Freddie Jacobson put Shane Lowry back on a WGC-Accenture Match Play collision course with Rory McIlroy as Pádraig Harrington unravelled again on the greens in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera.
The Swede’s opening 68 left him tied for seventh, just four shots behind leader Matt Kuchar and in position to leapfrog Lowry in the world rankings and avoid a clash with No 1 McIlroy in Tucson next week.
Whatever about the importance of the Arizona for Lowry or McIlroy, who needs to impress with his Nike clubs, the desert could prove to be unforgiving territory for world No 48 Harrington, who could find himself in danger of failing to qualify for the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami two weeks later.
Having putted well in his first 11 rounds of the season, the 41-year old Dubliner appears to have lurched into another crisis with the blade, taking 32 putts in a six over 77 last night that left him staring at a second missed cut in a row.
While he had 36 putts at Spyglass Hill last Saturday to miss the cut in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, he at least made one birdie.
This time he made no birdies at all for the first time since last November’s Singapore Open, when he had 66 putts over the first two days.
He missed eight greens last night, using the putter several times from just off the green on day which began with him putting his 44 ft eagle attempt off the putting surface at the par-five first.
Officially it doesn’t go down as a three-putt but it told the story of the day in terms of his ability to read the pace.
Poa greens are not his forte and the surfaces this week are reportedly bumpy - a deadly combination for a man whose confidence in his green-reading is decidedly fragile.
When he saved par from 10 feet at the second and from five feet at the third, a missed five foot birdie putt at the iconic fifth did serious damage.
Sure, he holed an 11 footer for par at the seventh, but he also missed from nine feet for birdie at the next.
Despite it all he was still level par for the day until he hit a poor tee shot into a fairway trap left of the ninth, hit his third shot to the fringe and wound up three putting again, missing a three footer for his bogey.
Suddenly two over, he failed to get up and down for birdie from left of the driveable 10th, hit a bad second and a poor pitch at the par-five 11th to remain two over and promptly hooked his tee shot out of bounds at the tough 13th.
In fact, he had to hole a four footer there just to avoid a triple bogey but then dropped another shot at the par-three 14th, where he was bunkered.
At the par-three 16th he hit great tee shot to five feet but the putt, inevitably, didn’t drop and it was almost a foregone conclusion that he would bogey the tough 18th.
In the left rough off the tee, he shoved his second way right, pitched back some seven feet up the pin and missed the ticklish par putt. In fact, he had to hole a five footer back up the hill for bogey.
His 77 was his worst score in 21 competitive rounds at Riviera, where he has made the cut in four of his six appearance.
Barring a dramatic turnaround tonight, he’s likely to miss the cut and fall to 49th in the world at best in Monday’s world rankings which will be used to seed the players for the Match Play in Tucson.
While it’s the top 64 from this week’s rankings who have already qualified for the Match Play, Harrington knows he must remain in the top 50 to qualify for the second WGC of the season at Doral in Miami in three weeks.
If he misses the cut in LA, Harrington may have to reach the second round of the Match Play for the first time since 2008 to earn enough points to guarantee his spot at the Blue Monster.
As for Graeme McDowell, the Portrush man was ring rusty in his first appearance for 12 weeks, carding a two over 73 that left him outside the projected cut mark in joint 83rd.
Kuchar, meanwhile, fired seven birdies in an immaculate 64 to lead by one from Sergio Garcia with England’s David Lynn (67) tied for fourth.
Lee Westwood’s 68 left him joint seventh with the likes of Jacobson, Jim Furyk and Riviera favourite Fred Couples while world No 3 Luke Donald opened his season with a two under 69.