Padraig Harrington salved the wounds of the Kingdom’s All Ireland football championship demise when he produced another of his trademark battling performances to thrill the Kerry galleries and keep the home challenge for the 3 Irish Open on track at blustery Killarney.
The Dubliner is a man with the common touch but he also has something of King Midas about him as he showed at the last, where he recovered from a drive into water by holing a 35-foot putt for par and a two under par 69 that leaves him tied for fifth, just three strokes adrift of the brittle Englishman Ross Fisher on nine under par with a round to play.
His accountant’s brain tells him he must get to 15 under today to win and while that would require a 65, he reckons anything is possible with the help of a hot putter and warm crowd. After all, he was cheered to the echo by 20,857 yesterday
“There’s great support out there,” Harrington said. “I suppose as long as you are holing the putts it feels good. Certainly I am delivering on that end of things so hopefully I play well and keep holing the putts tomorrow.”
Assessing the leaderboard, he added: “I think it would be long odds for 12 under par to win around here. It’s a possibility but realistically, you have to be thinking 15 under to give it a run.”
Fisher picked up four strokes early in his round, threatening to turn the tournament into a procession. But with a stiff wind whipping in off Lough Leane, he double bogeyed the eighth and dropped further shots at the 15th and 17th to followed his record setting 61 with an even par 71.
“That’s golf,” Fisher said. “Every day brings a new challenge. It was great to shoot 61 yesterday and I’m obviously disappointed to do ten shots worse today. But I’m still the man to catch going into tomorrow.”
Fisher leads by a single stroke on 12 under par from Italy’s Francesco Molinari (69) and England’s Chris Wood (66) with Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez Castaño alone in fourth on 10 under after a 68 that included a six at the last, where he went out of bounds.
On a day when Rory McIlroy paid dearly for his aggression and closed with a double bogey six for a 76 that relegated him for third to tied 27th on two under, Harrington dug deeper and deeper the more testing the conditions became to share fifth place with the Australian left-hander Richard Green, who also shot 69 yesterday.
The Dubliner is still not firing on all cylinders but he’s hopeful that he can put the entire package together at the fourth attempt.
On Thursday, his long game was majestic but his short game was erratic. On Friday, he visited corners of the course known only to local botanists but recovered miraculously with the air of a man with a Faustian pact. Yesterday was a mixture of the first two days.
After a morale boosting birdie at the first, where he tapped in from three feet, he bogeyed the fourth to slip six strokes behind Fisher.
He birdied the next from 12 feet and was then forced to conjure some short game magic to save par at the 211-yard sixth, where he pushed his tee shot wide of the water hazard that runs down the right hand side of the green.
A two putt birdie the 513-yard seventh gave the home support hope that Harrington was ready to begin a charge but his title challenge appeared to die when he ran up a double bogey six at the eighth by thinning his recovery chip into water behind the pin.
But as Fisher came back to the chasing pack, Harrington dug deep to play the remaining holes in two under, picking up birdies at the 14th and 16th before celebrating his par save at the last by hurling his ball into the crowd in delight.
He said: “It looked like I was out of it when I double bogeyed the eighth hole so I have got to feel reasonably good about things. I shot 69 and I am still a good bit back with a lot of players between me and the lead.
“But this is the sort of golf course you could certainly get hot on and if I play well and put myself in better positions that I did today, I think it is possible to catch anybody out there. I could do with a little bit more trust and faith off the tee. But I know I am swinging it well.”
McIlroy got off to the fast start he wanted when he birdied the first two holes to get to within three of Fisher. But he double bogeyed the sixth after finding water right and his body language was anything but positive from that moment on.
While he made a chip and putt birdie at the par-five seventh, he started to miss greens and bogeyed the eighth, 11th, 14th and 17th before finding water twice at the last to rack up double bogey six and post a bitterly disappointing 76.
“I let it get away from me a little bit”, McIlroy said. “After I bogeyed the eighth I was back to level for the day. I was trying to shoot somewhere in the 60s and I was trying to push a little too hard and made a few mistakes because of that.”
Crestfallen, can’t wait to get out of Killarney tonight and begin a two-week stint in the US where he will warm up for the US PGA at next week’s Bridgestone Invitational in Akron.
Ulsterman Michael Hoey is five strokes off the pace on seven under after a 71 with defending champion Shane Lowry’s 68 leaving him tied for 12th with Ryder Cup vice-captains Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke on six under after they posted level par 71s.
Clarke played his first 10 holes in three under par but dropped a shot at the 12th and then bogeyed the last two while McGinley simply failed to create chances as he missed 10 of the 15 fairways.
“I played lovely all day and a couple of bogeys to finish is not very nice,” Clarke said. “On the 12th I hit it 345 yards up the middle of the fairway into a divot. It was one of those things. I just didn’t get anything out of the round.”
US Open champion Graeme McDowell complained of his lack of luck on the greens despite firing a third round 68 to get to three under par.
Kells’ Damien McGrane, the leading Irishman after the first round, carded a disappointing four over par 75 to slip right back into the pack on one-under par with Barrie Trainor on six over after a 77.