You never forget how to ride a bike but like an anxious parent watching a child speed away without the stabilisers for the first time, anyone who's been observing Pádraig Harrington recently feared the worst as he completed his second round in the HP Byron Nelson Classic at TPC Four Seasons Resort.
They needn't have worried that he'd miss the cut for the third time out of three this year after opening round in the 60s. Wielding his putter like the Harrington of old — the one who won his third majors in 13 months more than five and a half years ago — the 42-year old Dubliner had 11 single putts and 25 all told in a second successive 68 to go into the weekend just four shots behind surprise leader Brendon Todd on four under par.
He's tied for 15th on another tightly packed PGA Tour leaderboard — four shots cover the top 18, five the top 24 — on a day when Irish Open champion Paul Casey went out in a messy 36 only to skate home in a God-like 27 to shoot 63 with homeward figures of 334 233 333 and tie the all time low back nine on the PGA Tour.
That was only good enough in the end for an eight-way share of second place alongside Canadians Graham DeLaet (66) and Mike Weir (66), Americans Morgan Hoffman (66), Tim Herron (66) and Charles Howell II (66), last week's Players Championship winner Martin Kaymer (67) and the impressive Aussie Marc Leishman (68).
Harrington's 25 putt round featured four birdies. But it began with a double bogey six at the tough, 528 yard third where he hit his tee shot into water onthe right and had to hole an eight footer to avoid making a triple.
Having confessed himself only seven days ago that he simply can't "get away from it" — meaning the cut line — it was tempting to watch the rest of his round through one's fingers.
We needn't have worried as he holed putts from every corner of Irving — an eight footer for birdie at the fourth, a six footer for another birdie at the sixth and a 39 foot bomb for yet another birdie at the ninth.
When he knocked in a five footer after a 66 yard pitch at the 11th, he was in contention and yet it was always tempting to wonder if there was a disaster waiting to happen.
But on he ploughed. Even when he managed to save par from nine feet after zig-zagging his way up the par-five 16th, he provided his daily dose of drama at the 429-yard 18th.
He drove left into a lake and while he was comfortably five strokes inside the cut mark, one wondered if there was any way he could take a 10.
After a drop in the fairway at the lateral hazard, he hit a 185-yard approach to 15 feet and inevitably rolled home the putt for his first back-to-back rounds in the 60s anywhere for seven months and his first brace of sub-70s on the PGA Tour since last June's Travelers Championship.
On that occasion he went 66-66-72-80 but if he were to go on to win in Texas on Sunday, he would arrest his freefall in the world rankings and move up from 206th to around 84th.
That wouldn't be enough to qualify directly for the US Open but one suspects that Harrington is staying rooted in the presence and his battle to slowly improve his putting.
Having changed his method of alignment recently and moved to the fat grip this year, he clearly feels he's on to something.
When asked about his first two rounds and his game havign fallen out of the top 200 in the world recently for the first time in 14 years, he was frank.
“Look, my game hasn't been as good this year,” Golf Channel's Jason Sobel reported. “I'm addressing it, and I feel I'm addressing it the right way. I see some positive signs. A lot has to do with my putting. It hasn't been so strong and that feeds back into the game. I'm seeing some good stuff. It's not an overnight thing.”
This could be a watershed week for Harrington, who is tied for 15th with James Hahn, Matt Kuchar and Louis Oosthuizen.
As he said last week: "I am the guy sitting there looking over my shoulder all the time. But this changes. And when it changes I will get two years out of a good run, and it will happy days. All will be forgotten and we will wonder whatever happened."
Harrington's putting on Friday
- 4ft for par
- 7ft for par
- 8ft for double bogey
- 8ft birdie
- [2 putts from 9ft]
- 6ft birdie
- 11 inches for par
- [2 putts from 31 ft]
- 39ft for birdie
- [2 putts from 10ft]
- 5ft for birdie
- [2 putts from 50ft]
- [2 putts from 12ft]
- [2 puttts from 35ft]
- 9ft for par
- 10 inches for par
- [2 putts from 25 ft]
- 15ft for par