Padraig Harrington blew a golden opportunity to challenge for his first European Tour win for more than 15 months when compounded mental errors at the 16th and 17th by racking up a double bogey at the par-five 18th for the second day running at the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa.
Having followed 17 flawless holes with a closing seven at the 18th on Thursday to turn a potential 67 or a 66 into a 69, the world No 89 did his fragile confidence some more damage in yesterday’s second round when he limped to a level par 73, dropping four shots over his last three holes on The Links at Fancourt.
While he did not hit the ball quite as well as he he had on the opening day, the three-time major winner was still just a shot off the lead late in the round when a mental lapse appeared to completely throw him.
Having followed a bogey at the sixth with birdies at the eighth, 10th, 12th, 13th and 15th to get to eight under par, Harrington clumsily three-putted the par-five 16th, wafting his four and a half foot par putt well wide after overhitting his birdie attempt from around 15 feet.
He smiled wanly after that one but was grimacing on the 17th tee when he realised that he had taken far too much club and overshot the green.
Having intended to hit a wedge, he changed his mind and got caught out by what he thought was a change in wind direction.
“I got a bad break at 17,” he said. “Louis [Oosthuizen] hit 9-iron before me and he pitched short of the green. I hit a smooth nine after him and I pitched over the green. I can only assume the wind changed. If I hadn’t seen his shot…”
Whatever the reason for his lapse, he played a marvellous pitch from a swale but incredibly, his recovery came up short on a downslope when it should have trickled to the holeside.
Faced with a 10 footer for par, he jigged on one leg in an effort to will his par putt into the hole but it caught the edge and stayed above ground.
What happened next could take him a few days to forget and it may take the new challenge of a meeting with performance coach Dave Alred in Abu Dhabi next week to help him refocus on his goal of a swift return to the world’s top 64 in time to qualify for next month’s WGC-Accenture Match Play
Having carved his tee shot into bushes at the par-five 18th on Thursday, he pulled his drive into deep rough this time and confessed later than he “made a complete hames” of the hole.
It took him two slashes to get back to the fairway and left with a long-iron for his fourth shot, he found the back of the green but three-putted from an impossible position for another seven.
This time his long range par-putt from ran 15 feet past the hole and he then pulled the bogey effort well wide and didn’t even bother to mark before despatching the ball and grinning ruefully.
He must have been crushed inside as he finished the day 10 shots behind new leader Branden Grace (68-66) and tied for 15th place on four under par with Open champion Darren Clarke.
In contrast to Harrington, Clarke had a good day on the links as birdied the last for the second day in a row [he beat Harrington by nine strokes on that hole alone over the first two rounds] to add a five under par 68 to his opening 74.
As for Michael Hoey, the former British Amateur champion is 34th in the 35-man field on four over after a carding a one under par 72 that featured six birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey six.
But there were no such problems for Grace, who only qualified for the tournament by winning last week’s Joburg Open for his maiden European Tour victory.
Grace leads by four over fellow South African Thomas Aiken and Englishman Lee Slattery on eight under.
A further shot behind on seven under is Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal (71-68) who reiterated that he will not become a playing captain if he happens to win a few times this season and qualify automatically for his own team.