From Brian Keogh in Tucson
Padraig Harrington’s hopes of winning his first world title evaporated in the desert sun of Arizona when he lost by one hole to Stewart Cink in the second round of the WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship at The Gallery Golf Club.
At one stage it looked as though the Dubliner would exit like a lamb as he trailed by four holes after six in the energy sapping heat at Dove Mountain on the outskirts of Tucson.
But Harrington is Harrington and in the end he went out like a lion - battling his way back to just one down with one to play before cruelly lipping out of the tournament from 10 feet at the 18th, when a birdie would have forced extra holes
It was Harrington at his exasperating, exciting, frustrating best. Or worst.
As Tiger Woods cruised to a 5 and 4 win over Tim Clark and Phil Mickelson crashed to 3 and 1 defeat to England’s Justin Rose, the Irishman had no complaints about a defeat that could have been far more punishing.
“It was always going to be difficult after that start - you can’t give a four hole lead to anybody,” he said. “The first six holes all went against me. Any hole I looked like winning, I halved and four of the holes I could have halved, I lost.”
The Dubliner claimed on Wednesday that fatigue would not be a factor against US Ryder Cup player Cink.
But while refused to grab that excuse afterwards, he looked anything but comfortable as he lost the second, third, fourth and sixth to par figures by the American Ryder Cup star.
It looked like a case of being suckered by sucker pins, most of which which were stuck on the corner of greens or next to tricky slopes.
But Harrington refused to brook that argument, explaining: “It wasn’t the pins. I just didn’t hit good shots or do anything particularly well. I left myself with those ten footers, which are never easy. A combination of better irons shots, better chipping and better putting would have made the pars.”
At the second, Harrington went for the pin, which was cut just five paces from the left edge but saw his 160 yard approach kick off the green into the fluffy rough.
Cink had the luxury of playing safely to the middle of the putting surface, securing a two putt par which Harrington failed to match after his cut up wedge finished nine feet short of the pin.
Another Harrington error at the 225 yard third gifted Cink yet another hole in par.
This time the European number one over-clubbed and kicked off the back edge, from where he chipped poorly and missed from ten feet.
Now two down, it got worse at the fourth, where he again short-sided himself after taking another dangerous pin and took three to get down from 20 feet after leaving his delicate chip more than eight feet short.
There was no respite for Harrington at the par-five fifth, where he missed a six foot birdie putt for a much needed win after Cink had twice tangled with the desert down the right hand side before saving par from four feet.
After all that had gone on before, it was no surprise when Harrington fell further behind at the 450 yard sixth, where he was just off the edge of the green in two but missed a four footer for par to go four down.
A winning birdie at the seventh left him three down at the turn. And while Cink won the 10th to go four up before Harrington fought his way back to one down with three to play only to lose the 16th in the most frustrating manner.
After a fine tee shot to 30 feet, he putted off the front of the green to go two down again but dug deep to win the par five 17th and set up a dramatic finale that ended with that 10 footer lipping out.
“It was tough start but ultimately I hit a good ten footer at the last to go up play-off holes and I was picking it out of the hole but it didn’t go in. It was breaking left to right into the hole all the way and when it got to the hole it straightened out and caught the lip.
“It is just the nature of the game and the 16th really hurt after hitting such a good tee shot. I putted it off the other side and ended up losing the hole.
“My concentration was terrible but tiredness was not to blame. I wouldn’t blame that. It’s a pity because I tried to tell myself if I have a ten footer at the last to get tie holes, that will be good.
“I ended up with a ten footer on the last, I hit a good putt and it didn’t go in. I am disappointed. But just disappointed that I didn’t win my match, nothing else.”
Harrington wasn’t the only one left reflecting on what might have been as Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia also lost on a sweltering day in the Sonoma desert.
Donald was three up after 12 holes but eventually lost by one hole to an 18th hole birdie by Aaron Baddeley and while Garcia was soundly beaten, four and three, by Nissan Open winner Charles Howell III.