Saturday 24 March 2018

McIlroy flies flag after cruel cut for Irish

Dermot Gilleece in Wisconsin

Set the target yesterday of covering the remaining 12 holes of his second round in the PGA Championship here at Whistling Straits in level par, Padraig Harrington had the job virtually completed with one to play. Then three hours of solid craftsmanship came to nothing, when he double-bogeyed the last.

It meant a third missed cut for Harrington in the major championships this year. And it clearly hurt, not least because his error on the 18th was prompted by a wandering cameraman who broke his concentration. So, poor contact with a rudimentary four-hybrid of 219 yards from the heart of the fairway, dumped the ball ruinously into water short of the green.

His departure is notable for the fact that he came here as the fifth-highest earner in PGA history, with a return of $638 per stroke in 11 appearances.

The event was disrupted so seriously by fog on Thursday and Friday that a local scribe was moved to label it "The Twilight Zone". Yet Americans seemed to cope best, judging by their dominance of the third-round leaderboard, with former US Amateur champion, Matt Kuchar, leading the charge.

Significantly, Tiger Woods wasn't too far away, largely due to some wondrous scrambling which compensated for continued waywardness from tee to green.

Not for the first time, Irish hopes rested on the young shoulders of Rory McIlroy, whose maturity continued to amaze us on a course he clearly doesn't like. As a perfect illustration of positive thinking, he decided to make Whistling Straits "my favourite course in the world by the time I enter the final nine holes".

When questioned about it, he paused thoughtfully before making a reply: McIlroy doesn't address serious golfing matters with his brain in neutral. Eventually, he decided that he found all Pete Dye-designed courses "awkward, visually". He explained: "He makes you hit shots at funny angles, but it doesn't bother me. My attitude is that you get your test for the week; try to prepare for it as best you can and then you just go out and play."

Meanwhile, Harrington insisted there would be no change of schedule in a desperate attempt at qualifying for the Ryder Cup. Instead, he is looking to a wild card and regaining competitive sharpness. "It would be silly to think that my last shot there [on the 18th] is going to cost me a place in the team," he said.

"I hope Monty is a guy who looks through things and sees stats. Sixteen top-10s in the last year is going to be a lot of comfort. I am sure he needs some experience in that team; some older guys. I have done everything I can now and there is nothing more I can do. I see no point in playing the next two weeks to get burnt out."

He added: "When I got it back to level par [on Friday evening] I was thinking about winning the tournament. So I obviously don't feel good about taking six down the last, especially when I had done all the hard work by that stage. The real issue for me is that I should have been four or five under."

While Darren Clarke was understandably delighted to be competing in a PGA into the weekend for the first time since 2007, Graeme McDowell and debutant Shane Lowry, departed the scene. "I feel exhausted, empty inside," said the recently crowed US Open champion. "I'm now taking a four-week break which I really need. Quite frankly, I'm emotionally drained. there's nothing in the tank."

Lowry maintained an admirable attitude during what must have been a trying week for him. But he was ultimately undone by a back- nine of 42 in a second-round 79. When you lose focus on a brutally testing course, it takes experience to claw your way back. Lowry will have learned that lesson.

Happy to be in competitive action on his 42nd birthday, Clarke's survival spoke volumes for a marked change of attitude, especially in a crushing finish to his first round on Friday morning. "A year ago, he wouldn't have got over that finish," said his manager, Chubby Chandler. "He'd have shot 76 and tramped off home." Instead, Clarke carded an admirable 70 and survived.

Sunday Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport