Padraig Harrington produced a brilliant finish to rescue his hopes of a third Dunhill Links Championship yesterday, and with it almost certainly a second Order of Merit title.
Harrington has complained of fatigue since the Ryder Cup at Valhalla, where he gained just half a point for the second contest in succession. And the Irishman looked to be still some way off the form that brought him the last two major championships as he failed to make the most of benign early conditions at Kingsbarns, one of the three courses, along with St Andrews and Carnoustie, used for the lucrative pro-am event.
Starting from the 10th, Harrington birdied the 12th and 13th but then dropped shots at the 16th and 17th and was level par after 12 holes, good enough only for a share of 90th place. But the double Open winner then birdied five of his last six holes to card a five-under-par 67, three off the lead held by Ryder Cup team-mate Soren Hansen and England's Ross Fisher.
"When you are leading it you want to win it," said Harrington, who currently leads Lee Westwood by £180,000 at the top of the money list, with £432,000 on offer to the winner here. "The first question you will be asked when you retire is how many majors you have won, but Order of Merits come a close second."
Harrington was paired with another Ryder Cup team-mate, and foursomes partner, Robert Karlsson – who also shot 67 – and admitted the pair had been doing some "soul-searching" about Europe's surprise defeat at Valhalla on the way round. "We decided the US team just played better and we can't have an issue with that," added Harrington. "One thing that we did agree on was that Olly [Jose Maria Olazabal, Nick Faldo's vice-captain] will make a fantastic captain. He had us in tears with his passion on Saturday night."
Hansen and Fisher both carded eight-under 64s to fend off another player who came close to making Faldo's losing team, German Martin Kaymer, in third place.
Hansen celebrated his return to individual play after the disappointment of losing at Valhalla by picking up four shots in his last three holes at the Kingsbarns course, closing birdie, birdie, eagle. "It was an incredible feeling, I looked up at the leaderboard when I'd finished and thought what happened there?" Hansen said. "The day was really enjoyable because you are trying to get back to normal [after the Ryder Cup] and find some energy."
Fisher's finale was nearly as stunning as Hansen's as he closed with three birdies. After his failed attempt to make Faldo's team, finishing 12th on the table, two places away from qualifying for the Ryder Cup, Fisher is now going all out for his third win of the year. "The Ryder Cup proved a disappointment but it hadn't been my goal at the start of the year," the Englishman said. "I've achieved the main goal I set myself – to win again. In fact I've done it twice, now I'm aiming to stay in the top 10 in Europe and top 50 in the world by the end of the season."