He spent 24 years in the US Marine Corps as a chaplin but even the fighting priest would have struggled to talk Pádraig Harrington down from the ledge after a tension filled return journey to Augusta National.
The Dubliner’s face was a poem for most of hot and humid day at the Cathedral of Pines. Not a happy poem but a funereal dirge on a day that Jordan Spieth turned into a triumphal procession by adding a 66 to his 64 to lead in 14 under par — a 36 hole record that shaved a shot off Ray Floyd’s 39 years old best.
Whatever about some irritation with his fidgety playing partner Thomas Bjorn—not a man given to excessive smiling himself—Harrington’s famously intense focus was on supersensitive mode for most of the day. Even the smallest disturbance appeared to catch his attention as he followed an opening 72 with a three putt bogey from nine feet at the last for a 77 and a sixth missed cut in 15 Masters starts. Bad luck followed him around like a bad smell.
For Fr Ronnie Madden, a native of Ballinasloe in Co Galway, it was all a beautiful walk in the park. After all, he’s been going to the Masters since he was sworn in as a US citizen in an Augusta courthouse in 1976, the day before he joined up.
He was commissioned a Lieutenant in the United States Navy on June 25, 1976, served as a chaplain in Japan, at Camp Pendleton in California and at the Amphibious Base in Coronado in San Diego, home of the U.S. Navy Seal Training.
Harrington might have made a wonderful Seal but Fr Madden’s job involved comforting those who’d failed to make it through the gruelling, nine-month training process.
“They would be devastated,” he said. “It was the big guys who found it hardest. Their bodies would just give out. The knees, the shoulders. The training officers would try to break them.”
The chaplin is now retired and setting up a church in rural Georgia where just one percent of the population are Catholics. Getting that enterprise off the ground would probably have appeared easier to Harrington, who never got anything going on a day when Graeme McDowell “continued to drive it like a wally” but added a 74 to his opening 71 to make the cut easily alongside Darren Clarke on one over par.
Shane Lowry holed two great putts on the last two greens for 72 but while it looked for a long time that three over would make the cut, the Offally man would end up packing his bags, just like Harrington, who headed for the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando and the start of a much needed three-week holiday.
“It was a disappointing finish yesterday evening and I kind of carried that into today,” Harrington said of two bogeys in his last three holes on Thursday, when turned a possible 68 into a 72. “I suppose I lost a bit of momentum there. Then I came out and bogeyed the first hole today and I was always on the back foot after that.”
Harrington was disturbed by Bjorn moving in his eye-line on the 18th on Thursday night and again on the first hole yesterday.
Having found a deep fairway bunker off the tee, the Dubliner appeared to see Bjorn down the fairway just as he was making contact with his recovery, which scuttled through the green.
He pointed an accusatory finger at the big Dane and words were exchanged before they marched on. Neither looked never happy for the rest of the day.
Faced with a tough pitch from behind the first, he couldn’t get nearer than 10 feet and bogeyed in what was to become a familiar refrain
While he made some great pars from compromising positions at the third and fourth, he bogeyed the fifth off a poor tee shot and a pulled second and dropped another shot at the seventh by blocking himself out and putting his second in an impossible place.
Even at the par-five eighth, he had to chip out backwards from the trees and then hit his third way left and flew across the green in four before holing a 20 footer for an unlikely par.
Luck also plays a part at Augusta National and Harrington had little at the ninth, where his approach rebounded off the shoulder of the bunker and caromed through the back of the green into the deckchairs.
He chose his putter and watched it catch the edge of the hole and loop close to 360 degrees around the cup.
Augusta might be open, but you can't play it from the trese and Harrington was in trees again at the 10th. He bogeyed the hole and the 11th too after taking two chips to reach the green and while he birdied the 13th, he came to the last needing a birdie and three putted from nine feet for bogey.
Again, he’d been unlucky.
“I hit a lovely drive down seven and couldn’t have been in a worse spot off a really, really nice drive,” he said of getting blocked out by trees after his drive kicked right to the far edge of the fairway.
“Out of the rough getting a flyer, that kind of summed it up more than anything else. I had a chance there on the last to hole a putt. I can’t believe my second shot finished so far away, I think that’s as far away from the hole as you can get it with the line I hit it in on. That could have been stone dead; another day it would have been stone dead.”
If Harrington was devastated, he was still impressed by Jordan Spieth’s incredible run to a Masters record 14 under par 130 for two rounds.
"It's very impressive what he's doing and he's lapping the field at the moment," said Harrington.
"It's just phenomenal exhibition of golf and it's going to be a tough position for everyone else from that position he's now in. It's a position everyone out here would love to try their hand at.
"And rather than the fact he's 21, it's the fact he's been playing well for a few months now is a big plus for him, and you can't beat that confidence of winning.
“Jordan's had a good run of late so he's in the right place and as long as he doesn't come up for air he'll be okay."
As for Lowry, now 28, he was chuffed to drain a 25 footer at the 17th for birdie and a five footer for par at the 18th, believing he had made the cut in his first Masters.
“Just about,” Lowry beamed. “I've struggled off the tee a lot. I drove it okay today, one bad one on 13, but I was just getting it out there. I wasn't my normal self. Holed a great putt on 17, and a good putt on the last.”
He enjoyed watching 58 year old Mark O’Meara shoot 68 to finish on three under, but like McDowell, he was more concerned with his driving and the errors he made over the two days,
Many where physical but some were mental, such as the six at the par-five 15th, where he decided to go for the green from 247 yards and found the pond with a five wood.
"I actually hit it decent, the wind just gusted," he said.
McDowell hit 21 of 28 fairways — 75 percent — but he was not happy with his driving.
“I continued to drive it like a wally,” McDowell said after a 74 featuring six birdies and four bogeys left him 15 behind Spieth on one over.
“I’m not sure what’s going on with the driver – it’s one of my strengths normally. I drove the ball terribly the last few days so to make the cut from there, I’m pretty happy with that. I had a couple of clumsy three-putts on the front nine today to put me behind the eight ball a bit, but I dug in and birdies on 15 and 16 were very important.
“It’s nice to be here for the weekend, get another couple of rounds under my belt and keep building for the rest of the season. Of course I’d love a big finish, but I need rounds, I need reps, I need to see shots.
“When I three-putted nine from 15 feet and bogeyed ten, you’re thinking the worst at that point. But I hit a great nine iron to 12 and made birdie there, and hit a good pitch on 13 and made birdie there, so I got myself back on an even keel and gave myself something to play for coming in.”
As for Spieth’s fireworks, McDowell was not surprised.
“Jordan put a similar performance to this in at Orlando last year, at Tiger’s event,” he said, referring to Spieth’s 10 shot win in the Hero World Challenge last December. “On a tough course he kept accelerating away from the field. He seems to have that extra gear.
"This is a different kettle of fish, but I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s a very, very quality player and I wish him well. From my point of view, a couple of 66s and he comes back to the field, you never know.”