Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Harrington’s back in the swing of things

Padraig Harrington

What is the golfer's best friend — a reliable putter perhaps, or a trusty wedge?

In Padraig Harrington's case, it's probably a deaf ear, especially over the past eight months.

The Irishman has hurtled like a train out of a long dark tunnel at The Bridgestone Invitational, following up on Thursday's sensational opening 64 with a solid 69 at Firestone yesterday to establish an early clubhouse lead on seven-under after 36 holes.

Tiger Woods was among the first to salute Harrington's march back to the top of a tournament leaderboard, expressing particular admiration for the Dubliner's courage in opting to make a swing change after winning three Majors and his patience in doggedly seeing it through.

“You have to believe absolutely in what your are doing,” said Woods. “You have to believe it's right even though people tell you what you are doing is wrong. I've been through that process twice and I think I turned out on the good side both times.”

Tiger decided to make his first major swing change after winning the 1997 US Masters by a record 12 strokes and, in his own words “got ripped apart” by critics as he waited a good 16 months to win his second Major, the 1999 US PGA at Medinah.

The decision to split with teacher Butch Harmon at the height of his powers in 2002 and adopt a different swing plane under the tutelage of his current coach Hank Haney led Tiger into a stretch of 10 consecutive Majors without a win, which was universally known as 'The Tiger Slump'.

“It's just that you are going to get a lot of bombardment, not just from the media but from fans, from friends and whoever it may be. They are always going to doubt and question you,” Tiger added.

“But you have got to have the internal resolve to stick with what you believe is going to be right and you're going to get better.”

Harrington chuckled when Tiger's words were relayed to him. “Thankfully, nobody told me I was doing the wrong thing, or if they were saying that, I wasn't listening.

“If I did hear a few whispers, I'd fight against it. That's my nature. I'd be the very stubborn one who if I was told to do something, I'd want to do it my own way. That's what got me here and that's what will keep me going forward.”

While Harrington played with the swagger one might expect of a three-times Major Champion in the opening round on Thursday, this was a little less swash and a slight tightening of the buckle yesterday as he once again came to grips with the concept of defending the lead in a tournament.

“I was a bit cautious today,” he confessed. “I was more worried about my misses rather than having that confident attitude to be a bit more free-flowing and going after a few more pins, though it's tough. You know that if you short side yourself you are going to have difficulty getting up and down.

“But you've got to make some birdies. My short game has been good enough so I should be a little more aggressive over the weekend. Yeah, I'd think I'd be a little more aggressive than I was today.”

In fact, Harrington's short game was back to his phenomenal best, his 37 yard chip to three feet to save par at the par three seventh reminiscent of that famous shot into the 72nd hole at Carnoustie in 2007 to keep his prospects of Open glory alive.

Harrington chunked his tee shot there and, in his determination not to fly his ball through the green or above the pin Firestone's heavily tilted and rapidly drying greens, he left a few other approach shots short.

So difficult is Firestone playing right now as it's tilting fairways and quickfire greens dry out, Harrington reckons a couple more rounds under 70 this weekend will put him in the reckoning.

Tiger Woods didn't have a whole lot to say about his own round of level par 70, which left him on two-under for the tournament, five strokes behind the Irishman. “You just have to be very patient,” he explained. “This golf course is very similar to a Major Championship (so even par is fine).”

Darren Clarke, who also held station (on one over par) with a round of 70 yesterday, couldn't help casting an envious eye at Padraig Harrington's statistics and especially the four huge putts the Dubliner sank on his closing holes on Thursday.

“That's the difference between scoring well and not,” the Ulsterman sighed.

“Padraig's game hasn't been as bad as his scores have been. He just hasn't been putting the way he normally does.

“If you are holing the 25 footers, it makes the world of difference. I can't remember the last time I holed one.”

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