a pro," he conceded. Then with a half-smile he added: "But I don't have a temper."
On running across Lowry shortly afterwards, Harrington set about straightening the bent shaft of the TaylorMade 'Rossa' putter. And he succeeded to the extent that when returned to service yesterday, it worked brilliantly. Meanwhile, the pair engaged in two chipping competitions on Friday evening, with Lowry winning the first and Harrington the second, for doubles or quits. "We were at it till dark," said the Clara man. "Which was a first for me though pretty normal I imagine for Pádraig."
It was ironic that Lowry's difficulties should have occurred with the only club in his bag which permits no compromise. In the context of challenging Royal Melbourne on November 21, he happens to be one of the most creative players on tour, from the self-exploring of his teenage years, on through coaching sessions from Neil Manchip at GUI elite level.
Which prompted me to tell him about a memorable occasion at St Andrews in 1984 on the Tuesday after Seve Ballesteros had captured the Open Championship for a second time. It concerned the so-called Epson Trophy One-Club Challenge which culminated in two of the game's greatest shotmakers going head-to-head over the back nine of the Old Course – Ballesteros using a five iron and Lee Trevino a four.
After winning with the remarkable score of 38 to Trevino's 40, the Spaniard remarked: "This is good for your game and makes you think your way around a course more." Visibly impressed by those figures, Lowry explained that Manchip subscribed to this idea, though not quite so restrictively.
"Neil used to have us playing the Monty Course at Carton off the back tees with six clubs," he said of the Scot who remains his coach. "You'd bring maybe a driver, five-wood, five-iron, seven-iron, nine-iron and putter. It meant that when you had 150 to the pin and you didn't have the right club, you had to manufacture a shot. That was his objective.
"It has stayed with me. If I'm going out with a couple of lads down at home, I couldn't be bothered carrying a full set. So I bring a half-set. And there's no doubt about the way it gets your feel back, like Seve said.
"With modern clubs so forgiving, however, the game has become mainly a matter of getting the ball from A to B the straightest way. The days of shaping shots miles left to right and in the other direction seem to be gone. But I can still play those shots. In fact, I practise around trees at Carton, in sessions with Neil. I don't think many players would do that, but here on Thursday, from behind trees on the seventh, I hit a 40-yard hook with a wedge to six feet." Then, as a further acknowledgement of putting frailty, he added with a wry smile: "Mind you, I missed the putt."
Yet in the professional's way, he later saw only positives in the Antalya experience, especially when looking towards Royal Melbourne with McDowell as a partner. "People fancy us going down there and Graeme is one of the best players in the world," he said. "I've got to deal with that, and today certainly helped."