McIlroy and Harrington reunited at Honda Classic again - two years on

McIlroy and Harrington reunited at Honda Classic again - two years on
 Padraig Harrington holds court in Palm Beach Gardens on Tuesday afternoon

Padraig Harrington holds court in Palm Beach Gardens on Tuesday afternoon

Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy will play together in the Honda Classic just two years after they were a marquee pairing in the same event.

Harrington was the defending champion and world No 130 and McIlroy the world No 3 when they played together at PGA National's Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens. Now they are 179th and 10th in the world.

There have been as many ups as down for them in recent seasons and while both believed the hadn't played together since the Irish Open at Fota Island in 2014 that's probably because they had erased all memory of the Honda Classic two years ago.

McIlroy, who would go on to win three times that year but is now in the midst of his longest winless streak since he turned professional in late 2007, struggled with his short game and shot a two-over 72 to Harrington's 73 in round one.

He then shot another 72 in round two to Harrington's 68 to miss the cut as Adam Scott won by a shot from Sergio Garcia with Graeme McDowell — a form horse at PGA National and looking to bounce back from a final round 77 in an otherwise fine week in Los Angeles — fifth.

Harrington was in for interview at the venue yesterday and touched on his relaxed attitude to the game these days now that his legacy is long secured.

He believes Tiger Woods will win another major, just as Jack Nicklaus won his 18th six years after going into semi-retirement, but played down concerns about rowdy fans at popular PGA Tour stops such as this week,  Phoenix or Los Angeles.

The question is topical after McIlroy complained about the distractions Woods had to deal with at Riviera Country Club when he was grouped with McIlroy and Justin Thomas in last week's Genesis Open.

“I swear, playing in front of all that, he gives up half a shot a day on the field,” McIlroy said after a second-round 69. “It’s two shots a tournament he has to give to the field because of all that that goes on around (him). So whether that calms down the more he plays and it doesn’t become such a novelty that he’s back out playing again because it’s – it’s tiring. I need a couple Advil just to – I’ve got a headache after all that.”

He added: “Whoever’s teeing off at 8:30 in the morning doesn’t get that and can just go about his business and just do his thing,” McIlroy said. “That’s tough. He has to deal with that every single time he goes out to play.”

Tiger agreed. 

“It’s cost me a few tournaments here and there,” Woods said after shooting 76 to miss the cut. “What people don’t realise, it’s not just something that happens on Sunday afternoon, this is cumulative and it’s par for the course.” 

I think the crowd probably helped them, too. They kept the ball from going out-of-bounds and things like that
— Jack Nicklaus jokes about crowd problems for Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods

Harrington is not convinced it's a major problem that can't be handled sensibly.

He said: "Do you want an atmosphere? Do you want people there enjoying themselves? It's Catch 22. I'd rather play for the $7 million a week and have the atmosphere created and managed properly."

Honda Classic host Jack Nicklaus had this hilarious take on Woods and McIlroy's 'problems' in Los Angeles and how to handle things that are out of your control.

"Did we have the crowd probably do some things?" Nicklaus said. "I think if they look back, I think the crowd probably helped them, too. They kept the ball from going out-of-bounds and things like that, too. (Laughter).

"I've never really -- I feel that's part of the game. I never worried about it, really. I can't ever think of an instance that I had the crowd really -- caddie, that happened to me. 1962, my first year on Tour, I'm playing Houston and I had a caddie named Robert Ford, 41 was the call bib. I'm sure that was 41.

"So we got to the seventh hole in the last round, and that in those days, they held the pin most of the time. I had about a 20-footer at the seventh hole, par 3. I hit the putt and he couldn't get the pin out. He lifted it hard. Got out, the cup never came out. My ball went right in the middle of the cup and bounced away. Two-shot penalty.

"So instead of making two, I tapped it back in for a five and tied the tournament and lost a playoff. That's three shots. That wasn't the crowd. That was other things. And he caddied for me the next year. He was a good kid."

The players at the Honda Classic fear the noise in the stand, situated just a few feet behind the tee at the water-strewn par-three 17th, the final hole of the Bear Trap, more than anything else.

Harrington won his second Honda Classic on that hole in 2015, when he beat Daniel Berger in a playoff. 

McDowell sees drink as a factor, but he had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

“If the wind's wrong at the 17th tee, you can get a vodka cranberry splashed on you,” McDowell joked. “They are that close.”