Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington played together for the eighth time this season in round two of the Tour Championship.
Harrington played well and shot 69. But Woods shot a 68 to lead the tournament by a stroke from the Dubliner and Sean O’Hair.
Instead, the man who has resembled a golfing assassin for most of his career left this free-for-all tournament wide open.
Harrington and Woods will leap into action for round nine of their ongoing private battle at East Lake at 10.20 am on Saturday morning - rain has forced organisers to bring forward the tee times. It promises to be another fascinating dance but barring something extraordinary, the real hay-makers will not be thrown until the back nine on Sunday.
Looking at their duels this season, Woods has clearly performed better. He’s outscored Harrington seven times out of eight. The only round that Harrington has taken on the card was the second at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Invitational, when the Irishman shot a 68 to Tiger’s 69. Tiger’s averaged 69.25 to Harrington’s 71.5r, if you care to know, for their eight confrontations this year. And those figures include a triple bogey eight on the 70th hole in the Bridgestone Invitational, when Harrington had his man on the ropes and managed to punch himself in the head instead.
In fairness, their battles in Orlando, Bethpage and Akron will have zero bearing on what happens over the weekend in Atlanta. With permission from O’Hair, Ernie Els, Kenny Perry et al, these are the undisputed contenders for the heavyweight title these days.
As Harrington said after the Firestone debacle: “We'll do battle many times again."
They both love it.
Recalling the day he came from three shots behind Woods with six holes to play to snatch the 2006 Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in a play-off, he said: “When it was all over I found myself remarking that Tiger really wants to be pushed, no matter what. I could sense his excitement, his focus. Sure he wanted to win, but he also wanted to be pushed. He wanted the competition.”
As for this week, Woods is trying to complete a stellar comeback season after knee surgery. If he wins the lot, he’s a shoe in to take back the Player of the Year title that Harrington “nicked” last year. He didn’t win a major so a seventh win might soften the blow.
Harrington spent seven months working himself into a knot with his swing, gave up and promised to go back to it later. He’s got “clarity” about what he wants to do and apparently, that’s made all the difference. The Tour Championship and the FedExCup cash would make it the third best season of his career. His third stellar year in a row.
So how does he feel about playing with Tiger again?
"I like playing with Tiger — it means you're near the top of the leader board," Harrington said. "I think it's always best to be playing and watching the No. 1 guy. You know, it's always nice to be trying to push him.
"I certainly enjoyed today. I've enjoyed most of the rounds, I think, we've played over the last couple of weeks. You know, keep it going, really. As I said, the way to do it is play your own game, but I've been quite comfortable out there with Tiger."
Harrington - Woods 2009
Bay Hill R 1 Harrington 70, Woods 68
Bay Hill Rd 2 Harrington 68, Woods 69
US Open Rd 1 Harrington 76, Woods 74
US Open Rd 2 Harrington 76, Woods 69
Bridgestone Rd 4 Harrington 72, Woods 65
US PGA Rd 1 Harrington 68, Woods 67
US PGA Rd 2 Harrington 73, Woods 70
Tour Champ. Rd 2 Harrington 69, Woods 68
Tour Champ Rd 3 ??????