Harrington happy to chase rainbow's end as Honda heads for Monday finish

Harrington happy to chase rainbow's end as Honda heads for Monday finish
Pádraig Harrington and his caddie, Ronan Flood, at the Honda Classic

Pádraig Harrington and his caddie, Ronan Flood, at the Honda Classic

A lot has happened in Pádraig Harrington's world since he won the 2005 Honda Classic but as he takes a one -stroke lead into the last two rounds at a storm hit PGA National it's clear that his reliance on the mental game is now key.

Having won three majors and then lost his game, suffering the putting yips along the way, the  Monday finish that has now been declared  (play restarts at 10am with no redraw for round four) after a violent, tropical rainstorm submerged the course an hour before his third round tee time, will not worry Harrington.

More worrying were the back to back bogeys he made to complete a second round 66 and go from three to just one ahead of the combative young American Ryder Cup player Patrick Reed on seven under par

As is often the case, Harrington's post round comments were entertaining and he stuck to his old reliables when it came to the psychology of the game.

It was perhaps least surprising to hear him take the pressure off himself by reminding everyone of something that has served him well throughout his career — it doesn't have to happen this week.

“It’s a good place to be in," he said of his first 36-hole lead in the US since the 2010 Transitions Championship, where he came home tied eighth. "I think I can deliver more performances like this so I’m not panicked about going out and it all having to happen this weekend.”

That said, his happy go lucky attitidue is something he works hard at, knowing that it leads to better results. 

"As you get older, you lose your innocence and you have to remind yourself of a few things when you're out there,'' Harrington told ESPN's Bob Harig and other reporters. "At times, how I would put it. I'm going to give you the cliché: at times I get lost and get distracted from the process. Ultimately that's really what's changed.

"I found a nice place where I was thinking of that process and it worked. I hate to use that word as a cliché. I would love to give you another answer, but realistically that is what it is. But clearly I struggled with that the last couple of holes. Struggled badly with it, so it's not like it's an easy thing to do. But for a while, I was finding it pretty good.''

'It doesn't have to be now' was a constant during the years when Harrington was emerging as a potential major winner. There were endless tomorrows stretching out ahead of him at that stage of his career in 2005 and 2006, when he was 33 and 34 years of age.

He's now 43 years old, 297th in the world and relying on sponsors invitations to play the PGA Tour. But he doesn't care. He knows there are sunny days ahead. After all, he's done it all. There's no pressure any more.

Pádraig Harrington putting in the second round of the 2015 Honda Classic

“I think I'm in a good place that I can deliver more performances like this,” he said. “I feel like there's good days ahead, so, you know, I'm not thinking, ‘Oh, I've got to do it and it will be a long time before it comes around again.’ I feel I'm in a good place with my game and I feel I give myself plenty of opportunities like this going forward.”

Still, he knows that winning now would solve all his problems — he'd be in the Masters, next week's WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral and back to 80th in the world and on course to challenge for an Olympic Games place.

But he also got a reminder over his last nine holes that winning is always tough and he's going to have to sweat at West Palm Beach, even if it's raining. PGA National's Champion Course  is one of the toughest and most penal on the PGA Tour, a real beast when it's windy though less intimidating now that it's soft.

Pádraig Harrington speaks to the media after his second round

Pádraig Harrington speaks to the media after his second round

"It’s nice to be in contention,” said Harrington, who had an inkling he would go well this week when he found a mental away around his most recent problems during last week's Northern Trust Open.

Like a lawyer looking for a loophole, he found one, as he explained to his Facebook fans after Riviera, where he made his first cut of 2015.

"Whilst I was hitting some balls and working on my focus, 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 very positive about my game coming in here this week," said Harrington, who has putted well using a centre-shafted putter. "I don’t know what’s going to happen over the next 36 holes but I have a good idea of where I’m going. I’m pretty confident. Certainly for the first 27 holes, I was really feeling very, very positive about my game and the struggled coming home, which was disappointing. 

"I suppose that was only to be expected — you can't get everything going your way. I am disappointed about my finish but I am in a good place going through to the weekend. I feel like I have to play the way I did for my first 27 holes, but who knows. You keep your head on and get it up and down when you need to... It will be a tough weekend, no matter what."

While he won in Indonesia in his last start before Christmas — his first win anywhere for four years — he's been MIA for the US fans since he captured that third major, the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills in 2008. 

"I've struggled with my putting a lot the last few years but the last six months I've foujnd something that has given me peace on the greens and I am trying to bring that into my long game," Harrington told PGA Tour Radio. "It was there for 27 holes but wasn't there for the last nine holes but that doesn't mean it won't be there for the next 36."

With PGA National soaked by heavy rains, Harrington agreed that the rough is now a major hazard. He missed both the eight and ninth fairways — "two fairly innocous holes" — and couldn't make the green on either, dropping a shot at each.

"Yeah, it's getting a little tougher."

Later, speaking to Sky's Robert Lee, Harrington couldn't hide his disappointment as he surveyed a card featuring seven birdies in his first 15 holes as well as three bogeys in the last seven.

"It's hard to believe you could shoot 66 and feel bad about it. Yeah, I dunno. I struggled a bit. The first 27 holes, I really really was on form and my back nine there, I started to struggle a bit. I wasn't as comfortable (even though I birdied the fourth, fifth and sixth). On my front nine I could have birdied any hole. I could have birdied any of my first eight holes but I struggled for the last nine and I need to be better for the next two days."

Sensing Harrington's pessimism, Lee pointed out that he was leading and going out in the last group. "It's all good," he suggested to him.

"Well, it's not like I am not going to be trying. I was great for nine holes and a bit of a struggled. No matter what, I will dig deep and find a way. Life was easy for that while anyway."

As a deluge washed over PGA National, forcing the third round to be suspended before a shot had been hit, Harrington could already see the sun peeking through the clouds.

Unlike Rory McIlroy (74-73, +7) or Graeme McDowell (74-71, +5), who missed the four over par cut, Harrington is still there, dodging puddles and lightnining strikes.