It’s not often you hear Padraig Harrington use the words “died”, “disappointing”, “hurt” and “upset” in a post-round chat. Make that never.
Usually a bubbling fountain of positive thoughts, the Dubliner sounded positively devastated that he had turned a potential 64 into a 67 by three-putting twice on the back nine in the second round of the Portugal Masters. He almost made Giovanni Trapattoni look cheerful.
He was just a shot off the lead when he finished on six under at lunch time but sounded for all the world like he wanted to take his putter - the source of all his woes for the past year at least - and commit hara- kiri in the middle of the nearby putting green
Sensing Harrington’s dark mood, radio interviewer Nick Dye tried to get the 41-year old Dubliner to look on the bright side. He’d made eight birdies after all, the wind might get up a bit in the afternoon. Surely he was in a fine position?
Harrington was having none of it.
“Well, I may or may not be by the end of the day, though,” he said, those two three-putts still weighing heavily. “At the moment I’m in a fine position but at the end of the day, I think I was 16th going out; I’ll be doing well to be 16th by the end of the day.”
He was wrong. The wind continued to blow across Vilamoura’s Oceanico Victoria course and with the greens firmer than ever, scoring was tough.
While Ross Fisher survived a first hole ankle twist to hobble his way to a 67 and a three shot lead over morning pacesetter Bernd Wiesberger (65) and joint overnight leader Stephen Gallacher (70) on 10 under, Harrington ended the day tied for fourth with Fredrik Andersson Hed, just four shots off the lead.
Shane Lowry was five off the pace and tied for sixth despite the frustration of two dropped shots in his last four holes. But while the Offaly man finished with a pained look on his face after failing to get up and down for his par on his final hole, Harrington’s putting is plainly driving him to distraction.
He’d knocked them in from all angles earlier in the day, covering the back nine in five under 31 before picking up another shot at the second to take the outright lead on seven under par.
All was well on Planet Padraig as we calculated that it had been four years and two months since his last European Tour win, the 2008 US PGA, and almost two years since he won the Iskandar Johor Open on the Asian Tour in Malaysia.
Not even a double bogey six at the third appeared to put Harrington off his game. He birdied the fourth from 18 feet to jump right back into the saddle. Then disaster.
Around 12 feet from the stick in three at the par-five fifth, he walked off with the look of a man who’d just been hit in the face with a wet mackerel - three-putts from nowhere and he was signing for a six.
Missing short putts has been a cross for the 41-year old this year and while he birdied the eighth, he three-putted again at the last having done the hard part by cutting a low shot under a cork oak in the right rough at the ninth, running it up to the back left corner of the green.
He was left with a slick 40 footer across the sloping green and mindful not to race it past, Harrington came up 10 feet short and predictably missed the par saver low to the right.
“Disappointing day. I got off to the start I needed to. It was quite windy for our front nine holes and then it died down a bit on the back nine. I didn’t really push on - well, I made a few mistakes, and unfortunately the beautiful afternoon, the leaders may move ahead quite a bit. It’s never nice when it’s outside your control.
“….Yeah, it was all going very nicely as I said. It was fine, too. I made a couple more birdies after that. So you know, the double bogey, a bit upset about the two 3-putts at the end. That was a pity. 8-under would have been a nice return, 6-under for the round, 8-under for the tournament, and I can forget about the double bogey. But as I say the two 3-putts are the ones that hurt a lot more.”
What’s killing Harrington is that the three-putts and the unforced errors are stopping him from really going low and winning a tournament. A win in Portugal would catapult him back into the Top-50 in the world and he’s finding it tough to be patient and wait for all parts of his game to fall into place.
A great believer of taking your game to such heights that you can win majors playing average, he knows it’s so close he can almost taste it.
“You’re seeing the average at the moment,” he said of his general level of play. “The average has improved.”
Getting back into the world’s top 50 would solve a huge number of headaches for Harrington. For starters he’d get back into the WGC’s, such as the HSBC Champions in two weeks. And he’s still got the weekend.
“The wind is dying down this afternoon, that’s the problem, but I believe it will be windy at the weekend. We’ll wait and see….”
As for Lowry, the Clara native was tied for second at one stage having mixed five birdies with two bogeys in his first 14 holes. Then came bogeys at the sixth and ninth.
But he predicted a tough weekend on the baked greens and that could be good news for Harrington, who might not have relished a low-scoring putting contest, despite holing a number of great putts over the first two days.
“Quite a frustrating day on the golf course to be honest,” Lowry said. “Even though the conditions were really tough and I played really well, just missed a couple of short putts for birdies and hit a couple of decent shots and actually made bogeys. It just one of those days that I could have shot three, four, five under and ended up shooting one-under, but what can you do. I’m there or thereabouts going into the weekend, and that’s all I can ask for.
“I hit a couple of the wrong clubs. Hit a wedge over the back of the last, which is just criminal really. Just a couple of errors like that, really. I was hitting good shots myself. The greens I found them quite difficult to see a line on the greens. But hopefully go out there tomorrow and shoot a number and see where it leaves me Sunday.
“I was difficult today. Somewhat easier with the wind, you’ve got 5, 17, 12, the par 5s are playing very easy. So they are really par fours and you can pick up a couple of shots there, and you should really be able to shoot a decent score.
“There are really only four or five hard holes out there with the wind. The course is as firm as I’ve ever seen it. I imagine if the wind is like this over the weekend, it’s going to be quite tough. Something in the early teens.”
Far from predicting a 20 under winning total, Lowry added: “No, when I came here and walked the course on Wednesday, these greens have really firmed up, it’s actually quite difficult to hit the ball close. [I’m in the] Top-10, here at the weekend, so, yeah, happy enough.”
As for Fisher, the 31 year old slipped walking off the first tee and feared for a while he might have to withdraw.
But after a physio was called for and strapping applied to his left foot, he battled on and thanks in large part to a 22 foot eagle putt on the long 17th added a 67 to his opening 65.
“I didn’t think anything of it at first and for two or three holes it was okay, but then it started to get really sore,” he said.
“The physio told me I was not doing any damage by playing on. It was uncomfortable for a while, I was feeling it again at the end and I’m just very relieved to get through.
“To be leading is very, very pleasing. It was really difficult to get through the ball and it made it quite challenging to pick the right club.
“My balance was not very good, but I tried to grind it out and fortunately I came through with a decent score.”
On ten under par at halfway Fisher leads by three from Scot Stephen Gallacher and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger.
Gallacher, yet to have a bogey, is seeking only his second victory in nearly 400 European Tour events, but Wiesberger has already had two this season.
Damien McGrane shot a 69 to share 16th on three under while Peter Lawrie produced one of the rounds of the day, a bogey free 67 to make the level par cut with ease on two under.
It marked a six-shot improvement on an opening 73 featuring 35 putts. Yesterday he hit exactly the same number of fairways and greens and used the blade just 29 times, six fewer than in the opening round.
Despite a poor day on the greens, Michael Hoey was one of 21 players to make the weekend on the level par mark after a 72 but Gareth Maybin, Darren Clarke and Simon Thornton all missed the cut.
Maybin shot 75 to miss by two with Thornton’s 72 leaving him on six over.
As for Clarke, reportedly struggling with his concentration following the kerfuffle over his premature elevation to the Ryder Cup captaincy, the Dungannon man had a seven over 78 with the lowlight a triple bogey eight at the par-five 12th. He finished on six over to miss his sixth cut from 17 starts this season.
Of Europe’s three Ryder Cup heroes present only Francesco Molinari will be around for the weekend action.
The Italian shot a second straight 71 to make the cut on level par, but Martin Kaymer’s 75 saw him miss out on two over and Captain José María Olazábal shot a 75 for eight over.