Sport Golf

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Ryder of a storm as Padraig struggles

Karl MacGinty

GONE with the wind! Padraig Harrington's hopes of playing a seventh successive Ryder Cup at Medinah next month were blown over the horizon at Kiawah Island yesterday by wicked ocean gales.

European captain Jose Maria Olazabal made it clear on the eve of this week's US PGA Championship that Ireland's three-time Major winner would have "to do extraordinarily well here" to have a chance of making his team in Chicago.

The Spaniard's message hardly could have been more clear -- Harrington need not expect a captain's pick unless he shoots the lights out at the Ocean Course.

Though his race at this PGA Championship is far from run, the second-round 76, which the 40-year-old Dubliner posted yesterday in the teeth of a capricious south westerly wind, did not qualify as 'extraordinary'.

Harrington's actually playing quite well and his second-round score was well inside the average 77.68 strokes it was taking players on his half of the draw to complete 18 holes yesterday.

Yet his performance in the first 36 holes of this championship suggested his short game is not quite sharp enough to propel him into contention for the victory he needs tomorrow to force his way on to the European team.

Typically, Harrington will not give up hope until the last shot of the qualifying campaign is played.

Yet there was a note of resignation in his voice as he spoke of his prospects of forcing Olazabal's hand in the six rounds available to him -- two on the Ocean Course this weekend and four at the first of the FedEx Cup play-offs, the Barclay's Championship, in a fortnight's time.

The Dubliner was asked for his thoughts on the captain's remarks in Wednesday's press conference, when Olazabal in one breath extolled Sergio Garcia's experience, knowledge and virtues as a team player and in the next dismissed Harrington as a "methodical" and "hard-working" player whose "putting has let him down this year so far".

"He said it," Harrington shrugged. "There you go. I can't do anything about it, honestly.

"I missed out on the eight tournaments that guarantee you world ranking points by not playing well last year," he added. "Yet I've performed solidly in every event I've played. I couldn't be happier with my form and my game.

"Yeah, I'd love to have an extraordinary week but there you go. At least it's clearer in my mind now. I won't be waiting on (a phone call)," he laughed. "Obviously, I'm not in the reckoning as it stands so I have to do something exceptional here or the week after next."

As for the certainty in Olazabal's tone, Harrington went on: "Well, there certainly isn't very much room for a pick for me. Obviously, Ian Poulter is going to get one and then there's one left.

So what would rank as extraordinary? "They changed the ruling for the Barclays, where the captain will not make his picks until that is over, so I'm going to go and try and win there," he said. "I hope that'd be exceptional enough. Look, I'm playing lovely golf. I can't do anything more than I've done during the year.

"I do rue the fact that I didn't play in the four WGC events and I didn't play in the Tour Championship or for guaranteed points in Sun City or Chevron. At the end of the day, when you're not picking up those easy points, it's hard to do things."

Harrington insisted he didn't regret the 72nd-hole bogey at the US Open which denied him an opportunity to get back into the world's elite top 50 and play for a welter of Ryder Cup points available in last week's Bridgestone WGC at Firestone.

"Such is life," he said. "Maybe the weekend here will go well and we won't have to look back at the misses. I shouldn't be too far away here and I'm playing well enough, hitting the ball well enough.

"I just need to drop a few putts and chip a few close and we could be there tomorrow evening."

Harrington insisted he's on good terms with the European captain, with whom he had a falling-out nine years ago over a rules issue during their halved singles match at the Seve Trophy in Valencia.

"I get on with Jose," Harrington insisted. "With one pick basically already gone, it leaves very little option -- it has to be a rookie he's thinking of picking, so there you go."

Garcia currently lies in the 10th and final place in the points list and should the Spaniard slip out of the automatic spots this weekend, there's little doubt that Olazabal will be given that second wild card. Touch and go to make the weekend at the PGA Championship after a 75 yesterday morning left him on seven-over-par, Garcia seems likely to need that pick.

If Garcia qualifies under his own steam, Spain's Alvaro Quiros and Ryder Cup rookies Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium, Rafael Cabrera Bello and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are the four in closest contention.

US captain Davis Love III is certain to have more regard for the credentials of the multiple Major winner who currently requires one of his wild cards, Phil Mickelson.

Ironically, playing with Love and Harrington on the first two days of the PGA, Mickelson must have impressed the American skipper with the quality of his play and, especially, his short game as compiled a splendidly defiant one-under-par 71.

"You know, I was very happy to get off that golf course, I have to say," said Graeme McDowell after signing for the 76, which left him on level par.

"I'm trying to think of the last time I remember a golf course playing this difficult, because it's a links wind, blowing across a golf course which is super soft, with some of the most difficult pins on the course out there. It's brutal, carnage."

Which makes the second round 70 posted by Michael Hoey appear extraordinary, especially alongside his 78 in benign conditions on Thursday.

Yet the Ballymoney man heavily underscored his reputation as one of the great wind players by making three birdies, including a rare gem at the gruelling 229 yards 17th, and just one bogey, into the teeth of the wind at 10. Hoey made the cut on four-over.

Irish Independent

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