Padraig Harrington put on “Red Arrows” short game exhibition to jet right into contention for his second 3 Irish Open title.
The Dubliner, 38, sent drives soaring left and right into bushes but produced a Harri Houdini style performance to escape disaster and card a scintillating five under 67.
Playing partner Graeme McDowell was left open-mouthed by Harrington’s jaw-dropping short game masterclass.
But GMac’s caddie, Ken Comboy, was even more impressed, explaining: “That was Red Arrows stuff from Padraig. What a performance. It was the best short game display I’ve seen in my life.”
Five shots adrift of leader Ross Fisher in a nine-man share of third place on seven under, happy Harrington confessed that it felt like old times as he recaptured his short game magic and silky putting touch alongside Graeme McDowell and Damien McGrane.
After taking just 25 putts and getting up and down 83 percent of the time, Harrington said: “It was nice. I played a lot of golf with Damien as an amateur, and I putted like I did in my amateur days.
“It was nice to hole putts and nice to stand over a 20 footer on the last knowing you can really hit it because it ain’t going to miss.
“Other times you’re standing over a three-footer and you can’t figure out how you are going to get it in the hole.
“This time I couldn’t figure out how I was going to miss from 20 feet which is a nice feeling.
“You would like to have both ends of the game where you hit the ball great and you putt well. That’s the Holy Grail but we very rarely put that together.”
US Open champ McDowell was frustrated as he struggled to a one over 72 to survive the cut on level par and confessed that Harrington gave him a short game lesson.
McDowell said: “I struggled horrendously on the greens and I had to stand there and watch chip ins and bombs and all that kind of stuff going on.”
Looking over his shoulder at Harrington, he added: “You’ve got to respect that guy behind me there. He knows how to scramble. He knows how to handle himself.
“It was frustrating for me because I felt like I played okay golf, but it was a lesson. I got a lesson out there the last two days on how to get the ball up and down and I need to take heed of these lessons.”
Harrington birdied the fifth, bogeyed the sixth but then birdied the eighth and ninth to get to five under par.
But the real fireworks started on the 11th, where he drove into a bush, hacked back the fairway and drained a 20 footer for par.
He fist-pumped when that went in and then produce and even another brace of incredible shots coming home.
At the 15th, his 40 footer looked certain to fly 10 feet past but it clattered the back of the hole and dropped.
Harrington said: “I lost my focus on 15. I think I was listening to the commentary in the tented village actually at the time.
“I just kind of wavered off and hit the putt too hard, and was very lucky that it hit the back of the hole and the front of the hole and then went into the hole.
“I would have been very happy if it stayed on the lip and it was a two putt but it was a big bonus it dropped in for birdie.
“It jumped three inches in the air and then disappeared after another rebound off the front lip.”
McGrane burst out laughing as Harrington holed that one, explaining: “It was incredible. You have to laugh. And I can laugh at it all, so it helps.”
The crowd was lapping it up and Harrington gave them more to cheer at the 17th, where he drove into a gorse bush and waited nearly 10 minutes for a rules official to appear.
Fearing he could be accused of improving the line of his swing by straddling the bush, he told McDowell and McGrane to finish out the hole as he waited.
Harrington explained: “ I just wanted to confirm it was all above board and by the time I had taken a stance, the bush had moved a good two feet. But that’s part of the game. The rules worked in my favour.”
As Harrington slashed his way back to the fairway, McDowell sat on his bag at the back of the green and told his caddie, “I bet he goes over the back and chips it in for birdie.”
Harrington duly obliged, canning a lob wedge that was so perfectly struck that he was celebrating before the ball dropped into the hole.
He put the final flourish to his masterpiece at the last by holing a 20 footer but reckons his title hopes depend on the pace-setters fare.
He said: “I need to play well on the weekend. Who knows what could win it. If Ross gets to 24 under he’s probably out of sight for me. But 16-under, that’s realistic.
“I can’t really predict what the others are going to do but I’m happy enough.”
McGrane matched McDowell’s 72 to trail Fisher by seven shots on five under and admitted he has his work cut out now to win the title.