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USPGA Championship: Dire Straits as Harrington continues to struggle

By Karl MacGinty

The USPGA Championship has proved to be another troubling opening gambit for Padraig Harrington at the Majors and, sadly, very much in keeping with his lacklustre effort at last month's Open, where he missed the cut.

Harrington's three-over-par 75 left him seven shots off the pace set by early clubhouse leader Bubba Watson after Pete Dye's faux-Irish links had been turned into a veritable soft touch by torrential rain, which in recent weeks has doused the shores of Lake Michigan.

As he stumbled to his 12th successive round over par at the Major championships, it was clear that Harrington will need a dramatic turnaround in form on the Straits Course if he's to make the weekend in Wisconsin.

It certainly wasn't pretty to watch as Harrington repeatedly conjured trouble out of thin air, starting at his first hole, the 361-yard 10th hole.

After hitting his tee shot, with a fairway metal, into the heart of the fairway, the Irishman caught his wedge so fat, he was lucky his ball held up in the heavy rough on the top rim of the pot-bunker just short of the teasing front pin.

He did however get up and down comfortably for an opening par though he wouldn't be so lucky at the next.

Having driven into the heart of the fairway at the 618-yard par-five 11th, Harrington laid up to wedge range and then hit his approach into the back bunker, leaving a near-impossible downhill shot to the flag and ended up with a bogey six.

He saved par at 12 and 13 and had a sweet birdie at 14, where he hit a wonderful blind approach to 13 feet with his wedge and then holed but it was a poor day.

Okay, he pulled off a great escape after hooking his tee-shot way left into the dunes bordering the 518-yard 15th, the toughest hole when the US PGA last visited Whistling Straits in 2004.

Yet it is indicative of the mental haze in which Harrington found himself yesterday that he actually drew his hybrid club and considered taking on a huge carry out of an improbable lie in the rough, before good sense and the urgings of his caddie, Ronan Flood, prevailed.

After wedging back out onto the fairway, Harrington hit his approach to 15 feet and holed the treacherous, downhill left-to-right putt for a Houdini save.

However, no matter how benignly the Straits Course played, it's still not the Killeen Course and Harrington was never going to get away with shots as poor as the one he snap-hooked way left and onto rocks on the lakeshore, some 25 feet below the green at the infamous par-three 17th.

One suspects he was less than happy with himself as he played that ill-fated tee shot. Moments earlier, he'd pushed a four-foot birdie putt just wide of the cup at the par-five 16th and almost inevitably, Harrington made a double-bogey five off the rocks at 17, then turned in three over after hitting his long-iron approach to the 18th into a bunker short of the green.

While he showed typical fighting spirit to recover from another morale-denting bogey at the 489-yard fourth with back-to-back birdies at five and six, another dropped shot at his penultimate hole, the eighth, left Harrington wallowing near the foot of the leaderboard.

Almost unbelievably Tiger Woods emerged from the fog — in the air and perhaps in his head too — to give his battered confidence a much-needed boost with a one-under-par 71.

It left him only three behind early pacesetters Bubba Watson and Italian Francesco Molinari.

Woods, needing a top-15 finish to have a chance of qualifying automatically for the Ryder Cup, birdied three of his first four holes and shared the lead at that point.

Dropping back to level par with bogeys on the 15th — his sixth — the long second and short seventh was a big disappointment, but he raised his morale again with a closing birdie.

Woods commented: “I hit the ball pretty good and I felt like I had control — my trajectory was nice and I've not had in a while.

“I just need to keep improving every day.”

Belfast Telegraph


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