Padraig Harrington whipped up a storm of his own to keep his FedEx Cup chances alive and challenge for victory in the hurricane-threatened Barclays in New Jersey.
With PGA Tour officials opting to reduce to first play-off event to 54 holes because of the imminent arrival of Hurricane Irene, the Dubliner goes into today’s final round tied for fifth place, just four shots behind defending champion Matt Kuchar on 10 under par after rounds of 65 and 67.
Resuming his weather-delayed opening round at four under with seven holes to complete, Harrington birdied the par-five 12th, bogeyed the 13th but then picked up shots at the 16th and 18th to card a six under 65 that represented his lowest round anywhere since he opened with an eight under 64 en route victory in the Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia 10 months ago.
And it obviously gave him the confidence to go on the attack when he headed straight out for his second round and fired seven birdies a four under par 67 - his sixth consecutive round in the 60’s.
Having only just squeaked into The Barclays as the 124th of the 125 qualifiers from the regular FedEx Cup points season, Harrington needs only a top-30 finish to make the top 100 who qualify for next week’s Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston.
He was projected to move to 58th last night and he will remain there if the final round is abandoned due to the weather. However, he has set his sights on a victory that would give him a fighting chance of winning the €11 million FedEx Cup bonus next month and hopes to go on another birdie blitz.
On being four behind, Harrington said: “It’s a lot to ask, but the golf course is a good scoring course and somebody is going to get on a run tomorrow and shoot a low one. It is hard to pick up four shots but hopefully it’s going to be me.”
On a day when Graeme McDowell followed a one over 72 by storming home in 30 for a nine-birdie 65 that keep his play-off hopes alive, Harrington was wondering if he will pay a high price for yesterday’s bogeys in what promises to be a cavalry charge finish today.
“I’m sure like everybody else I feel like I’ve left an awful lot out there,” said Harrington, who was told by his caddie that the event was being reduced to 54 holes when he had just six holes to play. “I certainly missed a lot of chances but the golf was good. I’ve played well two days in a row now and created a lot of chances.
“It’s nice to be somewhat in the tournament and feeling there is a little bit more in the tank. I don’t know whether or not to rue making three bogeys today, which is a lot and I also missed three or four short birdie putts.
“But I am sure everyone is coming off the golf course the same way as me. You really feeling you are going backwards when you make a bogey out there. But the greens are tough so very rarely do you have a straightforward putt.”
Ranked a tenuous 93rd in the FedEx Cup standings starting the week, McDowell’s play-off run looked over when he slipped to two over with 14 holes to play. But he played them in seven under par to make the cut with only a shot to spare on five under.
Kuchar added 65 to his opening 63 to lead by a shot from Dustin Johnson (63), Vijay Singh (64) with Jonathan Byrd (66) three shots off the pace in fourth place on 11 under.
Harrington backed the decision to cut the event to 54-holes and confessed that he was playing with greater freedom having made it into the play-offs with nothing to lose.
Despite being projected to move to 58th in the FedEx Cup rankings, he was adamant that he’d rather to have a chance of winning the tournament than a free move to Boston in the event of a final round wash out.
One of his playing partners yesterday, William McGirt, is also threatening to make a dramatic move in the FedEx Cup rankings on Saturday.
The last man to qualify for The Barclays, he shot rounds of 64 and 69 to share ninth place, just five shots off the pace on niner under.
But when asked if they had played with “desperation” as the last two qualifiers in the field, Harrington perferred another description.
“I wouldn’t say we played with desperation,” he said. “I think there was a bit of freedom in it. We had nothing to lose. We were the last men in. Definitely not desperation. Certainly more freedom, and it’s harder for the guys who are in, they feel like they are going to lose out. The guys who aren’t in feel ‘I’m losing nothing this week.’”
Asked if it felt a little like gambling in a casino with house money, he said: “Yeah, that’s kind of it. It’s a free run.”
McDowell’s 65 was just what he needed to turn a disappointing season around and while he is unlikely to win, he needs just one more steady round to make it into the Deutsche Bank, which is scheduled to start in Boston next Friday, hurricane permitting.