Padraig Harrington’s landmark first event with the belly putter ended with another first - he finished joint last in a strokeplay tournament for the first time since he turned professional more than 17 years ago.
As Rory MIlroy shrugged off a testing day on Quail Hollow’s much-maligned greens, taking 33 putts in a one under 71 that left him tied for fourth and just three shots behind leader Phil Mickelson, Harrington added a 75 to his opening 80 to finish last in the 156-man field alongside England’s Greg Owen on 11 over par.
While the poor state of the greens has been a major talking point all week, promptiing Sergio Garcia to theatrically chip a five footer over a spike mark into the hole at one stage before later denying claims of cheating in another incident brought to light by golf’s couch police, Harrington’s decision to put a belly putter in his bag for the first time was an abject failure.
He averaged 33 putts per round, missed five times from four feet or less and holed just one putt outside 10 feet in two days.
Whether he sticks to his guns and continues to anchor a belly putter in The Players Championship at Sawgrass next week remains to be seen. It’s certainly too early to draw conclusions about his decision until after he’s played the perfect putting surfaces in Jacksonville’s TPC Sawgrass.
Quite apart from his putting, the 41-year old Dubliner is clearly not even close to his best in any department of the game and his record at Sawgrass since the event moved from March to May is horrific - T52, cut, T49, cut, cut, cut.
McIlroy is not great lover of Sawgrass either but he clearly loves Quail Hollow, where he announced his arrival on the US stage with that remarkable closing 62 for a six shot maiden win in 2010 before finishing second to Rickie Fowler after a play-off last year.
The world No 2 has slowly found form this season and quelled chatter about his move to Nike equipment in the off-season. Having correct some of the bad habits that had crept into his swing over the off season , he is now driving the ball exceptionally well and had it not been for some mediocre putting, he would be even closer to leader Mickelson, who has holed 31 of 31 putts inside 10 feet so far this week.
McIlroy began his second round by knocking his 16 foot birdie putt at the 10th eight feet past. A three-putt there was followed by seven pars and a bogey at the 18th before he got into the groove on his homeward nine, picking up three birdies without a blemish.
“That was a nice little wake up call,” McIlroy said of his early three-putt. “Apart from that, I played well. I gave myself plenty of chances again, didn’t hole as many putts as yesterday, but you’re not going to hole every putt on these greens. So as long as I keep giving myself chances that is the most important thing.
“The greens were a lot faster today than they happened to be yesterday afternoon. It took a little bit of time to get adjusted. But I think this week it’s all about fairways and greens. If you can do that, not every putt’s going to drop, but I think if you’ve given yourself the chances, you take a few of them and you’ll be right there.”
Commenting on his haul of 33 putts, McIlroy added: “I think it shows how the rest of my game is that I’m still right there and still able to score.”
While things can change rapidly, his play shows how far Harrington is from the top level right now.
As for Mickelson, left-hander produced some magical putting as he produced six birdies and dropped just one shot in a 67 that left him two shots clear of Scott Gardiner, Nick Watney and George McNeill on nine under par.
He’s had just 50 putts in two rounds, which makes him the exception to McIlroy’s pre-tournament claim that the poor greens would take the players who rely on their putting out of the mix and reward the better ball-strikers.
“I think that the greens are putting very, very good, obviously, because I’ve putted them well,” said Mickelson, who recovered from a lone bogey at the 12th with a stunning 48 foot bunker shot that whizzed back to five feet from the hole at the 14th before making another birdie at the next.
“But with them being slower, we’re able to putt them aggressively. We’re able to take some of the break out without fear of racing it way by.
“And I’ve made a concerted effort to leave uphill putts, which has allowed me to putt even more aggressive and play even less break. And that’s made a big difference in my putting.”
As for Garcia, the Spaniard had an adventurous day and could considered fortunate not to have incurred a two-stroke penalty.
He first grabbed the limelight when he used his wedge to chip a five-footer over a scrap mark left by spikes into the hole on the third.
“I thought the only way I could make this putt was to get lucky,” said Garcia, who hurt his back on the 10th and then faced questioning by rules officials for a possible breach of the rules in replacing his ball on the 17th green.
Having shot 68 to finish tied for 13th on four under, he didn’t immediately sign his caard as officials reviewed the tape of the way he marked and replaced his ball on the 17th green.
Calls to Sky Sports in London resulted in them making a call to PGA Tour officials at Quail Hollow, leading to a video review that concluded that he had done nothing wrong.
Replays on Sky appeared to show that Garcia marked his ball to the side to avoid stepping on a playing partner’s line and then replaced the ball in front of the coin.
According to agency reports:
Garcia, demonstrating later for reporters, said he slid the coin to the side of the ball, and turned his hand around when he replaced the ball so he wouldn’t brush the coin. He said it appeared his ball was a fraction of an inch away from the original spot.
PGA TOUR rules officials signed off on it, and Garcia said they even called the USGA to confirm.
“I said, `If you guys feel like I gained something by moving it — I don’t know how much, like a centimeter or couple centimeters, whatever it is — I’m fine with the two-stroke penalty. I’d rather take the two-stroke penalty than come out here like I was a cheater,’” Garcia said. “Obviously, they felt that wasn’t the case. I told them exactly what I did, and they felt it was fine.”