McDowell hoping to make his Ryder Cup style count
WHISPER it but there could be delight on the double for Irish golfers on opposite sides of the Atlantic this weekend.
Graeme McDowell can quietly fancy his chances of success in the knockout stages of the Volvo World Match Play Championship on Spain's Costa del Sol.
Meanwhile, after missing the cut in his last two events on the US Tour, Padraig Harrington is certainly still in with a shout at the HP Byron Nelson Championship after completing his opening 36-holes in three-under-par.
Justin Rose was the star performer over the opening two days at Finca Cortesin. The Englishman's iron play was precise and his putting near-perfect as he followed-up Thursday's demolition of Robert Rock with a crushing 6&4 win over Darren Clarke yesterday.
Following his defeat (by two holes) to Rock in the morning, this consigned Clarke to yet another weekend off.
The Ulsterman has been lost in a personal twilight zone since winning last July's British Open, though Rose believes that the competitive pulse still beats within.
"You can tell it still hurts him, it's not like he has checked out," he explained. "Darren still wants to be a great player. And that's good.
"Listen, we've all been through these ebbs and flows," said Rose, who missed 21 cuts in succession after his own Open heroics as a 17-year-old amateur.
"It's tough, but he knows this game. He's a good enough player and will turn it around."
Clarke was in good company as he headed for Malaga airport. Fellow Major winners Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel, plus Branden Grace, South Africa's three-time winner on the European Tour this season, also featured among the eight players who fell by the wayside.
Schwartzel and Grace went out in sudden death as tie holes were required to establish the final standings in four of the eight three-man qualifying groups. Frankly, the round-robin format used on the opening two days of this championship is farcical.
The three-foot par putt missed by top seed Kaymer as he lost on 18 to England's Richard Finch heavily underscored the strange crisis of confidence which has afflicted Germany's world No 7 this season.
Finch, famous for taking an impromptu dip in the River Maigue as he wrapped up victory at the 2008 Irish Open in Adare, plays McDowell this morning with a quarter-final tie against either Sergio Garcia or Tom Lewis awaiting the winner.
After a real cliff-hanger against Robert Karlsson on Thursday, Ryder Cup hero McDowell showed his match play prowess and Celtic Manor form again yesterday as he disposed of South African Jbe Kruger by 4&3.
Impressively, Garcia came from two down after seven to blitz Japan's Tetsuji Hiratsuka with six birdies in eight holes as he won 4&2, while Dubai Desert Classic winner Rafael Cabrera-Bello also seems capable of giving home fans plenty to cheer about this weekend.
Mind you, Cabrera-Bello is in the tougher half of the draw along with Rose and defending champion Ian Poulter, an equally impressive winner of his two games to date.
Over at the Four Seasons Resort in Irving, Texas, Harrington chipped and putted like the champion of old as he compiled a one-under-par 69 to lie four off Jason Dufner, who grabbed the tournament lead with a second-round 66.
Dufner, 35, who clinched his first major PGA win at last month's Zurich Classic in New Orleans and got married the following Saturday, birdied four of his last five holes to surge one clear at the top.
Harrington found just six fairways; lost two tee shots in the water and hit just 10 greens in regulation but his short game repeatedly came to his rescue.
For example, Harrington made a superb four at his second hole, the 323-yard 11th, where he had to take a penalty drop out of water on the left. Undeterred, Harrington then hit a wonderful 93-yard wedge to three feet and smoothly polished off the par-saving putt. His only bogey came at the 548-yard par-four third after his drive flew into the lake to the right of the fairway more than 200 yards from the green. Still, he managed to make a decent five out of a greenside bunker.
After a fretful period with his putter, it's encouraging that Harrington had 10 one-putt greens yesterday, including a couple of four-footers for his two birdies (at 10 and 16, a par five).
With small green shoots of confidence showing in his short game, perhaps the long-suffering 40-year-old might soon be able to bring his current lean spell to a close.
World Match Play Championship
Live, Sky Sports 3 9.0/1.30
Byron Nelson Championship,
Live, Sky Sports 3, 8.0