Padraig Harrington might go to Turnberry with his sixth Irish PGA title in the bag but his confidence and trust in his swing has gone AWOL with time running out before he bids of a hat-trick of Open wins.
The Dubliner couldn’t make a birdie in a two over par 73 at the European Club yesterday but still found himself four strokes clear of Huddersfield-born Simon Thornton on two under par going into the final round.
Harrington's chief rival Leslie Walker inflammed an old wrist injury on the third hole when he was just three behind and was forced to withdraw eight holes from home on a day when veteran Denis O'Sullivan's level par 71 was the best score of the day.
A four shot lead would normally be enough for the world number 12 to take on world number 846 Thornton with little to worry about. But Harrington is so low on confidence that he is not so sure if it will be enough.
"If I was on form, four shots could be a comfortable lead but it doesn’t feel comfortable to me now," Harrington said of his Saturday morning (9.38am) showdown with Thornton. "Certainly not on a golf course as demanding as this one. I’ve proved it myself in the past, it’s easy to run up a score on any hole out there."
Harrington revealed that he hasn’t been this badly prepared for a major since he missed the cut in the Open at Hoylake in 2006 and admitted that he urgently needs to sit down with his mental coach Dr Bob Rotella to find a way of regaining some trust in what he’s doing.
He said: “It does worry me. It makes for a much more stressful three or four days going into the Open. If you have done your preparation right, you are just winding down. But I don’t have that luxury.
"I’ve probably hit the ball the poorest I’ve hit it all year in terms of the shots I am capable of hitting. I’ve probably set myself back in terms of how I’d prepare myself for a Major by about three years – in that I would have gone into the Majors three or four years ago like this, just not knowing what’s going to turn up.”
Despite spending three hours working on the range on Thursday afternoon, Harrington is not quite sure if his lack of trust in his long game is mental or physical. He's hoping it's the former.
“I really didn’t play well but maybe my timing is just a bit off and that can change in 24 hours. I'm happy enough that the putter and the short game are strong.
"It’s probably just a mental thing, probably just a little bit of timing in it and certainly I tried every conceivable cure out on the range yesterday and none of them were really working bar a little bit better trust and faith and confidence and all those things. So I’ll be looking forward to working with Bob Rotella next week."
Walker inflamed an old injury when jarred his left wrist as he attempted to extricate himself from a tough lie just a foot from wooden sleeper in a cavernous greenside bunker at the third.
He parred the hole after two putts but the damage was already done and he gradually lost any ability to use his hand. The first sign of trouble came at the seventh, where he hit a driver straight left attempting a cut back shot into the wind. His provisional ball also went left but the original was found in a gorse bush and he was forced to take a penalty drop and finished up with a double bogey as Harrington chipped and putted for his par four from left of the green.
Harrington holed an 18 footer for par at the eighth after his approach failed to make the green and trickled down into the valley below from where the Open champion played a heavy handed chip and run.
Walker had already lagged his birdie putt to within a two feet of the hole but three putted to groans from the crowd to slip four shots behind his rival.
He recovered with a birdie at the ninth to turn for home just three behind Harrington on level par. But he was icing his swelling wrist by this stage as PGA officials set off to look for amateur international Connor Doran as a possible marker.
The 28-year old from Banbridge had come down to watch pal Richard Kilpatrick in action and when Walker walked in on the 11th tee, he joined Harrington on the 13th.
After a long iron into the rough which he kicked back into play, Doran he birdied the par three 14th and parred his way home to outscore the Open champion over the last five holes.
His pal Kilpatrick slumped to a 77 and is tied for third place with Gavin Lunny of Naas, six shots off the pace on four-over par.
But four time champion Philip Walton and two time winner Martin Sludds retired after rounds of 78 and 91 which means that just 46 players are left in the field.
With bad weather forecast today, officials have opted for an early two-tee start with Harrington and Thornton going off the first at 9.39 am.
Ladbrokes.com PGA Irish Championship at The European Club
Third Round Scores (Par 213):
211 – P Harrington (Unattached) 68,70,73.
215 – S Thornton (Unattached) 75,67,73;
217 – G Lunny (Naas) 70,73,74; R Kilpatrick (Banbridge) 70,70,77;
218 – B McElhinney (Team Ireland) 70,76,72; J Kelly (St Margaret’s) 75,71,72; G Robinson (St Helen’s Bay) 70,74,74;
219 – S McMonagle (Unattached) 69,75,75;
220 – B McGovern (Headfort) 72,71,77;
222 – D O’Sullivan (Club La Playa) 75,76,71; M Staunton (www.foreireland.com) 76,73,73;
224 – M Collins (www.foreireland.com) 733,78,73; P O’Rourke (Green 18) 71,76,77; T Rice (Unattached) 70,76,78;
225 – C McNamara (Unattached) 75,78,72;
226 – W O’Callaghan (www.wayneocallaghangolf.com) 76,72,78; D Mooney (Unattached) 70,77,79;
227 – J Bolger (Kilkenny) 76,74,77; I Kerr (Bunclody) 75,74,78;
228 – M Allan (Pure Golf) 80,75,73; D Gleeson (McGuirk’s Golf) 77,74,77;
229 – G Cullen (Beaverstown) 78,76,75; S Fitzpatrick (Enniscorthy) 80,73,76; J Dignam (Slade Valley) 77,76,77;
230 – T Mulally (Moyvalley) 74,76,80;
231 – J Scullion (Royal Co Down) 76,79,76; J Dwyer (Ashbourne) 77,77,77; D Mortimer (www.foreireland.com) 74,80,77; C Mallon (Narin & Portnoo) 76,75,80;
232 – B Trainor (Unattached) 74,81,77; P Walton (Unattached) 79,75,78; E Tracey (Ballina) 73,79,80; D Higgins (Waterville) 76,76,80; T Higgins (www.foreireland.com) 75,76,81;
233 – C Carroll (Bray) 80,75,78; D Ryan (Cahir Pk) 77,78,78; D McNamara (Portmarnock) 78,73,82;
235 – S Young (Foyle) 75,80,80; K McGrath (Birr Golf Shop & DR) 79,76,80; M McTernan (Co Sligo) 76,75,84; R Giles (Greenore) 76,74,85;
236 – E Brady (Clontarf) 77, 75, 84;
237 – F Howley (Carton House) 80,75,82;
238 – N Howley (Balbriggan) 76,79,83;
239 – M Mulryan (Athenry) 76,78,85; L Bowler (Wexford) 76,76,87;
245 – M Sludds (Unattached) 81,73,91;
Rtd – D McWilliams (Unattached) 74,81,(inj); P Martin (Riverside Academy) 71,79,(inj); L Walker (Dundalk) 67,72,(inj).