Padraig Harrington turns 40 at the end of the month and arrives at that milestone wondering where is career is going. Asked if he stood at a crossroads with feelings of excitement or trepidation, he said: “Both.”
It’s no wonder.
Without a regular coach since he split with Bob Torrance, though consulting with Pete Cowen, he says he hasn’t looked at the world rankings for a long time and is unaware of his position.
Those close to him know that he’s 69th and set to fall further next week. Which is why his immediate future includes a trip to Greensboro in North Carolina for the final event of the regular PGA Tour season.
It’s a trip he’d prefer not to make. He’d hoped to earn enough FedEx Cup points at Atlanta Athletic Club this week to allow him to take a family holiday in the Bahamas, safe in the knowledge that the players that go in the Wyndham Championship cannot knock him out of the top 125 who qualify for The Barclays, which is the first of the four FedEx Cup play-off events.
As things stand entering Sunday’s final round of the US PGA, Harrington is tied for 64th on seven over and if he does not improve that position, he will remain at 130th in the points standings.
Only a top 20 finish could give Harrington enough points to pull out of Greensboro and head off on holiday with his family with his mind at ease.
But that looks unlikely now following the frustrating, five over par 75 he shot in Saturday’s third round.
After breaking 70 in a major for the first time in two years with a brave 69 on Friday, Harrington was hoping to make a move into contention. A 65 would have left him four off the lead but 75 was not what the doctor ordered.
Struggling to hit fairways early on, he bogeyed the second after driving into trees, dropped another shot at the third after going from fairway to greenside sand and then dropped another shot at the sixth where he again missed the fairway and failed to get up and down from another greenside trap.
Frustrated by his lack of accuracy with his wedges, he bogeyed the seventh in un-Harrington like fashion by three putting from less than 12 feet before dropping his fifth shot of the day at the ninth when his approach from the left rough came back off the front of the green to the apron, from where he pitched six feet above the hole and missed coming back.
The back nine was far better - a birdie at the reachable 12th followed by a bogey at the tough par-three 15th.
But the truth is that Harrington needs a spark in his game and right now he’s not playing with enough confidence, or putting well enough, to sustain a score and haul his game back from the abyss.
He said: “Obviously I didn’t get the start I wanted. I was obviously pushing hard early on and I just didn’t do the things and then you know I think I dropped a couple of shots hitting pitching wedges just before the turn, so I certainly left three or four shots out at the end through frustration, and played nicely on the back nine but didn’t hole the putts, but that’s for another day.”
Asked how he would look back on the last two years of his career - a period that has seen him grab one minor win and 17 top tens in 54 starts but also miss 13 cuts - he sounded unsure how to take things.
“Well, all periods are learning,” he said. “Certainly I would have learned quite a bit through this, and it would be very easy when I start winning again to look back and forget it to be honest.
“But yeah, I would have learned lot of things during this time. I’ve certainly learned a lot about my golf swing. I would have learned some good things, especially putting it together on the golf course, and playing with confidence. It’s always the hard one, the cart before the horse, isn’t it. I’m looking forward to when that happens and I start winning again.”
Harrington’s immediate future appears pretty clear, even if clings to the hope that he can somehow turn it on in the final round of the season’s final major.
“I was going out today thinking if I played well on the weekend, I wouldn’t have to play next week and go on my holidays. I don’t know where I stand, but the intention was to play good golf this weekend and now have to go next week. Such is life. I don’t know where I am.
“The FedEx Cup? I’d obviously like to play in it. And the way it’s designed, you never know, you win the first one, you can win it outright even in the last position. So yeah, who knows.”
Harrington might benefit from a few weeks holiday but he has sponsors to satisfy and a world ranking to resurrect.
Qualifying for the 2012 Ryder Cup begins at the Johnnie Walker Championship in Gleneagles on August 29, when Harrington hopes to be playing in the Barclays.
But his immediate goal is to return to the world’s top 50 and make the top 60 from the Race to Dubai rankings who qualify for the season-ending Dubai World Championship.
He’s currently 81st in the Race to Dubai standings with earnings of €235,530 from 11 starts and if he fails to make it to The Barclays, he will return to Europe to rest for a couple of weeks before heading out on tour again.
He’s unlikely to play at Gleneagles or in the Omega European Open at Crans but could well tee it up in the KLM Open before setting out his end of season schedule.
The Alfred Dunhills Links, the Portugal Masters and the Andalucia Masters in Valderrama are likely to figure on that list as he seeks a win that could qualify him for the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai from November 3-6.
After that he’ll defend his Iskandar Johor Open title in Malaysia, which is now co-sanctioned by the European Tour, before the Dubai World Championship brings the season to a close from December 8-11.
There’s still a lot of golf to be played for a man who turns 40 on August 31. He’ll be hoping there’s plenty of life after 40 but right now, time is not on his side when it comes to the FedEx Cup and his world ranking urgencies.