Two-shot lead for Harrington

Brian Keogh at the European Club

Memories of things past pervaded Padraig Harrington’s senses yesterday as he fired a three under par 68 in brilliant sunshine to take a two-stroke lead into the last two rounds of the Irish Professional Championship.

The European Club was awash with colour on a picture postcard afternoon as Harrington thrilled a large gallery tramping the carpet-like fairways with the kind of golf he hopes to reproduce in next week’s Open at Carnoustie.

Leading on five under par, Harrington will be paired today with former European Tour professional Brendan McGovern of Headfort, who birdied two of his last four holes for a 70 that left him two off the pace on three under.

But McGovern’s score was matched by Harrington’s playing partner David Higgins, who is a shot further back on two under. The Waterville man was Harrington’s nemesis in the final of the 1994 Irish Close he recalls as one of his “top five” disappointments in golf.

Yet Higgins’ presence was not the only thing that reminded Harrington of his amateur days and he admitted afterwards that his thoughts strayed to his late father Paddy during the course of a ice-cream cone afternoon.

After carding four birdies and just one late bogey, on his 17th hole, Harrington said: “The weather is lovely and I hear back that everyone is enjoying it. It has the feel of my amateur days with the crowds walking the fairways.

“I did actually say out there and it is one of the few times that I have been out on the golf course that I miss my dad.

“Back then he would be following me - if he wasn’t caddying - in the crowds very close by. As a pro I don’t get to experience that because of the ropes and we are a little bit distant from the crowds. But there is no hiding out here today.”

Recovered from his hip problems and with no wind to trouble him, Harrington had tap in birdies at the 13th and 14th and then holed a 10 footer at the 18th to move to five under par.

Another birdie at the fifth left him cruising at the top of the leaderboard and while he was disappointed to bogey the eighth, where he missed the green with a seven-iron from the middle of the fairway, he was happy to hole a 10 footer at the last to save par to take a slim two shot lead into the weekend.

He said: “I was a little bit disappointed to bogey my second last hole from the middle of the fairway. Those are the ones I’m here to work on and a reminder of what I’m here to do.

“By virtue of the fact I’m getting ready for this week I’m giving this tournament 100 per cent. I want to get my game right here so I’m not trying to get it right next week.”

McGovern, 40, is under no illusions about the size of the task facing him this weekend but he feels that if conditions remain as windless, he will have more of a chance of keeping pace with long-hitting Harrington.

“As long as I play my game round here I will do okay,” McGovern said. “It is a golf course that you have to keep your head on or you could take a seven, eight or nine on any hole. It suits the old dog for the hard road.”

Former Walker Cup star Noel Fox, 33, is also there on level par after carding a one over par 72 on a windless morning with Philip Walton and Mallow based Michael Collins the next best on two over.