Trust is a must for Padraig Harrington if he’s to add to his major haul. And it certainly looks and sounds as if the Dubliner has found some belief in the belly putter he put in the bag last month when he holed more than 100 feet of birdie putts for the second day running to lie just two strokes behind leader Bubba Watson in the Travelers Championship in Connecticut.
While Harrington did not play his best from tee to green, especially withe his wedges, he made six birdies for the second day running with four of them coming from more than 20 feet.
“I’m very pleased with the score,” Harrington said before playing down his chances of a first PGA Tour win since the 2008 US PGA, the most recent of his three major wins.
“There are opportunities but my score is flattering for how I played. I holed a lot of putts out there so I feel like I need to play a lot better at the weekend.
“You can’t always rely on holing 20 to 25-footers so we’ll see. We’ll take it as it comes. I wouldn’t be buzzing with confidence out there, no.”
Harrington had to get up from 122 yards to save par at his opening hole, the 10th, after a pushed tee shot.
He holed a three footer there, then followed a missed chance from seven feet at the 11th by converting a 10-footer at the 12th to get to five under par.
He didn’t birdied either of the two par-fives in Thursday’s opening round but he made no mistake at the 13th, chipping to six feet from the apron to move to six under and to within four shots of Bubba Watson at that stage.
Following a great par save from the back bunker at the 14th, Harrington birdied the 15th and 16th for the second day running. At the 296-yard 14th he drove into the back bunker, splashed out to three feet and holed the putt before holing a 20 footer at the 171-yard 17th to move into second place on eight under.
Having made a hat-trick of birdies at the Golden Triangle run from the 15th on the opening day, Harrington slipped back with a three-putt bogey at the 17th this time around, leaving his 51 footer five and a half feet away.
After the frustration of hitting a 76 yard wedge to 25 feet on the 18th after a massive 350 yard drive, Harrington missed the fairway on the first three holes on the front nine but saved par with a good chip at the second and then holed a 32 footer for birdie at the third.
A bogey at the fourth, where he chipped to six feet but missed the putt was only a temporary set back as he birdied the sixth from 22 feet to get back to eight under par.
Arguably his most important putt of the day was a six foot return putt for par at the seventh that allowed to finish he day tied for second with Patrick Reed (66-66) on eight under, just two shots behind 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson (63-67).
“It was a much tougher day today than yesterday,” said Harrington, who had to battle a stiff breeze and bumpy, late afternoon greens. “I missed a few putts today, which I didn’t yesterday. Had to battle hard. I think I’m quite good in those conditions. I use my head well. I work my way around the golf course. So it was definitely a fighting 66 today.”
Harrington knows that eight under is not going to win the tournament and that he may need another two 66s to get over the winning line.
“Yeah, eight-under par is a nice position to be in,” Harrington said. “As I said, it’ll probably take another eight-under on the weekend. Who knows how that will be done. You could do it in one round. You could do it in two rounds. Who knows. But I’ve put myself in position where I’m contending on the weekend and that’s what you want.”
With the Irish Open next week and the Open Championship at Muirfield in less than a month, Harrinton also wants to build up trust and familiarity with the belly putter.
“I holed a couple of long putts, missed a couple of short one and holed a couple of short one,” Harrington said. “The greens were starting to dry out and get a little bit bumpy so you didn’t really want to be leaving yourself too many.
“The two putts I missed were very straight and it was hard to find the line on them and I just didn’t hit nice putts. I’m better off when I can see a little bit of a line out there and do something a little more definitive.
“I am not complaining about my putting. I am holing some long putts. Whether I do that on the weekend is always debateable - it’s always lucky to hole a long putt.”
Asked about the state of his putting having worked hard to correct his eyesight and then changed to the belly putter at Quail Hollow last month, Harrington said: “I’m starting to get comfortable, no doubt about it. I struggled last year reading the greens, which led to a lot of indecision in my putting stroke, which manifested itself in my giving up the short putter.
“I am trying to be a bit more committed with my lines and the long putter has certainly helped me mechanically get set up and putt better so I seem to be trusting it quite nicely. I am obviously continuing to work in it on the putting green.
“I hit a lot of putts over these two days, last week, the week before, I would have said with nice freedom in the stroke and that’s what you like to see whether they are going in or not.”