Ryder Cup pressure played its party in scuppering Padraig Harrington’s US PGA chances at Whistling Straits.
At least, that’s the view of Harrington’s shrink Dr Bob Rotella, who reckons the race for nine automatic places in Colin Montgomerie’s side to face the US at Celtic Manor could have been a huge factor in yet another major disaster for his biggest client.
Asked if Harrington had a mental block at the majors these day, Rotella said: “Well you seem to think so. I don’t think that way. Maybe it was just this Ryder Cup thing.”
Ireland’s triple major winner double bogeyed his final hole on Saturday morning to miss the cut for third time in a major this season alone and the fourth time in eight major starts since his US PGA win at Oakland Hills two years ago.
As a result, the Rathfarnham sat out the last two rounds knowing that his latest flop could leave him needing a Ryder Cup wildcard for the first time since he won the first of five caps 11 years ago.
Harrington insists that the Ryder Cup is only fifth on his list of priorities at the start of every Ryder Cup year.
But Rotella’s comments on the “Ryder Cup thing” suggest that Harrington’s latest major reverse was brought on by the pressure of trying to avoid a similar PR disaster that struck Ian Poulter two years ago.
A top-two finish by Germany’s Martin Kaymer in last night’s US PGA could save Harrington’s Ryder Cup bacon and leave him inside the top nine in the Ryder Cup standings this morning.
But there are still two weeks to go before the side is finalised at Gleneagles, where Montgomerie must add three wildcards to the nine automatic qualifiers at the conclusion of the Johnnie Walker Championship.
Had Poulter travelled to Scotland two years ago, he could have qualified automatically for Nick Faldo’s team and avoided the need for a controversial wildcard.
But he decided to play in the FedEx Cup playoffs instead and bid for a potential $10m pay-off - sparking speculation that he had been given “the nod” by Faldo.
Harrington was critical of Poulter’s decision at the time but he is now in the same boat having opted not to change his schedule and skip the first US Tour play-off event and travel to Scotland instead.
He said: “At the end of the day, nobody who doesn’t qualify deserves automatically to be picked. I know at the end of the day it is the decision of the captain. I have worked hard, tried hard and there is no point in overdoing things. If I get picked I want to be ready to play and if it doesn’t happen, I will be disappointed but there is not more I could have done.”
Montgomerie and Harrington have spoken about the Dubliner’s Ryder Cup struggles and the Scot is likely to give him a pick if he needs one.
Hinting that he is confident the will be given a wildcard, Harrington said: “I’ve spoken to Monty and he’s very encouraging. As I say, I think he’d love to see me qualify. It would make his life a lot easier.
“But his life in not going to be easy, no matter what. Whoever qualifies automatically, he’s still going to have to pick three from six.”
As for his decision not to travel to Scotland, Harrington argued that it gives him a better chance of being in decent form when the matches start on October 1.
He was exhausted in 2006 and 2008 Ryder Cups, he knows that he can’t afford to arrive feeling exhausted for a third time on the trot.
He said: “I’m going to stay with my schedule. I feel like I’m playing really good golf and just want to concentrate just on keeping it going, not crossing the world too much and be competitive when October comes round.
“Certainly that would be my theory. I set out a schedule at the start of the year to peak for the four Majors and the Ryder Cup and I’m going to stick with that.”
One of Europe’s stalwart in 2002 and 2004, Harrington was a shadow of himself in 2006 and after inning two majors in a row in 2008, he performed well below par at Valhalla.
He said: “There’s no doubt, I think if you get picked you have a real incentive to go and prove yourself, that’s for sure.
“I think I was burnt out the last time, no doubt about it. I like the course in Wales and quite look forward to being there.
“As I said, it’s down to the captain’s opinion now. He has plenty of choices. There’s no doubt about that and some of us are going to be disappointed. I just hope he can look through to the solid form.”
Harrington was referring to his run of 16 top 10 finishes - but no wins - since last year’s US PGA.
He was asked by Montgomerie to show some form following a chat during The Open at St Andrews two weeks ago.
The Scot feared that it might be difficult to justify picking an out of form Harrington but the three-time major champion came up trumps by finishing second in the Irish Open and ninth in the Bridgestone Invitational in the run up to Whistling Straits.
His main priority these days is to add to his major haul but he admits that he is under massive pressure to produce the good from day one these days.
He said: “I know I have a great chance of winning any major when I tee it up so coming into each one I am under pressure from the start. There is no hiding and it is part of being a three-time major winner.
“You can’t hide from the spotlight. I don’t think I will change anything but I know I get it right some weeks and when I do I’ll win some more majors.”
As for the Ryder Cup, the Dubliner cannot afford to be seen to criticise a money-spinning event that bank rolls the European Tour every four years.
He insists it’s the next most important event after the four majors and more important that the $10m FedEx Cup series.
But by opting not to travel to Gleneagles, he is showing that that is not really the case.
Reflecting on the duffed four wood into a hazard at Whistling Straits’ 18th hole that caused him to make the double bogey that ended his US PGA hopes and damaged his Ryder Cup chances, he said: “It would be silly to think that my last shot there is going to cost me a position on the team.”
In other words, Montgomerie is going to give the Dubliner a pick if he needs one.
After all, few captains can afford to leave out a three-time major winner, even if he is struggling to produce the golf that made him a world beater in the first place.