Friday 23 February 2018

Padraig Harrington feels the love from Baltusrol galleries

Padraig Harrington watches his tee shot on the first hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Baltusrol (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Padraig Harrington watches his tee shot on the first hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Baltusrol (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Pádraig Harrington, the last of the Irish in the US PGA championship, rounded off his week at Baltusrol declaring himself ready for Rio and the Olympic Games challenge he never expected to happen.

Harrington has one more commitment at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut before flying to Brazil next Sunday night.

But for the withdrawals of Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry from the men's golf event at the Games, Harrington would view the action on television.

Now he gets set for one more tournament before the big adventure. The family will go to Brazil, and after the golf competition, Harrington will take a holiday to watch as many events as possible.

He brings a high level of confidence to the Travelers and Rio after filing a closing 68, two-under par, for a six-under-par total in the championship he won eight years ago. His tied 13th-placed performance over the ­weather-effected weekend drew loud applause from the galleries.

The goodwill for a very popular former winner of the Wanamaker Trophy was clear to see.

But being Harrington, he could find an area to improve.

"So many things are better. I'm happy with my swing, getting a lot better with my putting, getting a lot better with my mental side," he said.

"The only thing I wouldn't be comfortable with is my short game.

"Then when I look at the PGA Tour, I'm number one in bunkers and number four in strokes gained around the greens, but I don't see it so good.

"Maybe I need to change my attitude."

Harrington made a string of birdie opportunities but nailed just three of them, some of them coming an inch or two from dropping.

His first birdie came on the third hole, and on the par-4 fifth, he almost eagled after pitching out of wet, clingy rough 40 yards from the green.

The ball nicked the hole and rolled a couple of feet past, and the birdie putt was duly holed.

Harrington had played 29 holes since Friday without a bogey until the 10th hole of yesterday's round, and overall was happy with his performance.

On the back nine he had four chances to birdie from holes 12 through 15 inclusive, and finally slotted one on the par-5 17th, at 626 yards, the longest hole on the course.

A superb drive down 18, also a par-5, was marred by a slightly over-cooked attempt at a fade.

The ball finished right of the green and tumbled into a bunker.

His sand shot was beautifully executed, but his 6-foot putt not so much, and he had to settle for par. Despite that, Harrington could be satisfied at improving his FedEx Cup rankings and feeling good about his game.

"It would have been nice to birdie the last. If I birdied, I would have probably wanted to eagle it. Such is the nature of the game.

"Six-under is probably a good ­return on the week. It's obviously not good enough (to win). If it hangs on to top ten, it certainly pushes me up in the FedExCup playoffs, which is nice to know my schedule.

"I'm happy about that," he said.

Putting, and its relevance to Rory McIlroy in particular, was raised by one questioner in his post-round media conference.

"That's the magic question, isn't it? Everybody would like to sort out their putting and putt better. I would like to putt better. It's a hard one," he said.

"In 2012, I was at a very low point in my putting and that's kind of made me a much more tentative putter ever since.

"Is it a question of practicing more? Is it a question of practicing less and relaxing about it? Who knows? If I had the solution, I would be bottling it."

The three-time major winner played alongside Masters champion Danny Willett for the last 36 holes. Interesting to note that Willett finished on +5 to Harrington's -6, a difference of 11 shots.

As a Ryder Cup vice-captain, Harrington has no doubts about the value of Willett to Darren Clarke's team at Hazeltine from September 30-October 2, although he said the match against the USA did not come up as a topic of conversation.

Willett has struggled to get back to the form which won him the Green Jacket, and Harrington proved supportive.

"I've got to say it was a very nice partnership to have, with a lot of chats about life on Tour sort of thing," said Harrington. "He's a young guy coming up with decisions to be made. I was trying to give him a little bit of my experience.

"He's obviously playing well, playing nicely. He didn't get the breaks over the two days, but his game is well in shape.

"He's exactly the type of guy we want going into the Ryder Cup."

The Dubliner was fortunate that he got his third round completed, shooting 65 on Saturday before bad weather rolled in and blanked a huge chunk of the day's schedule.

It meant he could relax until his 10.10am fourth round tee-time yesterday (15.10pm Irish), while the co-leaders Jimmy Walker and Robert Streb, the holder Jason Day, and 46 other players had an early start, with five groups of two-balls having a full 18 holes to play before they could start round four.

South Africa's Branden Grace had nine holes of his third round to play yesterday morning. He was out of bed at 4.20am, and after signing for 66, with 18 holes to go, he reckoned that the rain delay had worked to his advantage.

"I think the rain delay did me the world of good in the end, and I'm probably not the only one. You can now definitely go after a few of the pins. I was pretty dialled in with my irons," said Grace, who returned in the evening with an almost as impressive 67.

Irish Independent

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