Tiger Woods gave Padraig Harrington a ringing endorsement as the Dubliner backed up his incredible opening 64 with a 69 to take a one stroke lead on seven-under par in the $8.5 million the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club.
The world number one knows exactly how taxing it can be to have your swing dissected in the public spotlight and while Harrington claims that he has given the deaf ear to the critics who have second guessed him for fiddling with his technique after winning three majors, Woods is impressed that the Dubliner has stuck to his guns.
Having seen the Irish star visit the deepest, darkest corners of Bethpage Black when they played together in the US Open in June, the game’s top player appeared pleased to see Harrington emerge from the doldrums this week.
“Paddy has always done things according to his own accord,” Woods said after a level par 70 that left him five shots behind Harrington on two-under par. “He's worked extremely hard. You know that with Bob, all the countless hours and bad weather they used to practice in to get better.
“We've all admired him for that, because I don't know how many second place finishes he had, but he didn't really win that much.
“But then he kept progressing and kept getting better and better and more consistent, and then all of a sudden, boom, he's a three‑time major championship winner.
“He’s stuck with what he’s doing. You have to believe in what you're doing, absolutely. And you have to believe in what you're doing is right, even though people tell you what you're doing is wrong.
“I've been through that twice, and I think I've turned out on the good side both times. It's just that you're going to get a lot of bombardment, not just from the media but from fans, from friends, family, whatever it may be, they're going to always doubt and question you.
“But you've got to have the internal resolve to stick with what you believe is going to be right and you're going to get better.”
South Africa's Tim Clark is Harrington's nearest pursuer on six under par after a second round 68 with American Scott Verplank a shot further back on five under after a 69.
Harrington birdied the par- five second, flopping a 60 degree wedge to six feet from greenside rough before resolving a couple of tricky situations with aplomb.
At the sixth he was in the trees right of the fairway but cut a seven iron around the branches from a tricky lie in the roots to set up an easy two putt. At the 219-yard seventh, he was fully 20 yards short of the green but hit a glorious, 37-yard pitch to three feet that brought back memories of his 72nd hole save in the 2007 Open at Carnoustie.
His only bogey of the day came at the tough eighth, where his drive hit a tree before it had reached the apex of its flight, leaving him with 255 yards to the green.
He almost got there with a five wood but short-sided himself on a downslope in the rough and missed a 45 footer for par.
A birdie at the 13th, where he drained a 30 footer, got him back to seven under par and he parred his way home to contend in a major tournament for the first time since he finished tied for second behind Jeev Milkha Singh in last November’s Singapore Open.
“I'm obviously happy,” Harrington said. “I shot a good score yesterday that's giving me a great chance at the tournament. You know, anything under 70 from here on in is going forward, so I'm quite pleased to have shot 69.
“Even though you can shoot a low score, to do it two, three days in a row or four days in a row wasn't going to happen. I'll take two more rounds under 70 on the weekend and we'll see how we get on.”
As for the swing critics, Harrington insisted that he has never heard them.
“If I did, I'd fight against it. That's my nature,” he said. “I'd be the very stubborn one who if I was told to do something, I'd want to do it my way. I want to do it my way. That's what's got me here, that's what will keep me going forward. You know, I'm not interested in standing still.”
Having said that, Harrington confessed that he was too cautious at times yesterday but planned to be more aggressive over the weekend in his bid to win a World Golf Championship for the first time.
“I suppose only to be expected when you're leading the tournament,” he said. “But besides that, I worked it around the golf course well, my short game was sharp. I probably should be a little bit more aggressive over the weekend.
Darren Clarke birdied the 16th and 17th for a level par 70 but lamented his putting as he finished the day tied 36th on one over par with Graeme McDowell tied 58th on four over after a birdie at the last gave him a 71 .
Rory McIlroy is 63rd on five over after a level par 70 that featured one birdie and one bogey but Irish Open champion Shane Lowry is second last in the 79-man field on 16 over.
The Clara man failed to make a birdie in a second successive 78 but with Paul Casey withdrawing, he is certain now to earn at least $38,000.