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Irish Open: Padraig Harrington is smiles better as he’s in mix

By Karl MacGinty

It's been a while since Padraig Harrington had so much fun on the fairways.

Golf, it seemed, had become almost a chore for the Dubliner since he became a three-time Major Champion.

Yet the frustration of two years without a victory since his US PGA Championship success at Oakland Hills melted away during yesterday's second round of the ‘3' Irish Open.

Instead, Harrington once again became professional golf's greatest Houdini, illuminating a gray, rain-softened day on the Killeen Course with an astounding series of escapes.

Having conceded on Thursday that he's been struggling for confidence, Harrington literally cast off the chains of uncertainty which have recently ensnared his short game.

He virtually laughed his way to the second round 67 which propelled him into joint third on seven under par with eight others, including Rory McIlroy and his fellow-Ulsterman Michael Hoey, five behind runaway leader Ross Fisher.

Fisher, in the group behind Harrington, went breathtakingly close to posting the European Tour's first 59, settling instead for a 61, his lowest round score in tournament play and matching the all-time record at the Irish Open, set by Graeme McDowell at Baltray last year.

Despite the Englishman's exciting surge to the top of the leaderboard, the early birds who'd flocked to the fairway ropes in their thousands early yesterday to watch Harrington play with US Open champ McDowell and Damien McGrane, simply could not tear themselves away from this celebrated Irish threeball.

Especially given Meathman McGrane's determination match Harrington's spectacular efforts with several miracle shots of his own.

In fact, there was no shortage of high-class action elsewhere on the golf course.

McIlroy, 21, holed-out brilliantly from an nasty lie well to the right of a greenside bunker at 13 as he reclaimed the bragging rights from Darren Clarke yesterday with a 68, two better than Ulster's Ryder Cup vice-captain, who found the going far tougher as he “lost the pace of the greens”.

Yet the performance of Harrington was utterly compelling as he recaptured some of the fearless, carefree qualities of his youth.

Even McDowell, who “struggled horrendously” on the greens and, after signing for a lack-lustre 72, spent an anxious afternoon hovering just inside the cut mark on level par, admitted he'd been captivated by the fireworks exploding around him.

“I had to stand there and watch chip-ins and bombs and all that kind of stuff going on,” he said.

“In one sense it was frustrating because I didn't hit the ball badly but I've just had a lesson over the last two days from the boys there on how to get the ball up and down and I need to take heed of it.”

Nodding towards Harrington, being interviewed by TV nearby, McDowell went on: “You've got to respect that guy behind me there. He knows how to scramble, he knows how to handle himself.”

The high-jinx began when Harrington, two-under through the turn after nice birdies at eight and nine, drove deep into the trees to the left of 11. He found a fairly decent lie in the ferns but in his determination not to hit his escape through the fairway, the Dubliner topped his ball into nearby rough.

Bogey seemed likely when his approach shot came to rest 20 feet from the pin but Harrington holed the putt, underlining what a morale-boost this effort was by punching the air as the ball dropped.

Yet the most outrageous putt of

the day was holed by Harrington at 15. He hit this 50-footer so hard, TV commentator Wayne 'Radar' Reilly reckoned “he'd need a wedge for the next” ... yet the ball crashed into the back of the hole, hopped three inches into the air and hit the front lip before falling into the cup.

It's moot if Ireland's Laughing Cavalier or anyone else will catch Fisher this weekend if he continues play as flawlessly, though some described his sterling effort yesterday as “one that got away”.

Needing two more birdies in his final four holes to make history, pushed an eight foot opportunity wide of the cup at 15 and played the final three holes in par.

In fairness, an ill-wind drove heavy rain in off Lough Leane as Fisher played those closing holes. Maybe Mother Nature wanted to spare Killarney blushes.

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