Tuesday 17 July 2018

Superb start keeps Harrington's slim hopes alive


Padraig Harrington. Photo: PA
Padraig Harrington. Photo: PA

Phil Casey

Padraig Harrington gave his slim hopes of reaching the FedEx Cup play-offs a significant boost with a superb four-under-par first round at the Wyndham Championship.

The Dubliner is five shots off the blistering early pace of Matt Every, who carded seven birdies and an eagle on his way to a nine-under 61.

Harrington needs to either win or finish second this weekend in Greensboro, North Carolina to clinch one of the 125 spots for the first of four play-off events, the Northern Trust Open, and to retain his PGA Tour card.

Seamus Power, currently 123rd in the standings, and Shane Lowry (145th) can reflect on solid starts to the tournament, both finishing the day on three-under.

Graeme McDowell has plenty of work to do if he is to squeeze his way into the top 125 at the final hurdle, his opening-round 71, leaving him back on one-over and well off the top-35 finish he requires to keep his play-off hopes alive.

Meanwhile, captain Annika Sorenstam hopes her vast experience and attention to detail can help Europe defy the odds and regain the Solheim Cup this weekend.

The United States are odds-on favourites to win the biennial contest for the 10th time at Des Moines Golf and Country Club, having ended Europe's bid for an unprecedented hat-trick of wins in Germany in 2015.

Sorenstam's careful planning was thrown into disarray by the withdrawal of Suzann Pettersen on Wednesday due to a back injury, with assistant captain Catriona Matthew stepping in as the Norwegian's replacement.

Europe's top-ranked player, world number 13 Anna Nordqvist, has also been suffering from glandular fever and it remains to be seen if she will be able to play two matches in one day - today or tomorrow.

However, Sorenstam has seen it all before in eight appearances as a player and as an assistant captain in the last three contests, including Europe's first win in the US in 2013.

"I'm very analytical," Sorenstam said of her captaincy style. "I take my time making decisions, but once I make a decision, I stick to it. I try to be thorough."

Europe's players are braced for a potentially hostile atmosphere to be generated by the large crowds which are expected, although Pettersen's absence may take some of the sting out of the occasion.

Pettersen was involved in the controversial incident two years ago which inspired the US to stage a brilliant fightback from 10-6 down and win eight of the 12 singles matches.

In a fourball match carried over into the final day, Pettersen and Charley Hull were all square with two to play against Brittany Lincicome and Alison Lee.

Lee missed a birdie putt to win the 17th and, after the ball finished two feet behind the hole, scooped it up with her putter thinking it either had been, or was certain to be, conceded.

Hull gave that impression as she was already walking across the front of the green towards the 18th tee, but Pettersen said they had not conceded the putt and therefore won the hole.

Hull and Lee were reduced to tears as heated discussions took place around the green, with American captain Juli Inkster wanting to lead some of her team in a chant of ''Europeans suck'', before they opted for "Class, style, U-S-A.''

Irish Independent

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