A blank canvas lay before Pádraig Harrington at Fota Island yesterday but the Dubliner could not paint a third round masterpiece in the Irish Open and like a great artist struggling for inspiration, he walked away from the easel with a head full of ideas but little to show for them.
As he stroked putts on the practice putting green before the off, his caddie Ronan Flood used a small tool to put a new face in his Wilson lob wedge to ensure that he had grooves sharp enough for a close shave.
It’s a ritual Flood performs religiously, once a week. But sadly for the fans that lined the first fairway three-deep to see the son of a Cork GAA legend challenge for a second Irish Open title, Harrington didn't display a cutting edge to match his wedge.
While he hit a superb shot to the 16th and a pitch reminiscent of the glory days to birdie two of his last three holes, it was a day that was best summed up by his former tour colleague Gary Murphy on TV.
Having watched Harrington block a six iron into the lake that protects the 165-yard third and then pitch to around 18 feet before two putting for a double bogey five in what eventually added up to a level par 71 that left him six behind Mikko Ilonen on six under, Murphy intoned: “He can almost feel the spike marks on his back.”
Moving day it wasn’t and another seven players scooted past Harrington on the leaderboard, leaving him tied for 15th.
But there was no sense of disappointment from the 42-year old Dubliner, who lamented his lack of luck, especially with the scoring clubs, and expressed the hope that everything that went wrong yesterday might go right today.
“Obviously I needed to be better today and certainly I played well enough to be a good few shots better,” he said. “It leaves me a lot to do tomorrow. If I was eight or nine under par, I'd be quite happy. Back at six under, I really do need a big day tomorrow.”
Lost weekends are not unusual for Harrington, who has not won a tournament on the European Tour since he captured his third major (the US PGA) on the outskirts of Detroit almost six years ago.
He did not putt poorly, taking 29 putts, but he failed to hit his wedges close and in the manner of a man who might have a fork when it is raining soup, his good shots were punished rather than rewarded.
Two examples of this came at the ninth and par-five 10th, which he covered in nine shots when he might have taken six.
“I hit a beautiful shot into nine and I'm looking at it coming down and thinking it's coming down stone dead and I end up taking bogey over it, going over the back of green,” he said. “I made a good bogey there actually.
“Then on 10, I nearly chipped it in there for eagle and didn't make birdie. It was a strange day. I couldn't get anything to go.”
Harrington spent an age over his birdie putt at the 10th but said he hit it a tad too hard. As for his wedge play, it was average by his standards.
“I hit three wedges in the first three holes, all landed in around the hole. One spun back to 20 feet and one released ten feet. You just can't legislate for that.”
He insisted that the double bogey at the third was not a big deal but it clearly took the joy out of his huge gallery and while he gave them hope with a birdie at the sixth, his bogey at the ninth and failure to pick up a shot at the 10th did little to brighten the mood.
Still, there were flashes of brilliance, such as the birdies at the 16th and 18th. But as he said afterwards, he’s not doing anything special.
“I have to hit the ball stone dead to make a birdie this week,” he said. “I'm really struggling. Ten is a perfect example. I nearly make eagle and I end up making par. I’m not getting it done in and around the hole. I’m struggling a little bit with the swirling wind…. just not getting the job done with some of my wedge shots.”
The consummate professional, he will not be giving up as made plain to one of his interrogators, who asked if a Top-10 finish would be a positive.
“What use is a Top 10? I am not going to be remembered for finishing tenth in the 2014 Irish Open. No. I wouldn’t be bothered. I will go out there and try and win, as I do every day.
“A fast start? Yes, that would be the plan. But if it doesn’t happen a fast finish will do it.
“It wasn’t my day but it was nice to finish with a few birdies and that’s two less birdies I have to make tomorrow. Hopefully I can make those birdies tomorrow and give myself a chance going into the back nine.”