Rory McIlroy 64, Padraig Harrington 74. Yes, Harrington had to put up with some rain squalls on the opening day of the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston but he couldn’t use that as an excuse on a day when only 16 players in the 99-man field, including Tiger Woods, failed to break par.
At the behest of his caddie, JP Fitgerald, McIlroy brought his coach Michael Bannon to the US a week early and cured a dose of the lefts. Harrington hasn’t seen his official coach, Bob Torrance, for seven weeks and while he insisted that his failure in the US PGA was totally mental, he sounds like a man in need of some coaching confidence less than a month before he makes his sixth Ryder Cup appearance as a hotly-disputed wildcard.
“I just didn’t have it today,” Harrington said after a three-over par round (33 putts, 50pc of fairways hit) that left him tied for 96th and in grave anger of making an early exit from the FedEx Cup play-offs tonight. “I wasn’t really doing what I was supposed to be doing swing-wise and wasn’t releasing the putter blade. It was a bad day all around.”
In contrast, McIlroy fired five birdies and then eagled the 18th for a seven under 64 (28 putts, 83pc GIR, 71pc fairways) that left him just one stroke behind pacesetters Jason Day and Zach Johnson.
And he did it thanks to some help from his coach, who told Jim McCabe at Golfweek: “Rory really goes at it and when he’s on, he’s really on.”
“I was struggling with hitting the ball left last week (at Barclays),” McIlroy said. “It actually started at the PGA, but I managed to play with it (there).”
According to McCabe’s story:
The following week, McIlroy went on holiday to Spain, didn’t pick up a club, and when he returned to Ridgewood CC and the first FedEx Cup playoff, the lefts were still there.
“I knew I needed a couple of days of hitting a lot of shots and just getting back on track,” McIlroy said.
Thus Fitzgerald called Bannon, who didn’t mind in the least. He’d take Boston over Chicago if that’s what his prize student wanted.
“He’s a joy to work with,” Bannon said…..
“Every time we get together,” McIlroy said, “he gets me straightened out.”
Judging by his recent scores, Harrington needs someone to straighten him out. Whether that’s a mental coach or a swing coach, only he knows.
The bottom line is that he could be left twiddling his thumbs for the next month or forced to enter the European Tour’s Austrian Open or the Vivendi Cup if he fails to make the top-70 in the FedEx Cup rankings who qualify for the third leg of the play-offs, next week’s BMW Championship at Cog Hill in Chicago’s south-western suburbs.
Colin Mongtomerie gave Harrington and the rest of the so-called “FedEx Four” his blessing to miss the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles and remain in the US for the play-offs.
The Scot felt the FedEx Cup helped the US team stay sharp head of their Ryder Cup win at Valhalla two years ago.
If Harrington misses the cut we will be told that the silver lining is that he will now be fresh as a daisy for the Ryder Cup - a fact that Paul McGinley mentioned on Monday last.
“At this moment in time, Padraig may be playing the next three weeks and then going straight from there to play the Ryder Cup,” McGinley said. “If he does, he is obviously going to be a bit drained physically and that will be a major factor to consider [in the number of games he plays at Celtic Manor].
“But if he is knocked out of the FedEx next week, he will have two weeks off before the Ryder Cup and it will be a different kettle of fish.”
Montgomerie picked Harrington for his experience and his ability to produce the goods when his back’s to the wall.
That moment has now arrived a few weeks earlier than planned.
As the Dubliner’s website announced following the first round at TPC Boston:
“Two double bogeys did the damage and with an early start tomorrow it will have to be all out attack to make the weekend’s play.”