Sunday 18 March 2018

Rory bravely weathers storm as Harrington reaps the wind

Rory McIlroy plays from the 8th fairway during the first round of the Honda Classic at PGA National GC Champion Course
Rory McIlroy plays from the 8th fairway during the first round of the Honda Classic at PGA National GC Champion Course

William S Callahan

AS Padraig Harrington turned the clock back to halcyon days with a fighting three-under-par 67, World No 1 Rory McIlroy stirred painful memories during a nightmare start to the Honda Classic.

McIlroy won at PGA National in 2012, propelling himself to the top of the world for the first time, but it was nigh impossible not to think of his Friday implosion here two years ago as the Ulsterman stumbled to four-over through five, losing one tee shot in the palms right of the first and another in the water at the short fifth.

However, he's made of far sterner stuff these days. So, no matter how far off track his nemesis - a buffeting, blustery wind - threatened to blow him, there was no chance of McIlroy walking off yesterday, as he infamously did after just eight holes of his Honda second round in 2013.

Instead, the Holywood native battled on manfully in the teeth of the warm south-westerly gale, making sweet birdies on the final two holes for a 73 that left him eight shy of American Jim Herman's lead. Others were more deeply mauled, McIlroy's playing companions Dustin Johnson racking up a 77 and Brooks Koepka a 78.

Harrington, meanwhile, was just two shy of Herman in a two-way tie for third after a round that might have been borrowed from his youth.

Though he missed from three feet for par at the gruelling second, Harrington followed a facile birdie four at three with two superb saves from 15 feet at four and from 10 feet at five, then a neat up-and-down at six. When his short game works on days like these, he's in a league of his own.

His confidence rising, he sank a 19-foot birdie putt at eight and, after relying on his wedge to dig him out of a few tight corners, Harrington holed from six feet for birdie three at 16 and wrapped up with a facile two-putt birdie four at 18.

"I found it very difficult," he said. "I was struggling and questioning and doubting myself - but as tough as it was in the wind, I kept telling myself it suited me more than most guys.

"Then I holed a couple of putts in the middle of the round there and that just kept me going," Harrington added. "On a windy day, if you drop a few shots early on, you're behind the eight-ball straight away and can see no way out of it."

That's how McIlroy surely felt. After blazing his first drive right into palm bushes, he had to go back to the tee, eventually making six.


Brief respite came in the shape of a facile birdie four at the third but he made bogey at the next after missing yet another fairway and green, then racked up a double-bogey out of the water at five.

After holing from 22 feet for a sweet birdie at eight, McIlroy stumbled again at 11 and 14 before sinking a 30-footer for his two at 17, before rounding off in fine style at 18 to lie in the mid-70s on the leaderboard.

Graeme McDowell also started badly, making bogey on four of his first five holes. He also had an eagle and a double-bogey in his 74.

Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke birdied the final two holes on the difficult East Course at Royal Johannesburg for an even-par 72 at the Joburg Open. After a crazy front-nine 39 that included four birdies, two bogeys and two doubles, this represented one heck of a result.

Though tied 114th overnight, if he picks up where he left off on the much easier West Course this morning, he'll every chance of making the cut.

The record-equalling nine-under 62 posted yesterday by South African Nic Henning (45) showed how vulnerable the 'West' can be.

Dubliner Peter Lawrie's revival continued as he landed seven birdies in a five-under 66 on the West that left him tied-16th. Waterford's Kevin Phelan was one back in 27th after his 67 there.

Gareth Maybin's three-under 69 on the East arguably was the day's best round by an Irish golfer, even if it left him tied-43rd.

Honda Classic,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.0pm

Joburg Open

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.30am

Irish Independent

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