Thursday 22 March 2018

Harrington's sizzling form hits Poulter in the pocket

Karl MacGinty at Celtic Manor

IT'S great for the team but bad for my pocket! That was Ian Poulter's evaluation of Padraig Harrington's rip-roaring form as official Ryder Cup practice opened at Celtic Manor yesterday.

Poulter revealed he had to go straight to the cash machine after he and Irish Open champion Ross Fisher were cleaned out by the day's most dynamic duo, Harrington and Luke Donald.

Harrington had two eagles and lipped-out from 40 feet for another, while Donald landed four birdies as two of European captain Colin Montgomerie's wild cards walked away with the bragging rights and nearly £400 in cash.

On a relatively profitable day for the Irish, Graeme McDowell, winner of the Welsh Open here in June, made the most of his local knowledge as he and Rory McIlroy took £150 from the Molinari brothers, Edoardo and Francesco.

Yet Poulter and the rest of Harrington's Ryder Cup team-mates were delighted as the 39-year-old Dubliner proved his return to hot scoring form with last Sunday's 64 in the final round of the Vivendi Cup was no flash in the pan.

"Paddy played exceptionally well this morning, which is great for the team but bad for my pocket," Poulter quipped, adding: "He drove it straight and he drove it long and he put it in position for 18 holes today."

Having received a hotly controversial captain's pick from Nick Faldo for the last Ryder Cup in Valhalla, Poulter knows how it can sharpen a player's hunger to impress.

"I know what it did for me last time round and if it revs-up Padraig this time round, he's going to be a serious danger man for Europe," Poulter said. "It certainly seems to have done the trick."

Montgomerie expressed his delight at Harrington's form and took the opportunity to slam criticism of his decision to invite the Irishman to play in his sixth Ryder Cup this week, despite recent poor form and his failure to win on Tour in two years.

"Well, I feel the criticism was very unjustified, to be honest," the European captain insisted. "I know what Padraig can do and why he was picked. I've rarely seen anyone as pumped-up as he was out there today -- he was like a rookie, he was so enthused.

"He played the best golf of our team out there," Monty added. "He's a world player. He's won three Major championships and the stature of the guy is second to none on our team.

"There's reasons why Padraig Harrington was picked and judge me about that selection on October 4, not September 28."

Monty was equally pleased with the form yesterday of world No 3 Lee Westwood, who shares equal ranking with Harrington as one of the European captain's team leaders at Celtic Manor.

Six-time Ryder Cup veteran Westwood has not played a tournament since August 6 because of a torn calf muscle, but he still played some eye-catching golf. "For Lee to start off so confidently with three birdies in the first four holes is good for his self-esteem.

"He's not played in six or seven weeks and he starts ripping the ball like he is, so I'm very excited for Lee Westwood this week."

So far, Montgomerie has beaten his opposite number, Corey Pavin, hands down in the verbal skirmishing at Celtic Manor. While the home captain has been relaxed, amusing and informative on his two visits to the media centre, the US skipper has gone way too far in his efforts to be anodyne.

One hopes his players won't perform as tentatively when the action starts for real on Friday. Asked if he thought McDowell and McIlroy would form as potent a partnership at the Ryder Cup as they had for Great Britain and Ireland captain Paul McGinley during last year's Vivendi Trophy defeat of Continental Europe, Monty replied: "Let's hope they are formidable.

"Their partnership is untried in Ryder Cup play but they are both very confident individuals and I think that's a huge plus when it comes to playing together on this stage. They each have confidence in their own ability and their partner's ability."

Montgomerie has revealed that the Ulster duo and the magnificent Molinaris will play together at some stage at Celtic Manor and many pundits nominate US Open champion McDowell and gifted Ryder Cup rookie McIlroy as favourites to lead the European assault in Friday morning's foursomes.

Asked who would fire off the first tee shot in that event, McIlroy insisted he'd defer to McDowell, saying: "Age before beauty and all of that."

Irish Independent

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