Thursday 22 February 2018

Ring out wild bells… Padraig Harrington leads into Sunday at the Honda Classic

Padraig Harrington tees off on the 8th hole during the second round of the Honda Classic at PGA National GC Champion Course. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
Padraig Harrington tees off on the 8th hole during the second round of the Honda Classic at PGA National GC Champion Course. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Karl MacGinty at PGA National

RING out wild bells to the wild sky! Padraig Harrington stormed (pun intended) into the 36-hole lead on the US Tour for the first time in five years and now leads into Sunday at the Honda Classic after thunder, lightning and a downpour of biblical proportions forced the suspension of play an hour before his third round was scheduled to begin.

The tournament now may finish on Monday, which would not be of major inconvenience to Harrington, as even a first win in the ‘States since his 2008 PGA Championship victory at Oakland Hills would not get him into the field for next week’s Cadillac WGC down Interstate 95 at Doral.

Still, the Dubliner will qualify for next month’s US Masters should be prevail at the Honda Classic for the second time … Harrington beat Vijay Singh in sudden death across the road from at nearby Mirasol in 2005.

For 27 of his first 36 holes in West Palm Beach, Harrington played like the champion of old and was three ahead of his nearest challenger, American Ryder Cup player Patrick Reed, before finishing his weather-delayed second round with untidy back-to-back bogeys at eight and nine late on Saturday morning.

Despite this frustrating finish, he still led the precocious, 24-year-old Texan by one on seven under after following up Thursday’s impressive 67 in howling gales with a 66. England’s Ian Poulter shot a superb 64 in the second round to share third place with Brendan Steele on five-under par.

“It’s nice to be in contention,” said Harrington. “I was very positive about my game coming in here this week. I don’t know what’s going to happen over the next 36 holes but I have a good idea of where I’m going. I’m pretty confident.

“For the first 27 holes, I certainly was I was feeling very, very positive but then I struggled coming home, which was disappointing, though I suppose it was only to be expected. When I turned for home this morning, I struggled a little bit, a few of the old shots started coming back in.

“I wouldn’t say I was the most confident guy in the world, even after those opening 27 holes, and I’m less so at the moment,” added Harrington shortly after signing his card.

He was relishing the prospect of playing in the rarified atmosphere which surrounds the final few groups in the closing stages of PGA Tour events. “I’m fascinated with the game, I love it,” Harrington explained. “It’s a different sort of fun to be in this position and obviously I want to be at the top of the leaderboard and trying to win tournaments.

He went on: “Five tournaments ago I won (at December’s Indonesian Open in Jakarta, his first win on any tour since the his previous success on the Asian circuit, the Johor Open, in October 2010).  So it’s not like it’s an alien feeling for me.”

Still, this week’s performance in South Florida represents a dramatic turnaround in fortune for World No 297 Harrington, who has missed the cut in five of eight previous events on the US Tour this wraparound season and was outside the top 50 in the other three.

An upsurge in his performance with the putter in recent months was accompanied this week by his focus on the shot in hand. “As you get older you lose your innocence and you have to remind yourself of a few things out there,” he said. “At times I’d get lost and get distracted from the process.

“I hate to use such a cliched word but there’s no better way to put it but I found myself in in a nice place this week where I was thinking of the process and it worked.”

Harrington was tied for the lead with Reed on four-under when he resumed his second round. He’d completed six holes when darkness fell on Friday and restarted by sinking an eight foot birdie putt at 16, first hole of the infamous Bear Trap, then tapping in from 15 inches for another after a glorious tee shot into 17.

Back to his Major Championship-winning pomp at this point, Harrington then holed a 10-footer for birdie at the first before his bubble burst with what the 43-year-old admitted was “an horrendous shot” off the tee at the par five third, setting up an inevitable bogey six.

Soon he was back in hot scoring form, picking up a hat-trick of birdies at four, five and six that propelled Harrington three ahead of the field before those slip-ups at the finish. On both occasions he drove into the deep, camp, cloying rough and couldn’t make the green, then failed to pitch close enough to make par possible.

“It’s a good place to be in,” said Harrington, who lad led through 36-holes on the PGA Tour at the 2010 Transitions Championship, where he ultimately settled for a share of eighth.

“I think I can deliver more performances like this so I’m not panicked about going out and it all having to happen this weekend.”

Rory McIlroy, who described himself as “pissed off” to miss the cut by three on seven-over, certainly would have liked to trade places with Harrington this weekend, as would Graeme McDowell, who missed out by one after rounding off a second round 71 this morning.

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