Sunday 19 November 2017

Woods storms into Turkish contention

Sizzling 63 puts Tiger on course to end Euro Tour famine

Tiger Woods tees off on the 14th hole during the second round of the Turkish Airlines Open in Antalya yesterday
Tiger Woods tees off on the 14th hole during the second round of the Turkish Airlines Open in Antalya yesterday

William S Callahan

TIGER WOODS lit up the Turkish Open with his short-game genius, a brilliant second-round 63 by the world No 1 giving Race to Dubai contenders Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter pause for thought in their boisterous head-to-head battle.

Stenson and Poulter shared the lead at halfway with Victor Dubuisson of France and South African Justin Walters on 12-under, but all eyes were on Woods as he roared into contention for a 40th European Tour victory and his first since the 2009 Australian Masters.

That win was achieved days before Tiger crashed into a fire hydrant and tree outside his former family home in Isleworth in what would become a pivotal moment in his life and career.

Back then, Padraig Harrington was still in the world's top 10 with no inkling of the long drought which awaited him on the PGA and European Tours.

While Woods found redemption and is back to winning ways on the US Tour (though not yet in the Majors), Harrington wallows at 111th in the world and faces another critical crossroads in his career on the Montgomerie Maxx Royal course this weekend.

His prospects of returning to golf's high road and contending for a place on next year's Ryder Cup team may be determined over the next two days.

Should Harrington hit a rich vein of scoring form in Antalya and secure a top-10 finish, it would propel him (from 67th) into top 60 in the Race to Dubai standings and clinch the Dubliner a berth in next week's DP World Tour Championship.

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Instead of drawing a line under a frustrating season tomorrow evening, Harrington (42) would have a precious final opportunity to boost his world ranking before he takes a lengthy and much-needed winter break.

Unlikely to return before the Phoenix Open in late January, Harrington will have little time in the new year to clinch his place in the Accenture Match Play and Cadillac World Golf Championships, by extension making it difficult for him to gain admission to April's US Masters.

It's essential for Harrington over the next two days to capitalise on a recent and much-needed fillip in his form around and on the green and take full part in the continuing birdie-fest in Turkey.

His prospects of avoiding another winter of discontent were boosted by the birdies he landed on the final two holes of the second-round 70 which left him in a tie for 25th overnight on six-under par.

It was the second time in just over six hours that the Irishman birdied the par-five 18th ... he had finished out his weather-delayed first-round 68 on a high early yesterday morning.

Harrington then scooted to six-under for the tournament with morale-boosting birdies at seven and eight before an ugly double-bogey at the 336-yard par-four 15th threatened to knock him for six.

So his flourish at 17 and 18 was critical. It's a measure of just how hot the scoring has been on soft greens here that even at six-under, Harrington fell back two places to 69th in projected Race to Dubai standings after 36 holes.

Harrington said he "feels close to a big week" – now he must deliver.

As he compiled his faultless nine-under-par effort, Woods claimed yesterday not to have noticed the ribbing between Poulter and Stenson. Yet he would have found it almost impossible to miss as the catcalling reached its zenith on the 18th tee.

Poulter, playing in the group ahead of Stenson and Woods, was on his way to a second successive 66 when he saw the Swede, about to round off a 68, put a towel over his arm.

The pair fell about laughing while Woods stared straight ahead.

Stenson's waiter act was in response to a bet he struck with Poulter last week, when the Engishman was approximately 960,000 points behind the Race To Dubai leader.

Stenson rated the odds against Poulter overtaking him at 10/1 and a $100 wager was struck.

"I didn't think 1,000 bucks would mean that much to him so he agreed if I beat him, we'll have a night out when he'll have to pour all my drinks," Poulter explained. "He wouldn't like that."

Poulter's second place in Shanghai makes that a real possibility, especially as Stenson is grappling with a wrist injury as he bids to become the first golfer to win the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai in the same season.

After hitting 17 greens in regulation on Thursday, Damien McGrane went awry yesterday, missing no fewer than 10 as a 73 dropped him into a share of 56th on one-over.

Shane Lowry's only consolation after a 75 left him 74th in the 78-strong field were the four birdies which, at €100 each, boosted his contribution this week to Ireland's 'Movember' campaign to €700.

Australia's Adam Scott thrilled fellow countrymen by taking a two stroke lead at the Aussie PGA on 10-under after rounds of 65 and 67 at the Golf Coast's Royal Pines Resort.

Meanwhile, Darren Clarke eased through the cut with a couple of shots to spare at the PGA Tour's McGladrey Classic after a second-round 72 at Sea Island's Seaside Course left him at one-under par – seven off the clubhouse lead set by American Chris Kirk with a 66.

Turkish Airlines Open, Day 3

Live, Sky Sports 4, 9.0am

Irish Independent

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