Pádraig Harrington and Peter Lawrie are in position to end their five-year European Tour droughts after the Maybank Malaysian Open was reduced to 54 holes.
Harrington moved to within two shots of Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat with Lawrie dropping a shot just as play was abandoned due to the threat of lightning to fall three shots behind in the third and final round of the weather-affected event at a steamy Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.
The Dubliners were among the 75 players forced to return to the course early on Saturday morning to complete their second rounds.
And they took advantage with Lawrie firing a 69 and Harrington a four under 68 to go into the afternoon just four shots adrift of Aphibarnrat on seven under before organisers were forced to cut short the $2.75 million championship after thunderstorms disrupted play for the third successive day later in the afternoon.
They both picked up two early shots to get to nine under and share third place with Anders Hansen, Edoardo Molinari, Victor Dubuisson, Gregory Bourdy and Ashun Wu with leader Aphibarnrat managing just two holes as he ended his day one clear of South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel on 11 under.
However, Lawrie bogeyed the sixth just as the siren sounded and said: “It’s roasting here and you have to try to manage yourself around the course constantly taking liquids.
“I’ve played well so far and now being cut to 54 holes I’ve got to try to play the last 12 holes in as best I can.
“Making a bogey just before the siren went was disappointing. Hopefully I can bounce back tomorrow and finish well.”
Harrington was certainly pleased to pick up three shots in the 12 holes he had to play early on Saturday with birdies at the 16th and 17th propelling him right into contention.
“You don’t want to be too far away because you don’t know what’s going to happen the next day if more storms come in,” said a prophetic Harrington - whose last European Tour win came in the 2008 US PGA Championship in Detroit - after 36 holes.
“Five under would’ve left a bit of work to do but at seven under, I’m hoping for another 36 holes and I’m four behind but there are not too many guys in front of me. It’s decent.”
The three-time major winner didn’t get his wish for two more rounds but he would go on to birdie the second and fourth in the afternoon before hooter sounded the arrival of the electrical storm that force organisers to cut short the event.
Lawrie, who celebrated his 39th birthday on Friday, had 15 holes of his second round to complete in the morning and managed to play them in two under for a 69.
After a birdie four at the fifth, he holed a nine-iron from 141 yards for an eagle two at the 386-yard seventh to turn in 32 but bogeyed the 12th and 13th before getting one of those shots back at the 17th.
“The pin was just over a ridge, so I didn’t see it go in,” Lawrie said of his eagle two.
Without a win since he lifted his maiden European Tour title at the Spanish Open in a play-off with Ignacio Garrido in Seville nearly five years ago, the former Irish Close winner then birdied the third and fourth to get to nine under before a bogey at the sixth left him three adrift on eight under when play was suspended.
Harrington also picked up birdies at the second and fourth before the suspension and while he’s struggling to keep the condensation off his glasses and the sweat off his brow in the oppressive Kuala Lumpur heat, he’s happy to be in contention as he counts down the the Masters.
“Traditionally I love it out here and I don’t have a problem with sweating, but this year I’m pumping out sweat from my upper body,” Harrington said. “It’s been unbelievable, but I haven’t had a problem with my hands – I haven’t had to dry them once.
“It’s a little bit awkward with the glasses and they were fogging up this morning and I have to keep taking them off and cleaning them. Besides that I’m comfortable in the heat and that’s an advantage if I have to play 29 holes or whatever it is today.”
Harrington ended up playing just 18 holes altogether and enjoye a helicopter ride from the hotel to the course but was still asked questions about his weight gain having ballooned from 13 stones (83 kg) to 14 stones 6lbs (95kg) over the autumn and winter.
Now back down to around 14 stones (89kg) given the amount of sweating he has done in Thailand and Malaysia over the past fortnight, Harrington explained: “I was trying to put on a bit of bulk from August last year but I did sit down during the Ryder Cup and eat a lot of ice cream for three days!
“To put on muscle you have got to put on a bit of fat and eat more calories than you burn every day if you are going to put on a bit of weight.
“I put on about 20 lbs but I was down to 14lbs heavier but I am probably down to 12lbs heavier now. I will try and keep it there.”
Asked about the majors and his hopes for the Masters next month, Harrington said: “I had a good run in a couple of them last year, reasonable chances but I didn’t putt very well.
“I played well all last year tee to green but I am not quite there yet. I broke my driver last week, which knocks a bit of confidence out of you.
“I was No 1 in the States for wedge play for most of the year last year and I’m terrible so far this year. So a couple of things not so good but I see a lot of good stuff in my chipping and putting which is more important in the long run.”
Asked if he’d fancy giving Masters favourite Tiger Woods a run for his money at Augusta National in three weeks’ time, Harrington said: “Of course I would. He would be favourite, no doubt about that. It would be nice to be in contention with nine holes to play and I really don’t mind who I am in contention with so long as I am there.”
Leader Aphibarnrat moved into position to erase the disappointment of his defeat in Malaysian Open three years ago when he pulled two shots clear with a four-under-par 68 in the second round.
The big-hitting Thai, who is compared to John Daly for his attacking style, ended his day just a stroke clear of 2011 Masters champion Schwartel, who birdied the first and parred the second before play was called off at 4.02pm when the heavens opened.
With 16 holes separating him from a second Asian Tour title, the burly Thai, who has been suffering from the effects a lingering thyroid problem, knows he holds an advantage although he expects Schwartzel to mount a big charge on Sunday.
“I feel better,” said Kiradech, who finished fourth in last week’s Avantha Masters in India and also qualified for the British Open last month. “You can say I have more chance to win now that it’s 54 holes.
“It’s a good chance for me to win my first co-sanctioned title. I still have to do my best and it’ll be tough work tomorrow. Charl is a good player. He’s a top player and he can catch up.
“I will just do my best. If I can keep playing like how I have been doing in the first two days, I will have a chance.”
Schwartzel, who won the Thailand Golf Championship in December and has eight European Tour titles under his belt, birdied his opening hole of the third round to signal his intent of winning his first Maybank Malaysian Open title. He also wants to keep the title in South Africa’s hands following last year’s triumph by close friend Louis Oosthuizen.
The 27-year-old Wu, bidding to become the third Chinese to win a co-sanctioned tournament after Zhang Lian-wei and Liang Wen-chong, parred his first two holes of the third round to stay two shots back of Kiradech.
“I think I still have a good chance. I’m in the championship group and the leaderboard is very tight. It is three rounds now so anything can happen. I have to go back and sleep! Hopefully I get enough rest and play well,” said Wu, who became the first Chinese to win in Japan last season.
“I have to pray hard … My game is in very good shape and I feel confident. Everything is good. I’m just happy to be in this tournament. Any finish is good for me. I don’t want to think about winning yet. I just want to stay happy,” added the smiling Chinese, who is playing on a sponsor’s invitation.
The halfway cut was set an even-par 144 with world No 3 Luke Donald missing the weekend in a regular European Tour event for the first time since he turned professional.
The Englishman explained that his late arrival on Tuesday and his inability to come to grips with the greens and a tight course eventually took its toll.
“I think it’s the first time I’ve missed the cut in a regular European Tour event since I’ve been a pro,” Donald said. “So I’m very disappointed for myself and disappointed for the fans who have come out to watch me.
“It would have been nice to play a couple more rounds and shown them a few birdies, which were few and far between this week unfortunately.
It was a mixture of a couple of things. This course is very tricky. The places where it narrows up tend to be where I drive it. It’s a course that you need a little familiarity with and, with the time change and arriving here Tuesday afternoon, I was only able to play one practice round.
“It was tough to learn the course and it was a long day during the pro-am. That coupled with the fact I had 34 putts today –I just can’t read these greensfor the life of me. I’d
think it was right to left and it went the other way. I got John to read a few too and we were seeing the same things.
“These greens are very different from what I play on. They are a little slower than what I’m used to and I just didn’t adjust or adapt to them. Tee to green I wasn’t that far off. It was just that the usual scoring clubs for me – from 100 yards and in – weren’t good enough.
“It’s been a little bit that way the last few tournaments, but it’s something that never really worries me because I know they are my strengths. I’ve got a couple of weeks off to get ready for Augusta and I’ll obviously be very diligent in my preparation.
“I would have loved to go back in form, but in golf you just never know. We’ve seen it many times before when people go into tournaments with very little form and win – including Majors.
“So you just have to keep plugging and hope it’s your turn.”