One shot can make all the difference in golf and in Padraig Harrington’s case it was a towering cut with a hybrid that finished just 12 feet from the hole at the 236-yard 15th in the second round of the US PGA.
So significant was the sensational birdie two that the Dubliner made at the second hardest hole at Atlanta Athletic Club that he has now decided to cancel a planned family holiday and contest next week’s Wyndham Championship in Greensboro.
The reason for Harrington’s change of plans is his first sub 70 round in a major since day three of the 2009 US PGA at Hazeltine.
Not only did Friday’s one under par 69 allow him to make the cut with two strokes to spare, it also means he has a chance to make the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings when they are finalised in North Carolina after final event of the regular season next week. It’s a real turnaround from last week, when he was adamant he would not travel to Greensboro.
Ranked 130th in the standings following a horrendous season, Harrington is now projected to rise to 122nd if he remains tied for 39th.
He has greater ambitions than that but he would be crazy not to contest next week’s final counting event and risk failing to qualify from the first of four play-off events, The Barclays in New Jersey, and miss out on the chance to compete for the $10m annuity awarded to the top points earner following next month’s Tour Championship.
Of course, Harrington’s primary goal is to add to his haul of three major wins and he admits that if he can regain some trust in his swing, he may have enough game to repeat his feat of Oakland Hills three years ago when he fired a pair of 66s at the weekend to claim the US PGA title.
The shot at the 15th was hugely significant for Harrington who was three over par for the championship, level for his round, when he stood on the tee.
He had hoped to head into the last four, fearsome holes with some shots in the bank but after cancelling out birdies at the first and fifth with bogeys at the fourth and eighth, he had no margin for error.
“I wasn’t exactly that confident about aiming, you know, a club that I couldn’t carry the water, so I took a club that I could carry the water,” he said of a shot that carried the lake by a yard. “The danger was I could hit it long left, as well. So I hit a really nice cut shot in there. It was perfectly struck. Gave my caddie a bit of a fright but I knew I had hit it well enough.”
Nothing but a victory will satisfy Harrington, though he admits that he must be perfect mentally to have a chance.
Could it turn out to be the shot that saves his season?
Grinning, Harrington said: “ Yes, it could turn my year around. Of course it could. Of course it could turn my year around. But I’m not saying it will.”
After finishing with three solid pars, he said: “I’m happy that I finished well. The last couple of holes I hit the ball well and performed nicely on the last couple of holes, and obviously that takes some confidence into tomorrow and the weekend.
“Obviously I was a bit ropey in the middle of the round at times but I got the job done, and obviously from 2-over par I do need to be at peace with my golf swing the next two days if I’m going to win this, but at least I’m in there.
“I think one of my big issues over the last couple of years is when things go awry, I haven’t been able to fix it on the golf course. And at least the last four holes, I did seem to fix it.
“I’m at peace with my game over the next two days, you know, and I would need to be, I’ll want to be right there mentally for the next two days but guys are shooting 6 or 7under par in a given round.
“So you’ve got to think, it’s a big weekend but I’m sure if I shot the two 66s that I shot in Oakland Hills, I wouldn’t be too far away.
“I haven’t felt good about my game at all. But as I said the last couple of holes, they were definitely better, so hopefully might take that in for the next 36 holes.
“I wouldn’t accept anything you were offering to me bar first place, I would take my chance. Saying that obviously different performances will have merit at the end of the week.
“But the fact is, nobody is going to give me anything, anyway. I have to go out there and play it. But I take my chances. Even if you gave me a Top10, I’d take my chances.”
Harrington’s playing partners had mixed weeks. Tiger Woods, his game in disarray, shot 73 and missed the cut by six shots. But veteran Davis Love III, next year’s US Ryder Cup captain, is just four shots behind leaders Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley on one under after a 71.
“Anybody who is going to win a major title especially if you’re a good way behind, you’ve got to have there cannot be any clutter up there. You have to be very can comfortable with your putting, with your wedge play, with your short game and obviously with your long game.
“So I think to come from seven or so shots behind, I would want to have a big weekend and to have a big weekend, you really would want to be on top of your game.
“You know, Davis looks like he’s on top of his game. He looked very comfortable out there. I didn’t feel so comfortable. I’m just hoping that I wake up tomorrow and it all falls into place.”
The good news is that he likes the course.
“It sets up well for me, yes. It does set up well for me. I like the challenge around the greens. They are very intimidating and you really have to be you have to have a great short game around these greens.”
Returning to his shot on the 15th, he conceeded that it was significant.
“I think it helps. It was a nice shot hit under pressure, because I had not played the previous five or six holes. I had not hit a really good shot at all.
“So it was in my head, you know, my intention was to get a few more under coming into that tough stretch so that I wouldn’t be forced into going for anything. But obviously when I didn’t I think I had four wedge shots, 9, 10, 12 and 13 and I didn’t make birdie. So obviously my back was to the wall at that stage. So it was nice to make a birdie there and then obviously play the last three well, as well.”
“I’ve got to get my head in the right place. I doubted my alignment a few times today and snatched at shots and just have to trust it a bit more. Obviously that’s what I was alluding to. If you wake up tomorrow and it all falls into place and you have lovely trust and you’re comfortable, yeah, you can shoot the scores, as guys are showing.
“If you’re in the right place mentally out there, you definitely can shoot a good score which is a great sign for a major. You want a golf course that if you hit good golf shots, you can make birdies. You don’t want a golf course that everybody has to play away from the pins.”