Rory McIlroy might have missed this first cut for nine months in the Honda Classic but Pádraig Harrington still insisted he’d love to have the world No 3’s ball-striking brilliance with just 40 days to go to the Masters.
The Dubliner isn’t even in the field for Augusta National but as he staged a remarkable second round comeback alongside McIlroy and Zach Johnson to survive the 36-hole guillotine, he refused to push any panic buttons over the state of the Co Down man’s game.
McIlroy was poor around the greens and made a double and a triple bogey in a second successive 72 to miss the cut by one stroke on four over par.
That’s no big deal as far as Harrington is concerned though McIlroy clearly has a fraught relationship with PGA National having won the event in 2012, walked off after 26 holes in 2013, lost in a playoff in 2014 and then missed the cut last year.
“He struck the ball well, hit the ball very nicely,” said Harrington, who admitted he was reaching for his mobile phone to book his own flight home after starting his round with a bogey and a double bogey to slip from three to six over par.
“Over the years people would say Rory doesn’t like playing in the wind. Well, he looked well capable of doing it this week.
“I don’t think either myself or Zach Johnson would mind playing golf like Rory played golf this week.”
The Dubliner didn’t stick his neck out for McIlroy’s putting and that was no surprise as it was mediocre.
The four-time major winner racked up 30 putts as he made a double bogey five at the 15th, his sixth, and a triple bogey six at his 14th hole after failing to pull off an ambitious recovery from a water hazard.
“If anything, he overplayed a couple of shots,” Harrington said, referring to the laser-like tee shot at the fifth that ended up in the hazard from where McIlroy tried an audacious recovery and ended up rebounding from the rock face into the water. Triple.
“He hit them too well through the wind and that happens at times. It looked like he played all the right shots.”
Harrington was being more than kind but while he played many of the right shots himself, there were few good ones on the greens from Shane Lowry, who had 33 putts in a five over par 75 to slip 10 shots behind leader Rickie Fowler on two over par.
The Clara man was on the back foot from the time he bogeyed the 10th and 11th and then three putted the 14th for a double bogey six to slip to one over for the tournament.
While he recovered with birdies at the 15th and 18th, his three over par homeward nine was disappointing as he toiled with the putter and every mistake meant a dropped shot.
At the other end of the leaderboard, world No 5 Fowler carded a second successive 66 to lead by a stroke from Jimmy Walker (66) on eight under par with Sergio Garcia (69) a shot further back on six over. Australian Adam Scott shot 65 to finish the day alone in fourth on five under.
A bogey-par-bogey finish for a two 68 left Harrington a little deflated but having opened with a three over 73 and then soared to six over by following a bogey at the his first hole of the day with a double bogey six after a visit to water at his second, Harrington wasn’t complaining too loudly.
The Dubliner spent Thursday evening on the putting green experimenting with a new set-up that ended up paying dividends.
“It’s hard to believe I am disappointed,” Harrington, who holed 90 feet of putts as he birdied the 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th and 18th to turn in two under.
“I was reaching for the phone to change my flight as I was heading for the 12th tee,” he said with a grin. "Then I forgot about it.”
A change in his putting set up — he decided overnight to hover his putter higher than normal — looked to be a failure after the first two holes. Then everything changed.
“I missed one form four feet on the 10th and hit a decent second into 11 and ended up in the water and lipped out with the chip for par,” he said. “Then I started holing the putts I haven't been holing for ages.
“If you make seven birdies you are going to hole some putts. I didn’t have myself fin any trouble all the way through to my last four holes when I lost my rhythm. I think I ran out of steam. Unfortunately think I was thinking of getting to the clubhouse at that stage.”
Graeme McDowell ground out a 69 to make the cut on level par and give himself chance of remaining inside the Top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings who qualify for next week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.
Needing a decent finish there to have any chance of making the Top 64 in the world who qualify of the WGC-Cadillac Match Play, McDowell said he was trying to block the mathematical scenarios out of his head.
"It is hard to take your mind off it and I had to consciously make the decision yesterday that I wasn’t going to think about it," McDowell said.
“I have plenty of golf this season if I don’t manage to get into the Match Play. It is not going to make or break my season. I like what I am doing and what I am seeing on the range and the golf course and if the good stuff gets in the way, then great. If not we will keep plugging along.
“I saw what panicking does to my game last year and it is not very good. I have just got to let it happen. "