Padraig Harrington goes into the final round of the Volvo Golf Champions pursued by the tyranny of results but buoyed by the knowledge that he’s got a great chance to slay some particularly persistent demons.
On a wet and wild day on The Links at Fancourt, the dogged Dubliner brilliantly birdied three of his last four holes to card a three under par 70 and find himself just three shots behind leaders Branden Grace and Nicolas Colsaerts with 18 holes to play, a five shot improvement on his position starting the day.
With just five men ahead of him on a treacherous course, world No 89 Harrington knows that he has a gilt-edged opportunity to secure a win that could catapult him into the world’s top 64, three weeks ahead of the WGC-Accenture Match Play qualifying deadline.
Yes, there are huge world ranking points available in Abu Dhabi next week but this is ideal terrain for Harrington to rediscover the best version of himself. Whether or not he can deliver a trademark performance, is an entirely different, an fascinating, question.
He found two allies in the nick of time on Saturday - a tough course and tough weather conditions - and took advantage of both to put himself in the frame as the leader faltered.
His two-putt birdie at the last - he went for the green in two thinking he might need an eagle to get within striking distance of the leaders - went some way towards making up for the brace of double bogey sevens that marred his first two rounds.
Harrington has been under pressure to put scores on the boards for the best part of two years.
The former world No 3 and three-time major winner has been making changes for even longer than that but his ability to achieve that vice-like focus on a consistent basis has been his Achilles heel.
As he told us after his US PGA win at Oakland Hills, “when I get those scary eyes, I do things.”
Finding the right triggers, routines or key thoughts has been a problem for quite some time and he admitted as much on Saturday.
“There’s a glaring part of my game missing - my routine is not flowing - but going forward I am quite positive I can fix that,” Harrington said after getting to seven under par for 54 holes.
Whether he can find it on Sunday or win without it, remains to be seen. But it could be argued that since this this is Harrington’s biggest challenge since his ultimately futile challenge for the 2009 US PGA at Hazeltine.
Yes, there have been several backs-to-the-wall weeks since then, such as his 2009 FedEx Cup Challenge. But apart from his win in the Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia 15 months ago, the disappointments have far outweighed the successes.
In the 33 official events he’s played since then, he’s been disqualified once, missed eight cuts, failed to get anywhere near contention in a major and recorded ‘just’ six top-10 finishes. He’s also slipped from 19th to 89th in the world.
Another tough weather day would suit him perfectly but he’s not the only quality player within striking distance of Grace and Colsaerts, who are easily the least experienced players in the top-10.
Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and double US Open champion Retief Goosen are just a stroke behind them on nine under with two time Masters champion, 46-year old Jose Maria Olazabal, in solo fifth on eight under.
The Ryder Cup skipper, 596th in the world and without a win since 2005, would be a fairytale winner.
But Harrington and 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen are tied for sixth on seven under, three off the pace, with three-time major winner Ernie Els only four behind after four successive 71’s.
Paul Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion and a bad weather specialist, rounds out the top 10 alongside the talented Swede Alex Noren on five under with Open champion Darren Clarke (73) six shots off the lead in 11th.
Collated third round scores & totals in the European Tour’s Volvo Golf Champions, Fancourt Hotel & CC Estate (The Links GC), South Africa
209 Branden Grace (Rsa) 68 66 75, Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel) 64 76 69
210 Retief Goosen (Rsa) 72 68 70, Charl Schwartzel (Rsa) 75 67 68
211 Jose-Maria Olazabal (Spa) 71 68 72
212 Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 69 71 72, Padraig Harrington 69 73 70
213 Ernie Els (Rsa) 71 71 71
214 Alexander Noren (Swe) 72 68 74, Paul Lawrie 72 68 74
215 Thomas Aiken (Rsa) 68 70 77, Darren Clarke 74 68 73, Lee Slattery 73 65 77
216 Hennie Otto (Rsa) 71 69 76, Robert Karlsson (Swe) 74 70 72, Thomas Bjorn (Den) 71 70 75
217 David Horsey 69 72 76, Raphael Jacquelin (Fra) 71 69 77
218 Joost Luiten (Ned) 69 72 77, Simon Dyson 75 70 73, Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia (Ind) 75 71 72, Oliver Fisher 77 72 69
219 Tom Lewis 68 74 77
220 Garth Mulroy (Rsa) 71 73 76
222 Robert Rock 73 70 79, Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa) 71 72 79, Matthew Zions (Aus) 70 75 77
224 Gonzalo Fdez-Castano (Spa) 74 72 78
225 Colin Montgomerie 70 75 80, Matteo Manassero (Ita) 76 73 76
226 Pablo Larrazabal (Spa) 74 74 78, Michael Hoey 78 72 76
227 Kenneth Ferrie 71 76 80
236 Thomas Levet (Fra) 81 73 82
239 Pablo Martin (Spa) 76 73 90