Harrington wins mental battle with super 67 as GMac and Rory struggle at Honda

Harrington wins mental battle with super 67 as GMac and Rory struggle at Honda
 Pádraig Harrington speaks to the media after his 67. Picture @  Twitter.com/alexmiceli

Pádraig Harrington speaks to the media after his 67. Picture @ Twitter.com/alexmiceli

Pádraig Harrington felt he turned the corner in the mental game department last week and it certainly appeared to be working as he opened with a super 67 to move into the mix in the Honda Classic at a windy PGA National.

The Dubliner, 43, set the clubhouse target at three under par and ended the day tied for third with Martin Flores and Patrick Reed, two strokes behind little-known Jim Herman (65), who leads by one from Bredan Steele (66) on five under par.

Graeme McDowell struggled to a four over 74  at the testing Champion Course in the morning and ended the day tied for 102nd as world No 1 Rory McIlroy was needed birdies at the last two holes to salvage a three over 73 worth a share of 79th.

"If I'd [just] come from Ireland I probably would be thinking it was a nice day," Harrington told PGA Tour Radio. "But having played the last four weeks over here, even I was struggling and questioning and doubting myself out there." 

"I found it very difficult but I got a nice start and holed a couple of putts in the middle of the round that kept me going."

Describing the difficulty of the conditions, Harrington added: "You just have to man up and hit the shots."

The wind got up even more in the afternoon while McIlroy hit three excellent shots coming in as he birdied the 17th from 32 feet and then two putted the 556-yard 18th by reducing it to a 330-yard drive and a five iron, he was exposed somewhat by the elements and his relative rustiness.

He missed 10 greens and started the round by hitting his opening drive out of bounds for the first of two double bogeys, but he was far from concerned about his game pointing out that he is coming off a three-week break.

Set to face far more benign conditions in the morning, the 2012 champion is confident he can still contend.

"I know that my game is there," said McIlroy who was four over par after six holes before a birdie from 22 feet at the eighth allowed him some respite.

"Today is not what I want to start with but if I can get into red numbers tomorrow, I am right back in the tournament."

He bogeyed the 11th, missing from three feet, and also dropped a shot at the 14th, where he got a free drop from a temporary fence marking the out of bounds boundary limit with some houses but bunkered his approach and missed a 10 footer.

"I shot better today than I did the previous time I played here," said McIlroy, who closed with a 74 and lost to Russell Henley in a playoff 12 months ago.

Coming off a runner-up finish at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and a win at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in his first two European Tour starts of 2015, the Irish star struggled to tame the wind on a water-strewn course designed for aerial golf.

"Guys were all struggling. It was a grind out there," McIlroy said of his afternoon round on a day when the morning starters averaged 71.67 and the afternoon wave 72.92.

Veteran Harrington started the morning and given his experience, he was quickly aware that anything under par would be a great score.

"On a windy day, if you feel you are ahead of the pack, you can make a few more birdies," he said. "It really gets very tough on a windy day if you have dropped a few shots early and are behind the eight ball straight away, you can see no way out. 

"As tough as the day was, and I was finding it tough, I kept telling myself it suited me more than most guys. There was an element of, 'Don't get down on yourself here, this suits you better than possibly everybody else. Stick with it. But I did find it difficult. 

"There wasn't any perfection out there by any means, I showed a bit of flair at times and I've just to trust that it's going to be there when I hit a few shots tomorrow and just try and recover."

That accepting attitude is something that striuck Harrington when he was hitting balls on the range after a poor third round in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera last week, where he came hime tied for 56th,

The finish was nothing to write home about but Harrington, now a lowly 297th in the world and needing a win to qualify for the Masters, confessed afterwards that he felt he'd turned the corner.

Writing in his tour diary, Harrington explained: "I noticed that I was putting a lot of emphasis on needing to focus perfectly in order to hit a good shot.  Once I separated the two and accepted that each can be done without the other, I felt much better about myself.  

"I have been beating myself up about my focus and mental approach and the way I judged it was whether I hit a good shot or not.  On Sunday I used the idea that I can do both, but that they are not necessarily dependent on each other and it felt much better.

"I was much happier and relaxed on the course and nowhere near as tough on myself.  Even though I only shot level par and finished well down the field I came away feeling some much better about myself and my golf.

"It seems so simple when I think about it, but up too now I just couldn't see it. I'm really looking forward to playing to see how I feel on the course again - it was so much better on Sunday that I just want to get out again and put it to the test.  So whilst it wasn't a great week in terms of my finishing position, it was a big week in terms of me figuring out a few things."

Harrington met Dr Bob Rotella for the first time this year at the Honda Classic earlier this week and after telling him the problem, told him that he'd found the solution.

"By separating my mental approach from the outcome of a good or bad shot it made a huge difference to me," he told Rotella.

Having taken it easy in pratice, Harrington was fresh for his early morning start in Florida and scored well.

While he bogeyed the second, missing a three footer for par after hitting his tee shot into trouble, he birdied the par-five third after a good pitch, holed a 15 footer for par at the fourth, a 10 footer for par after overshooting the fifth and chipped dead to save a great par at the tough sixth.

He also holed a four footer for his par at the short seventh to remain at level par before holing a 20 footer at the eighth to move into the red.

A missed a chance from eight feet at the ninth didn't appear to worry him and having turned in 34, he came home in a fine 33 by following six successive pars with a birdie-par-birdie finish.

Having missed seven footer for birdie at the 14th, Harrington cruised through the three-hole stretch they call the Bear Trap in one under. 

Following a regulation par at the 15th, he hit a 200 approach to six feet at the 16th to set up a birdie and then got up and down from greenside sand at the 17th.

At the 18th, he hit a massive 340 yard drive downwiund and shaved the hole with a 14 footer for eagle.

It was a different story for McDowell, who started on the back nine and bogeyed four of his first five holes before running up a doubel bogey six at his 11th, the second, to slip to six over.

He got back on track by holing a 54 footer for an eagle three at the third and then followed that with a 30 footer for birdie at the short fifth.

Back to three over, he three-putted the par-three seventh for bogey, birdied the eighth from nine feet but then bogeyd the ninth after missing the fairway and the green right.McIlroy also got off to a slow start, racking up a six at the first after beiung forced to reload following a pushed tee shot,

The world No 1 birdied the par-five third thanks to a wedge to seven feet but missed the green and bogeyed the fifth before running up another double bogey at the short fifth after finding water off the tee.