The wait is almost over for Padraig Harrington. Searching for his first tour victory for more than two years and battling a sore neck, he fired a four under 68 to open up a five-shot lead entering the final round of the Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia.
Playing three-quarter shots and with nothing to distract him bar the pain in his neck, Harrington dug deep to get to 17-under par at the Horizon Hills Golf and Country Club to go five clear of Chinese Taipei’s Lin Wen-tang, six ahead of Singapore’s Mardan Mamat with the impressive young South Korean Noh Seung-yul a further shot back.
The world No 22 tweaked a muscle in his neck during his warm up but showed no obvious ill effects as he played his first 12 holes in five under to open up an eight-stroke lead.
He missed a short birdie chance on 16 and then three putted for bogey on 17 as Lin chipped away the lead.
“If I wasn’t leading, I would have definitely pulled out,” said Harrington, who began the day with a one-stroke lead. “I think the fact that I was leading, I’d go out there and play with one arm. It’s still a problem. It was a bit better at the end but it was a substantial problem.
“I got a lot of breaks early on as I couldn’t really hit the ball at all for a good while, three quarter shots all the way. Thankfully I did get a lot of breaks.
“It eased up a little bit on 16 but I didn’t finish very well. But maybe sometimes when you are injured, it makes you relax a bit more. You accept poor shots and get on with it. My attitude was good all the way through.
“The ball is going a long way here. I think I hit a lot of the back of the slopes out there, I carried a few bunkers just hitting the down slopes. As I was hitting three quarters, you get no back spin. It’s just coming out pure top spin. I was shocked. It was running out a long way.
“I had the club down on every iron shot, at least one club. Off the tee where it has felt horrible, when I got three quarter back on the back swing, there was a big restriction. I hit plenty of bad shots but was surprised how far the ball was going.”
Harrington knows that his fate is in his hands and plans to keep his rivals at bay by shooting a sub-70 round on Sunday.
“I’m a little disappointed I didn’t take the eight shot lead through to the clubhouse,” he said. “There’s a lot to play for. It gives a chance to the field, to a number of guys who are close enough.
“If someone goes out there and shoots 64, it might put some pressure on me. My goal will be to shoot in the 60s.
“If someone beats me, I’ll be patting them on the back and saying well done.”
Defending champion K.J. Choi of Korea shot a 69 to move up to a share of seventh place on 209 with Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, who equaled his year’s best round of 68. South African star Retief Goosen was a further shot back in tied 15th following a 69.
199 - Padraig Harrington (IRL) 64-67-68
204 - Lin Wen-tang (TPE) 67-65-72
205 - Mardan Mamat (SIN) 68-67-70
206 - Noh Seung-yul (KOR) 66-69-71, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA) 64-73-69
208 - Scott Barr (AUS) 67-70-71
209 - Scott Hend (AUS) 68-67-74, Prayad Marksaeng (THA) 67-69-73, Jason Knutzon (USA) 70-66-73, Chawalit Plaphol (THA) 71-67-71, Marcus Both (AUS) 64-74-71, Thaworn Wiratchant (THA) 67-71-71, K.J. Choi (KOR) 70-70-69, Colin Montgomerie (SCO) 70-71-68
210 - Lee Sung (KOR) 66-68-76, Kwanchai Tannin (THA) 69-70-71, Frankie Minoza
(PHI) 72-68-70, Retief Goosen (RSA) 68-73-69, Siddikur (BAN) 70-72-68