Padraig Harrington stays on top at Firestone


WGC-Bridgestone - 125wAKRON, Ohio ' Having played two of his best rounds of the year at the Bridgestone Invitational, Padraig Harrington is willing to settle for something less on the weekend.
Ill take two more times under 70 on the weekend and well see how we get on, Harrington said Friday after following a 64 with a 1-under 69 to grab a one-shot lead over Tim Clark.
Paddy Harrington at WGC_Bridgestone Invitational
Padraig Harrington is rounding into form just in time to defend his championship next week at Hazeltine. (Getty Images)

Harrington, winless in official tour events since last years PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, was at 7-under 133. He led by two strokes after an opening 64, then came back with a 69, putting up subpar scores in consecutive rounds for the first time in four months.
Clark shot a 69 to stay in second place, and Scott Verplank was alone in third with his own 69 to get to 135.
Tiger Woods, chasing his seventh win in the Bridgestone, had an even-par 70 and was tied for 13th, five shots back. It is the first time he has ever been out of the top 10 after a round at Firestone Country Club.
The conditions might change soon. Thunderstorms were predicted for the weekend, which could change the dynamics on a course where the greens have gotten progressively harder and faster. With the Firestone South layout stretching to 7,400 yards, any substantial rainfall would likely make the course seem longer.
Harringtons drought coincided with swing changes he implemented after winning last years PGA, his third victory in five major championships.
Seldom in contention over the past few months, the Irishman conceded he is was overly afraid to make mistakes on Friday.
Thats always natural whenever youre out there in front, he said. Youre always cautious that, yes, youd like some birdies, but youre always aware that you dont want to drop shots. There were times that I was a little bit conservative.
In the final two rounds, he said he would pick his spots to take chances ' even though he didnt think anyone would be going terribly low at Firestone.
I just need to trust myself a little bit more, be a little more positive and hit the shots, he said.
More than most, Woods knows what Harrington has faced while tinkering with his swing. He has had doubters when he has reconstructed his.
You have to believe in what youre doing, absolutely. And you have to believe in what youre doing is right ' even though people tell you what youre doing is wrong, Woods said. Youve got to have the internal resolve to stick with what you believe is going to be right, and youre going to get better.
Neither Clark nor Verplank have won this year on the PGA Tour, either, although Clark made it to a playoff at the Colonial before losing to Steve Stricker.
The South African had never cracked the top 45 at Firestone the first four times he played it. But he has had a tie for sixth and a tie for 20th the last two years.
Clark admits that hes learned how to approach the layout.
I always used to try and do too much, he said. The last few years Ive realized you just have to get it in play, get it in the fairway, and from there you have a chance.
Verplank, whose best finish this year is a tie for fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, ran off 35 holes without a bogey until hitting it into the trees at the 18th on Friday.
I love coming here, particularly when its dry like this, Verplank said. The golf course sets up really good for me when it plays kind of firm and fast. When it starts raining and gets real soggy, then it starts getting a little bit too long for me.
Thats the worry for anyone who isnt a long hitter.
Prayad Marksaeng (70), Stricker (69) and Jerry Kelly (65) were at 136, with Woody Austin (68), Alvaro Quiros (65), Zach Johnson (70), Hunter Mahan (69), Mike Weir (66) and Robert Allenby (69) another shot back.
Woods is hanging around, too. His rounds of 68-70 match what he had the last time he played at Firestone two years ago when he ended up winning by eight shots. Woods missed the Bridgestone a year ago while recuperating from knee surgery.
You just have to be patient, said Woods, coming off a win at the Buick Open.
Asked if someone could shoot a 62 or 63 and pull away, Woods cracked, Yeah, its out there ' if you play 16 or 17 holes you can get it.
Just a shot behind Woods was Phil Mickelson in his return to the tour after spending six weeks with his wife as she fights breast cancer. Mickelson was encouraged by how things have developed the first two days ' and what it might portend for next weeks PGA Championship at Hazeltine.
The grass length is the same, the rough is similar, green surfaces are similar, same speed, same grass, said Mickelson, who toured Hazeltine last week. It couldnt be a better venue (to prepare) for Hazeltine.
Harrington, who has never won a World Golf Championship event, isnt thinking about next week. Not yet, anyway.
Break 70 on the weekend a few more times and I should be doing OK, he said.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - 2009 WGC - Bridgestone Invitational
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