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Harrington drops five shots to finish one off the lead

Padraig Harrington eyeing up a putt at Royal County Down
Andy Watters

THE putter connected with a click that sent the ball off on exactly the line he had chosen. Padraig Harrington seemed happy with his effort, but then there’s a ‘tut-tut-tut’ from behind and the ball rolls past the hole and he feels like he has let the country down.

As Rory McIlroy could tell you, it’s not easy being the home favourite and Harrington admits there were times yesterday when he felt the need to reassure everyone he was doing his best.

Harrington was seven-under after 10 holes but lost it down the stretch and dropped five shots to finish one off the lead instead of leading the pack at Royal County Down.

“There is more distraction at an Irish Open,” he said after a second round 73 that included four birdies, four bogeys and a double bogey.

“The times you hit a golf shot and you’ve actually let people down... Sometimes you hit a bad shot and you want to tell everybody: ‘It was actually really difficult’,” he added with a laugh.

Fans cheered Harrington on from the stands and from vantage points on top of sand dunes all over the course but they can be a tough audience.

“I missed a putt out there... I hit it where I wanted – I was toying between hitting a sort of right-lip or outside the right lip and it missed,” he explained.

“Halfway there I hear a ‘tut tut’ but I did hit it well. You do get too involved at times with the support because they are willing you on so much; they care so much.”

The three-time Major winner was two-under for his round and six-under for the tournament at the turn yesterday. Another birdie followed at the 10th but the wheels fell off his wagon and there was more ‘tut-tutting’ as he dropped four shots at the next three holes.

With five to play he had slipped back to three-under and needed to hold it together.

Harrington is a big fella who walks the course with a farmer’s stride and he was playing alongside Sergio Garcia and Mikko Ilonen.

Garcia didn’t have as bad a day as Jonathan Moore – who needed 13 shots at the13th including four lost balls – or Shane Lowry – who broke his putter in a fluster coming off the green – but he went around in 79, eight-over, smacking the occasional advertising hoarding along the way.

“Better get the nine ready,” predicted the on-course scoreboard guy as Garcia – then eight over for the tournament – stood over his second at the 15th. The Spaniard didn’t let him down either and obliged with another bogey.

In went the ‘+9’ and meanwhile Harrington sank his par putt and there was a massive cheer from the gallery.

At the next, Ilonen – the defending champion – sent his tee shot into the rough and his caddie fumbled in the bag for another ball as Garcia stepped up and followed Harrington’s tee shot down the middle.

The Spaniard went into the rough himself for an emergency toilet break in the whins near the green (not something you’d see at Augusta) and when he re-emerged he must have been relieved to hole his par putt.

With a shower on the way Harrington pulled on the waterproofs before he teed off on the seventh and hit a brilliant shot to within a couple of feet of the hole and then waited on Garcia who beseeched the weather Gods to help him.

“More wind, more wind. Blow more,” he urged.

Harrington popped in his birdie to a massive cheer from the crowd, but Sergio made another bogey.

“They have you working over-time,” I said to the scoreboard guy.

“They bleedin’ have,” the Dubliner replied searching for ones and zeroes in his pocket because both Ilonen and Garcia were now in double figures.

Two holes to go and Harrington just needed to hang in there to finish four-under and wrap up a very decent morning’s work. On the second last Garcia went right and Harrington went left leaving himself a difficult second.

“I think you’ve got to go for a flier,” he said to his caddy after weighing it all up.

He hit it with a ‘smack’ but there was a worried look on his face.

“That’s left,” he said and stomped off. So did everyone else and I almost bumped into the now forgotten Ilonen who hadn’t even played his shot yet.

Up at the green Harrington played a neat chip to give himself a chance for par but he couldn’t manage it and dropped back to three-under.

One hole to go and Harrington pushed his tee into the solid surface, popped on his ball and forced it in with a skilful tap from his driver.

The ball screwed off left again, though, and the wind picked up and sent hats flying and wispy grass floating across the fairway as he approached a difficult second.

His pitch fell short and his putt drifted just wide of the hole meaning he’d dropped another and finished two-under.

He’s still in the hunt for his second Irish Open title, but he knows things have to go his way today and on Sunday.

“Clearly I would have preferred to be that 7-8 under par type thing where I would be in a good position to move away from the field on the weekend,” he said.

“I’m now in a position that I’m going to have to play well on the weekend and not get anything going against me.”

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