Padraig Harrington fired a sensational seven under par, course recording equalling 64 to move right into the Ryder Cup wildcard conversation and grab the clubhouse lead in The Barclays at Bethpage Black.
But after initially insisting the he’d prefer to “take the Fifth” rather than discuss his chances of getting one of Jose Maria Olazábal’s two picks on Monday, he grabbed the moral high ground when trying to explain why he believes the Spaniard will not - or should not - put a hypothetical personal vendetta ahead of winning the Ryder Cup for Europe.
“You know, I was very supportive of José when he got the captaincy,” Harrington said in New York. “I truly believe that he’s interested in winning the Ryder Cup… I do believe José would do this. From the character that he is, I believe he would put winning way above anything that’s personal.
“The Ryder Cup means so much to Europe, particularly to José as a European player. Nobody, bar Seve, would understand in his mind what it means to Europe. Winning is what’s important to him. I think he’d pick to get a winning team, I can’t see personal coming into it to get a winning team, no.”
Many were taken aback by Olazábal’s assertion at the US PGA that Harrington was way off the Ryder Cup pace, hadn’t putted well for a long time and needed to do “something extraordinary” to warrant a pick.
Was he still harbouring a grudge over the row they had in the 2003 Seve Trophy at El Saler, where he believed Harrington had called his integrity into question, or simply stating fact?
Only the Spanish contingent knows the answer to that one - his manager Sergio Gomez thought it would all blow over at the time - but when asked today after what he meant by “something extraordinary” following Harrington’s 64, Olazábal smiled and said: “At least a win.”
Whether Harrington can win under such pressure is asking for something approaching a miracle. He knows his chances of making the team are slim.
“I don’t know where I sit,” Harrington said. “Or maybe I do. I’m Irish, and we pay a lot of attention to the bookmakers and their odds, and I’m sure if I went and had a look at the odds, I would be a longshot to make the team.”
While he’s been playing superbly from tee to green for some time, Olazábal is correct in his assessment of Harrington’s overall game in the light of a Ryder Cup.
It is a fact that Harrington has struggled with his putting for some time and as a result, fallen out of the world’ top 50. He isn’t in the team because he failed to qualify for the end of season Tour Championship in the US or the Race to Dubai finale in Europe last year.
He missed three WGC’s as well as the silly season invitationals in Sun City and Sherwood that would have given him easy world ranking points.
Had he been in the world’s top 50, he’d already be in the Ryder Cup team but he now needs “at least a win” to convince Olazábal that he’s worth bringing to Medinah next month. At the expense of whom remains to be seen.
If he putts like he did today, he would be a terrifying opponent in Chicago. But that’s a big ‘if’ given his form this year. His putting is streaky and when the pressure has been at its fiercest, he hasn’t delivered. Perhaps this week it will all come together. If it does, he would be hard to deny.
“Obviously I got a nice run on the back nine,” Harrington said of a purple patch that brought six birdies in seven holes in a homeward 29 on a track that Luke Donald described as a “a beast of a course.”
“I hit a couple of shots close on 11, 12 and 13, which gave me great momentum, and I putted nicely all the way through my round. I think I only missed one fairway, one green sort of thing, so I gave myself lots of chances.
“But probably I’ve been playing well for quite a while, but this is the best I’ve putted, the best I’ve struck my putts, the best I’ve rolled the ball for a long period of time.”
It looked like it might be a long day at the office for Harrington when he pulled his tee shot into the rough at the 230 yard third, chipped through the green and scrambled for bogey. Yet he missed just one more green in a display of ball-striking that was only overshadowed by his putting on the back nine.
His round might not have been possible had he not got his early dropped shot straight back at the par-five fourth, where he hit an indifferent wedge from just 81 yards to 25 feet and holed the putt.
Confessing that he was treating the event like a US Open and watching his playing partners make birdie, Harrington decided he had to open the throttle.
He missed an 11 footer for birdie at the sixth but got up and down from greenside sand at the par-five seventh, holing a six footer there to get into the red.
He made another crucial up and down from greenside sand at the ninth, holing from 11 feet to turn in one under 35 before going ballistic on the back nine, which he covered in a sacriligous 29 strokes.
Following a two-putt par at the 10th, he went into overdrive, reeling off six birdies in his next seven holes.
He holed from four feet at the 11th, six feet at the 12th, nine feet at the par five 13th and 21 feet at the par-three 14th to get to five under.
After a mere par at the 15th, where he two putted from 25 feet, he hit a 182 yard approach to 11 feet at the 16th and again holed the putt before finishing his birdie run with a 212 yard tee shot to 12 feet at the par-three 17th. Again he holed out from the 10th single-putt of a 26-putt round.
Given Olazábal’s “at least a win” comment, Harrington might be better off forgetting about the Ryder Cup and concentrate on winning the tournament and the FedEx Cup.
Talking about what he has to do or making a case for a pick is not going to help him and he knows it.
“Im pleading the Fifth Amendment on that one,” he said when asked to assess his Ryder Cup situation. “I honestly don’t know what to say. I don’t want to go in there and try too desperately to beg for a pick, or I don’t want to go in there and give excuses for anything. I’ll just leave it be what it is. I’m just going to play golf.”
Rory McIlroy shot a 69 to a 68 by playing parter Tiger Woods and gave his blunt assessment of the Ryder Cup wildcard race.
Spying Harrington’s name at the top of the leaderboard, McIlroy said: “Yeah, I saw him atop the leaderboard giving José something to think about at least. Yeah, I mean, depending on how he continues to play this week, it could be a bit of a headache for José on Sunday night.”
According to the Daily Telegraph, McIlroy added: “And if Padraig wins, he has to pick him, has to.”