Saturday 7 December 2019

Soaring eagles put Harrington in the hunt in the Alps

Padraig Harrington celebrates holing a putt during the first round at Crans-sur-Sierre yesterday. Photo credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Padraig Harrington celebrates holing a putt during the first round at Crans-sur-Sierre yesterday. Photo credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

William S Callahan

JUST when it seemed Padraig Harrington should be viewed more as a future captain than Ryder Cup player, the 43-year-old Dubliner issued a timely reminder that his clubs still are able to do the talking.

A day after being named as one of European captain Paul McGinley's five assistants at Gleneagles, Harrington spectacularly landed two eagles in the Swiss Alps as he posted his equal low round of 2014, a fine 66, in the first round of the Omega European Masters.

Harrington's Scottish playing companion, Richie Ramsay, showed precisely what was possible in perfect scoring conditions and at high altitude on one of the European Tour's shortest golf courses as he shot a fabulous 62 to share the lead on eight-under with Italy's Edoardo Molinari.

Yet as he eased up alongside Offaly ace Shane Lowry and defending champion Thomas Bjorn in a tie for 13th place, there was a hint of freedom about the Irishman's play which hasn't been seen through a dismal summer as he surrendered his PGA Tour card in the US and continued his slalom down to 287th in the world.


Gareth Maybin was leading Irish golfer after a day of spectacular scoring, a sweet 64, his best round in 14 months on Tour, placing the Ballyclare favourite in third place on six-under with English duo Tommy Fleetwood and Graeme Storm.

"That was very encouraging. I played well and scored well today and when you put those two together, it makes for a very happy player," said the Ulsterman. "Other than one poor putt on eight (contributing to his lone bogey), I holed out pretty well. I did what you have to do around here and made a lot of putts from around 10 feet."

Currently 124th on the money list after just two top-10s and eight missed cuts in 19 outings on tour this year, a big finish in Crans this weekend would be the perfect tonic for Maybin as he tries to climb inside the top 110, who at season's end in November will hang onto their card for 2015.

"A good finish here definitely would help," he admitted. "To achieve that in such a high-quality field would also be very encouraging."

Fellow Ulsterman Michael Hoey also produced a career-best at Crans yesterday, a 65, which eased him into a share of sixth with in-form Ryder Cup rookies Jamie Donaldson of Wales and French star Victor Dubuisson.

"The short game and putting were good today," said Hoey, who feels he may have emerged from the worst of a debilitating head cold. "We've all had it in our family," he croaked. "The mountain air here is helping things so, yeah, I'm just enjoying it."

Lowry was a tad frustrated after playing the back nine in even-par, albeit the more difficult half, but it soon was salved as he holed from 12 feet for an eagle three at one and made three birdies in the next four holes.

He blotted his copy with a bogey at four, where the Clara man had to hit out sideways after flirting dangerously with out of bounds to the right of the fairway but still looked forward to scaling new heights in the Alps.

"It's always a great week coming up here even though I've never done too well," said Lowry. "Four-under is a good start and I'm looking forward to the next few days."

Harrington missed his fifth cut in seven events last Friday in Turin but followed Wednesday's news of his Ryder Cup appointment with an upbeat performance on the golf course.

There were errors. A birdie four at the first was cancelled out by a bogey five at the tight and treacherous fourth … but then was followed by a superlative eagle two at the 331 yards seventh, where Harrington slammed his tee shot to within a foot.

Two-under through the turn, Harrington rebounded from a bogey four at 11 with birdie two at 13. He then made the most facile of eagle threes at the 516-yard 15th, followed by an untidy bogey from under the branches of a large conifer short and right of the 16th green.

Yet he produced a shot worthy of a three-time Major champion out of an awkward lie in a fairway bunker at 17. Harrington holed the 11-foot putt for a glorious birdie which suggested those clubs still can be eloquent.

Revealingly, Peter Lawrie shared 54th after a one-under 69. Darren Clarke completed a frustrating day on the greens with an infuriating treble-bogey seven at 18 for a 73, while Simon Thornton shot 74.

A superb 63 lifted Richard Kilpatrick of Banbridge into a share of the lead on 10-under with Scots Paul Shields (62) and amateur Craig Ross (67) going into the final round of the EuroPro Tour's Glenfarclas Open at Mar Hall near Glasgow. Clandeboye's Jonathan Caldwell was one back in fourth after his second-round 67.

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