Harrington tries to win another claret jug

By Associated PressJuly 19, 2008, 4:00 pm
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Open ChampionshipSOUTHPORT, England -- Padraig Harrington might have come up with a new practice routine for the majors.
1. Play the front nine. Once should be enough.
2. Just walk the course after that, chatting leisurely with the guy whos getting some real work in.
3. Stop off at the greens for a little chipping and putting.
A bit unorthodox? Sure. But Harrington has no complaints about the way it worked for him at this British Open.
At least I didnt tire myself out, he said with that nasal-tinged brogue of his.
On Sunday, Harrington will be playing in the final group of a tournament he didnt even know hed be healthy enough to play just a few days ago. Hell have to overcome a two-shot deficit to Greg Norman to take home the claret jug for another year, but just consider where this plucky Irishman was on the eve of the first round.
Last weekend, Harrington hurt his right wrist doing an exercise that was supposed to strengthen it. He took Monday off, then played nine holes Tuesday before it started bothering him. He came out Wednesday intent getting in a round, but that lasted just three swings.
The rest of the time, he just walked along with Woody Austin, studying the course but mostly just laughing and sharing stories in between Austins shots. Harringtons caddie lugged a putter and a handful of wedges, the only clubs his boss felt comfortable swinging.
Less than 24 hours before his tee time, Harrington walked down the 18th fairway with three reporters in tow, admitting he wasnt sure if he was healthy enough to play. Certainly, if this was just about any other event, he would have packed it in right there.
But this is the Open, and hes the defending champion.
So, the next morning, Harrington reported to the first tee at his appointed time, gritted his teeth and headed out to shoot a most respectable 74 in miserable conditions.
The wrist was sore, but it held up.
Now, hes not even thinking about it.
The wrist seems to be fine. No problems with it, Harrington said Saturday after a 2-over 72 in fierce winds left him deadlocked with K.J. Choi, only Norman above them on the scoreboard. I will continue to have treatment and continue to look after it, but Im confident in it at this stage.
Harrington was certainly in his element, playing a links course in winds that gusted to nearly 50 mph. If it wants to howl like that on Sunday, well, he wont be complaining.
Id look forward to that challenge, he said. It would probably give me my best chance of winning.
Hes certainly got the mental toughness to win again. Just remember how Harrington pulled himself together a year ago, just when it appeared he had thrown away his first major title by knocking not one, but two balls into the Barry Burn on the 72nd hole at Carnoustie.
A nifty pitch and putt gave Harrington a double-bogey. A 10-foot miss by Sergio Garcia gave the Irishman another chance. He took advantage of it in the playoff.
Now, trying to become the first European in more than a century to repeat as Open champion, Harrington approached the third round with that same sort of single-mindedness, so necessary when youre playing in such difficult conditions. He didnt worry about anyone else. He didnt fret about the weather. All he did was think about his next shot.
I never saw a leaderboard, he said. I kept my head down and didnt look at it once. I had no idea how the leaders were doing.
Harrington bogeyed the second hole, missing a 10-foot putt, but got a much-needed break at No. 5, holing out a chip from 45 yards. At the seventh, he stuck a 5-iron to 6 feet and rolled in the putt for another birdie. A three-putt bogey at the next hole sent him around the turn even for the round.
No complaints there.
But peril lurked everywhere, and it caught up with Harrington on the back side. He three-putted again from 30 feet to bogey the 11th. He powered his tee shot over the green at the par-3 12th, forcing him to chip off the side of a steep mound. The ball barely reached the green, and he three-putted again for a double-whammy.
But Harrington, biting his lower lip as he always does, simply plodded on. He knew the only par 5s on the course were coming up, and he took advantage of both. A 10-foot birdie went down at 15. A two-putt from 40 feet took another stroke off the score at 17. He couldve had three birdies in a row, but a 15-footer wouldnt fall on 16.
Now, its on to the final group of the final round, a pairing with Norman thats one of the ages.
The 53-year-old Shark has a chance to become the oldest major winner in golf history. Harrington, 17 years his junior, will be the one trying to ruin the fairy tale.
When hes interested, Greg Norman can really play, Harrington said. Its really a question for a lot of guys later on in their careers, their interests move on, their goals in life change. But Greg seems to be back thinking about it this week, and hes well capable of putting it together as hes shown in the first three rounds.
I dont think anybody, Harrington added, should expect anything but good play from him tomorrow.
Or from the guy trying to chase him down.
Even if his practice routine is a bit unconventional.
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    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquinn Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.