The putting gods did not smile on Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry or Graeme McDowell over the first two days of the US PGA at Oak Hill. But while Harrington can no longer do anything about it having missed the cut by four shots, McDowell and Lowry are keen to show they’re playing a lot better than their position on the leaderboard suggests.
The 26 year old Clara man is especially keen to make a move after a second round 70 saw him make the cut a US Major for the first time in his career.
“I feel like level par is the worst score I could have shot today,” said Lowry, who had a birdie and a bogey on each nine and a lot of lip outs to boot. “I was complaining about my putting yesterday but I hit some great putts today that didn’t go in.”
Clearly excited about what lies ahead he added: “I came here to make the cut and try and do alright on the weekend this week.
“I’ve done the first part of my job and if I can go and get it into red figures, I feel like that will be a decent week’s golf.
“There are some good scores out there but it is not that easy. You still have to play well and but for a few putts here and there I would have shot a good score myself. But 70 is alright.”
A far better player now that the greenhorn who missed the cut in the US PGA at Whistling Straits in 2010 or the US Open at Congressional the following year, Lowry has come of age as a golfer.
“I feel like I am a much better player than I was back then [in 2010 at Whistling Straits]. I have done a lot since that,” he said. “I’ve won again, I’ve had some great finishes and a good year in the Race to Dubai last year.
“This is another notch on the belt and I am looking forward to the weekend. I know I was one over for pretty much the whole day and made a good birdie on five after a 360 horseshoe on three and missing a very short putt for birdie on four.
“I was never hanging on and always thinking about going forward. So I’ll just keep doing what I am doing. There is no reason why I can’t go out playing the way I am and shoot four our five under. That will give me half a chance going into Sunday. I might do it, I might not do it. I will just do my best and see what happens.”
Lowry opened with a bogey at the 10th, birdied the short 15th and the tricky fifth but gave back a shot at the tough seventh to end the day tied for 38th on one over alongside the likes of Tiger Woods, Ian Poulter and his third round playing partner Peter Hanson.
“I’ve driven the ball well. I haven’t been in the long rough much, just off the fairway a couple of times, which is okay. My iron play is quite good and I am hitting it in quite close with the greens quite soft.
“So when you get it in play off the tee, it is easy enough to hit decent shots into the greens, hitting a lot inside 20 feet. If a couple of putts that have lipped out had dropped, it would have been a very good day.”
Paul McGinley once joked that there was “a goalkeeper in the hole - and he’s playing a blinder.”
But like McDowell, who felt his 69 could easily have been a 64, Lowry does not want to lament his putting misfortune too much.
“The horseshoe on the third - all you can do about something like that is laugh. And then I went and missed a short one of four and birdied five and lipped out on six. I feel like I am giving myself a chance of every hole.
“Even when I hit a bad shot on seven and just get on with it and try to make my par. I didn’t make my par but it wasn’t the end of the world and I gave myself a chance on the next. I am due a couple so hopefully they will drop tomorrow.”
Lowry is becoming a regular visitor to the US and loves the events and the atmosphere.
“The big thing I struggle with over here is the speed of the greens and I have definitely got used to it as the year has gone on. I struggled last week in Firestone but it takes time and it is a learning curve for me.
“That’s the way I look at it. I am definitely more comfortable over here. There are bigger crowds, different type of tournaments. They are definitely more vocal but that is good for golf. And I love playing in front of big crowds.”
Staying in the present is his biggest challenge and he admits that a call to his coach Neil Manchip seeking putting tips ended up being a psychology chat.
“I’m trying too hard. So I have to try not to try hard, which is hard to do. It’s a strange old game when you are trying too hard and then it’s hard not to try hard because it is one of the biggest tournaments in the world. But I have it sort of half figured out.”
Still, there is the danger of high expectations to deal with.
“It’s hard to stay in the present,” Lowry said. “I will be sitting down this evening and ok, Dufner is nine under but you think to yourself, if somehow I could shoot a good score on the weekend, you never know what could happen.
“But you just have to try and enjoy my evening, enjoy the fact that I have made the cut this week and look forward to the weekend. Enjoy the weekend and try and learn from it. And try and shoot as good a score as I can.”
Like Lowry, McDowell was also frustrated that he holed little on the greens. But he was still pleased to get up and down from more than 100 yards at the 18th for par, hitting a wedge inside two feet.
“Yeah, it would have left a sour test had I not parred the last there,” said McDowell, who is tied for 22nd on one under after hitting 12 fairways and 14 greens in a 31-putt round.
“I kind of hit it tee-to-green, a whole lot better than I played the last two days. I played very solidly. You know, the greens, had a little trouble with them this afternoon, with the rains this morning, they were quite soft and they didn’t roll as pure as maybe they would sort of first thing in the morning.
“I didn’t putt great yesterday morning, either. I struggled on the greens a bit this afternoon, but all in all, great ball-striking round, get back out there in the morning, the greens should be nice and smooth and we’ll get back after it.
“Taking nothing away from the fact that we got a great end of the draw this afternoon, there’s no doubt about that. You know, the greens were a small issue, nothing major at all. We were very fortunate I think.”
Given the low scoring all around him, it was only natural that McDowell was feeling a little left out.
“You feel like you’re out of the tournament and then you look at the computer and you’re in the Top25. I need a 65 to give myself a sniff on Sunday. A 65 puts me right back in the tournament tomorrow morning, and that’s all you can ask for really.
“Scoring has been hot from the leaders, and they are going to be tough to catch. But I feel like I’m driving it well enough, my iron play is good enough. I just need to get my eye on the greens and I’ll be there or thereabouts come Sunday.”
Alas for Harrington, the Dubliner’s thoughts are now on next week’s Wyndham Championship and his struggle to make the Top 125 who qualify for the first FedEx Cup playoff event.
A top 25 finish in Greensboro is required and he knows he must start holing putts soon if he is to get back into the top 50 in the world and somehow boost his chances of not only qualifying for next year’s Ryder Cup, but also the Masters and the US Open.
“I couldn’t convert the putts,” Harrington said when asked to assess his round. “You need to make some putts and I wasn’t making putts so I was really stumped.”
One under for his round with eight holes to play, he needed two more birdies coming home but came to the 17th still two shot outside the cut mark and bogeyed. Another dropped shot at the last simly added to the disappointment.
“I missed a ton of putts today. I haven’t really thought about it but I don’t remember hitting a really bad putt and I remember missing an awful lot of them. Why? It just wasn’t my day on the greens. I certainly I didn’t miss them all short, didn’t miss them all high, didn’t miss them all low. I didn’t mishit them, I didn’t misread them.”
Harrington did all the damage with his 76 on Thursday, where he frittered away three or four shots.
“When I look back on the first round I was only out on a couple of holes and lost a lot of careless shots. Today I wasn’t like that but I wasn’t making up any shots. I just scored really poorly in the first round and really poorly in the second round.”
Looking ahead to next week, he said: “Okay I am struggling to make it into the top 125 in the FedEx Cup. I would be very happy if I played like today next week, that’s for sure. I know it has been all year but I am sure the putts are going to drop at some stage.
“The likelihood - if I make Barclays - is that I will extend my season by a week. It doesn’t make that much difference to my season. If you struggle into the 125 it takes an awful lot to get into the top 100 the first week. Realistically you want to be top 70 to give yourself the first three playoff events. But we will wait and see. Go out and win next week and it is all okay.
“I need probably top 25 or so to make the Top 125. Yes, the Top 70 in the FedEx is where you want to be. But I’d take a top 25 finish in the Wyndham Championship right now, of course I would. Move forward and take your chances. But nobody is giving it to me so I have to go and earn it.
“I will certainly need to putt… be stronger with my short game than I was this week.”