Harrington Takes Tenuous Lead

By Mercer BaggsMarch 28, 2003, 5:00 pm
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Padraig Harrington is the leader heading into weekend play at The Players Championship. But you hear a bit of the Underdog attitude when you listen to him speak.
Im just as intimidated by an Ernie Els, a Phil Mickelson, Davis Lovejust as much as Tiger, Harrington said.
He wont have to worry about Els and Mickelson, who arent competing this week, but will have to contend with Love and probably Woods over the final two rounds.
Harrington stands at 9-under-par 135. Love, who won this event in 1992, is two back after a 67. Hes tied for second place with defending champion Craig Perks (69) and Skip Kendall (69).
Harrington, who was one of 68 players to finish his first round Friday morning, played 26 holes overall; first wrapping up a 5-under 67, and then following up with a 68.
Because of Thursdays rain postponement, the second round will also extend to another day. Darkness brought a halt to play at 6:44 PM ET. Twenty-seven players will have to complete their second rounds Saturday, starting at 8:30 AM.
The third round is scheduled to begin at 10:15.
Tiger Woods narrowly avoided the early morning wake-up call. He finished his round of 2-under 70 just before the siren sounded. He is at 2-under for the tournament.
Perks is trying to do what Tiger couldn't in 2002 -- become the first player in the tournaments 30-year history to successfully defend his title. He, too, had to complete his opening 18 in the morning, playing his final five holes in 3-under to tie Fred Couples for the official first-round lead, at 5-under.
He kept the momentum going early in round two, starting birdie-eagle. He then reeled off 13 straight pars before trading a bogey at 7 for a birdie at 8.
I just feel comfortable out here. Got a lot of good memories, he said. Obviously, something about this course agrees with me.
Despite being the reigning champion, the Kiwi, who has made some extensive swing changes since his lone PGA Tour victory, was given 1000-to-1 odds, by a national newspaper, to repeat. He said he doesnt feel slighted, and that respect is earned and not owed.
You get respect by winning, he said. Im still the defending champion, my flag is still flying out there and hopefully itll be that way Sunday evening.
Woods, who won in 2001, hovered around the cutline ' which is currently at even par ' for the first half of his round before securing his 101st consecutive cut made on tour.
Starting on the back nine, he was even par for the tournament until he birdied Nos. 2, 3 and 5. He closed, however, with a bogey at the par-3 eighth.
'I'm not going to analyze it. It's one of those rounds you just move onto the next,' he said.
Harrington defeated tournament host Woods in winning the unofficial Target World Challenge late last year. It was his first victory on American soil, and one that afforded him a bit of confidence.
But the six-time European Tour winner doesnt like to measure himself against his fellow competitors.
Im not looking at anybody else, said Harrington, who is ranked 10th in the world. Youve got to be really selfish about this and really focused on what youre doing.
And hes not just blowing smoke when he says that. Harrington, who owns a degree in accounting, keeps a tournament-by-tournament journal. He jots down performance notes so that he can later detail what he did well and what he needs to improve upon.
Im very motivated to get better, he said. If you try and stand still you go backwards. Everybody is improving out here so youve got to make the effort to improve.
Harrington believes hell need to better his play over the weekend in order to become just the second European-born player to win here (Sandy Lyle, 1987). Though he made 10 birdies to just two bogeys over his round and a half, he missed seven fairways and six greens in regulation while battling a nagging hip injury in his second round.
There wasnt much simplicity in that round of golf, he said before adding that he wasnt too surprised with the results.
I could go out there and play better and do worse score-wise, he said. Were told not to get upset about it so Im not going to feel surprised about maybe scoring a little bit better than I played.
The result very rarely matches up with how you play.
Love could say the same thing. Hes near the top of the leaderboard despite a double bogey at the 18th, his ninth hole of the second round. In danger of falling out of contention, Love birdied five-in-a-row, starting at the second.
I needed something like that to get me kick-started in this tournament, said Love, who played alongside Perks.
Love won this year at Pebble Beach, but a win this week would far surpass that victory. A win here would be counted as a major ' close to a major, he said. That was my goal this year, so keep myself in position and keep myself at the top of the leaderboard with chances to win.
Couples has a chance to join Jack Nicklaus as the only men to win this tournament on three occasions. The 1984 and 96 champion played 22 holes Friday. He was in sole possession of the lead, at 7-under, but made four bogeys and three birdies over his final 12 holes to shoot a second-round 71, and finish three off the pace.
It was easy a long time ago to be in contention every Saturday and Sunday, but now I know it might be hit or miss, said Couples, who has been working with Butch Harmon.
Can he win this week, for the first time on tour since the 1998 Memorial Tournament?
I dont think it would be that farfetched,' he said. 'Its probably a long way down the road, but if I keep working and doing this, I think I can get in the hunt.
Related Links
  • Full-field scores from The Players Championship
  • Full coverage of The Players Championship
  • Getty Images

    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

    Getty Images

    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

    Getty Images

    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

    Getty Images

    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.