Sport Golf

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Padraig lifts gloom with a stunning 64

Padraig Harrington. Photo: Getty Images
Padraig Harrington. Photo: Getty Images

William S Callahan

IS Padraig Harrington about to apply a gilt-edged finish to the gloomiest season of his career in professional golf?

The beleaguered Dubliner certainly could draw hope and much-needed confidence from the superb opening 64 that got his defence of the Iskandar Johor Open title off to a flying start at Horizon Hills yesterday.

Harrington gave a hint of just how low his morale had ebbed in recent times as he discussed the key moments of a splendid seven-under-par round, which left him just one stroke off the clubhouse lead of Holland's Joost 'Two Gloves' Luiten.

Like the eagle three at 13, his fourth hole, which convinced Harrington that, maybe, things were at last about to go his way.

Or the crucial 15-foot putt he sank for par at the first to spare himself the frustration of three successive three-putts. Remember how his sublime short game and putting touch, which underpinned Harrington's three Major championship victories, completely deserted him as he stumbled to his seventh missed cut of the year in Singapore last week.

"I had three-putted 17 and 18, which was disappointing. Then, on one, I left my birdie putt 15 feet short, so I had to hole a long one to make sure I didn't have three three-putts in a row," he said of that vital par save.

"That was pretty big and, once I holed it, I felt much better about life and played well coming home."

Harrington (below) is famous for smiling in adversity, but with those few words he gave the world a hint of how bleak his outlook had become.

Similarly, he said of his eagle: "I hit a decent drive, but then pushed my second shot right with my five-wood. I'd about 40 feet to the pin and managed to chip it in, which gave my round the kick-start it needed.

"I'd given myself a few chances early on, but didn't hole the putts. So, in the back of your mind, you start to think that it might be one of those rounds which gets away from you, even though I'd struck the ball quite nicely.

"Yet when I holed that chip, I started thinking that it might go my way after all -- and that's how it worked out in the end."

The folly of playing a tournament in Malaysia during the winter monsoon season was exposed yesterday as electrical storms forced play to a halt in the afternoon, with half the field still on the golf course. They hope to complete the first round this morning.

Yet, as happened last week on the other side of the frontier in Singapore, the Johor Open is likely to be reduced to 54 holes if the forecast for further bad weather proves correct, thus making those impressive opening salvos by Harrington and Luiten, who shot a bogey-free 63, all the more significant.

"In circumstances like these, you obviously need to get off to a fast start, because there could be less time to make up any ground," said Harrington, who had just one blot on his card, that three-putt bogey at 17.

"I left a few shots out there, but I'm still very happy with the score," he said of his equal-low round of the season -- Harrington posted an eight-under 64 at St Andrews in the third round of the Dunhill Links Championship.

It's just the morale boost Harrington needs as he pursues the top-three finish in Jahor that could propel him back into the elite top-60 in the European Tour's Race to Dubai.

Michael Hoey signed for a 69 in Johor, while Paul McGinley struggled in the soggy conditions, shooting a 10-over-par 81.

Of the Irish still on the course when play stopped, Gareth Maybin from Ballyclare was three-under through 10 and Muskerry hero Niall Turner was two-under after 12.

Meanwhile, Shane Lowry was handily placed in a tie for 12th on two-under and three off the lead in his first round at the Dunlop-Phoenix.

The Clara lad clocked up his first top-10 finish as a pro at this Japan Tour event in 2009, months after winning the Irish Open as an amateur. Graeme McDowell opened with a level-par 71.

Elsewhere, Paul Cutler was mauled by the back nine at Leopard Creek, as he posted a first round of six-over 78 in the Alfred Dunhill Championship.

South Africa's Jbe Kruger shared the lead with England's Seve Benson after the two 25-year-olds shot 64.

Iskandar Johor Open,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 10.30am

Alfred Dunhill Championship,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 8.30am &1.30pm

Irish Independent

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