Anyone who doubts that golf is the most mentally demanding of games needs only study Ireland’s professionals on Sunday as they battle their personal demons on five courses from Hong Kong and Sun City to sunny Spain.
The biggest pressure cooker of all takes place at Fanling where an exhausted Rory McIlroy goes into the final round of the UBS Hong Open three shots behind leader Alvaro Quiros in a tournament where he must finish first or second to keep his Race to Dubai hopes alive.
“I just didn’t have anything out there,” said a McIlroy said after a second round 70, his first failure to shoot in the 60s for the first time in Hong Kong since 2007. “Just mentally just wasn’t really at the races, and just struggled to really get anything going… That will be the challenge for me tomorrow, to try to get myself up 100 per cent for it.”
Peter Lawrie shot a third successive 69 to share 18th place on three under and while he now looks certain to make the top-60 who will take their places in the season-ending Dubai World Championship, he will certainly but up for it today.
As for Padraig Harrington, barring a round in the low 60’s, that goal now looks out of reach for 67th ranked Dubliner, who is six strokes outside the top-7 finish he needs to make the Dubai field.
Harrington shot a level par 70 in Saturday’s third round and again failed to putt well, taking 32 putts to bring his tally for the week to 97. In fact, his ‘putts per round’ tally is the second worst in the 66-man field behind Scot Stephen Gallacher.
It’s impossible to compete if you are not holing the par putts when you miss greens and with his long game in good order, one gets the feeling that Harrington will be focussing hard on his short game over his impending winter break
Whether or not Hong Kong will also be the last event of the season for Gareth Maybin remains to be seen. He’s 120th in the battle for 115 cards and while he’s tied for 47th in Hong Kong after a third round 73, he could need a sub par final round to ease his fears of a trip to next week’s Q-School finals in Girona.
Damien McGrane looks likely to avoid that fate despite missing the Hogn Kong cut but he will know better than most what the 13 Irish hopefuls are enduring at the second stage of the Q-School in Spain.
No fewer than 16 players from each of the four venues will progress to PGA Golf de Catalunya following Monday’s final round and several Irishmen are in position to make it with two rounds to go.
Waterville’s David Higgins, who turned 39 last week, is tied for fourth at Las Colinas in Alicante, five shots off the lead on five under after a second round 69.
Limerick’s Cian McNamara is just a stroke outside the top-16 in joint 25th on two under after a 73 with Aaron O’Callaghan of Douglas two shots further back in 41st after a 74.
However, things are now looking desperate for Dubliner Niall Kearney as he lies in joint 54th on three over after he added a 73 to his opening 72.
It looks good, however, for Ballymena’s Chris Devlin as he remained tied for 12th on three under at El Valle in Murcia thanks to a level par 71 in the second round.
And Niall Turner (69), Jonny Caldwell (72) and Mark Staunton (72) are also in the running, just a shot outside the top 16 and tied for 22nd on one-under with two rounds to go.
Alas, former Shamrock Rovers star Stephen Grant now needs to low rounds to progress after a 74 relegated him to 47th on four over.
Dubliner Niall O’Briain is the only Irishman inside the top 16 at La Manga, where a super second round 72 helped him remain tied for 10th on five under.
The big Irish mover there was Derry’s Mick McGeady who eagled two par-fives in a five under 68 to move up 32 places to joint 24th on three under.
Glasson’s Colm Moriarty also broke par with a two under 71 moving him up 11 places to 45th on level par but still five shots outside the provisional qualifying mark.
He’s still got a better chance of making the finals than Graeme McDowell has of winning the $5m Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City.
The Ulstermen led by a shot overnight but knew then who to watch out for in the third round.
“Thinking @WestwoodLee could be the man to beat this week,” McDowell tweeted. “If I can be one ahead of him tomorrow night I think I may have a chance. #Nedbank”
In the end, Westwood played a perfect round of golf at the Gary Player Country Club, finish 10 birdies in a course record, 10 under par 62 to take a seven stroke lead over McDowell and Karlsson into the final round.
McDowell was hanging on grimly to Westwood’s coat tails, having played his first 14 holes in four under to trail by four with four holes to play.
But it was clear that Westwood’s brilliance put him under severe pressure to attack and he made a key mental error late in the day that all but gifted Westwood the title.
Bunkered under the high lip of a fairway trap on the 17th, McDowell went for a waterprotected pin more than 165 yards away but caught the face of the bunker, barely made it out of the sand and then bunkered his third and misjudged his sand shot.
A double bogey turned a 68 into a 70, leaving him tied for second with Robert Karlsson on nine under, a massive seven shots adrift of world No 3 Westwood, who missed just one fairway and took only 25 putts in a 62 would go down well for any Irishman in Hong Kong or Spain today.
After Harrington’s 61 in 2001 — when players were allowed to clean and place their ball because of wet weather — Westwood’s performance was the lowest score in the 30 years of the Nedbank Challenge.
“If you ask me now (about) the poor shots I hit in the round, I probably could not tell you one,” Westwood said. “I hit it over the flag or right where I was aiming all day. It was as good as I’ve played in a long time.”
European Tour Qualifying School - Second stage
Las Colinas Golf & Country Club, Alicante (Leader -10)
T4 David Higgins 68 69 (-5)
T25 Cian McNamara 67 73 (-2)
T41 Aaron O’Callaghan 68 74 (E)
T54 Niall Kearney 72 73 (+3)
75 Brendan McCarroll 78 75 (+11)
El Valle Golf Resort, Murcia (Leader -10)
T12 Chris Devlin 68 71 (-3)
T22 Niall Turner 72 69 (-1)
T22 Jonny Caldwell 69 72 (-1)
T22 Mark Staunton 69 72 (-1)
T47 Stephen Grant 72 74 (+4)
La Manga Club, Cartagena (Leaders -11)
T10 Neil O’Briain 69 72 (-5)
T24 Michael McGeady 75 68 (-3)
T45 Colm Moriarty 75 71 (E)