PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Padraig Harrington, already assured of a memorable week after his trip to the White House, put himself in position to make it even better at the Transitions Championship on Friday.
Harrington picked up a pair of bonus birdies over the last five holes for a 6-under 65, his low score of the year, and built a one-shot lead going into the weekend on the tough Copperhead course at Innisbrook.
The Irishman has not won a sanctioned tournament since his PGA Championship victory at Oakland Hills at the end of 2008.
“I’m capable of winning in the form I’m in,” said Harrington, who was at 8-under 134. “Am I in my best form? No. Am I getting there? Yes. I’m kind of in the form that I was in at the end of last year. I’m right in the midst of it.”
And he had lots of company.
Jim Furyk, whose last victory against a full field came in the 2007 Canadian Open, was atop the leaderboard with Harrington until missing a 6-foot par putt on the final hole. It wasn’t enough to take away from an otherwise solid round of 68 to put him one shot behind.
Also at 7-under 135 were Carl Pettersson (68), a past winner at Innisbrook who is feeling much better after regaining some girth; Bubba Watson, who missed a 4-foot birdie putt on his final hole and had 65; and defending champion Retief Goosen after a 68.
Steve Stricker played the final eight holes in even par and still shot a 66, putting him in the group two shots behind. Stricker, the highest-ranked player at Innisbrook at No. 2 in the world, was poised to catch Harrington until he hit driver on the 16th hole to make sure he cleared the water, went too far and had his ball land next to a tree, leading to bogey.
Still, he accomplished his goal of getting into the hunt, especially since he was seven shots behind when he started.
“Today was a key round to get back in the tournament,” he said.
David Toms had the best turnaround, an 8-under 63 that was 11 shots better than his opening round. The former PGA champion then revealed he had a shoulder injury that could keep him out between the Masters and U.S. Open if he chose to have surgery.
Geoff Ogilvy, Lucas Glover and Trevor Immelman were among the 86 players who made the cut on the number at 2-over 144
Harrington spent so much of last year trying to find a swing key that he was rarely in contention until August. He started this year with a stronger focus on scoring, and this is his best opportunity yet.
He doesn’t know the Copperhead course as well as others, but so far that hasn’t hurt him.
As for the pins he’ll see on the weekend?
“I’ll take the attitude I’ve been taking for the first two days, which is fire away and not worry about it until I get up there,” he said. “It has not cost me too badly so far, so I’ll kind of stick with that for two more days.”
Harrington allowed himself a distraction by taking a whirlwind trip to Washington on Wednesday to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with President Barack Obama and Ireland’s prime minister.
Harrington wouldn’t trade the experience, even though he didn’t greet the president.
“If I thought going to the White House was going to detrimentally affect my performance, one or the other would have to be given up, either the tournament or the White House,” he said. “I felt that it certainly may put a little bit more risk into the performance, but I didn’t think it would detrimentally affect it, and it hasn’t, obviously.”
Furyk was leading this tournament after the first round a year ago, only to follow with a 78. The same questions he faced a year ago have not left him: When is he going to win again?
He did win the Chevron World Challenge in December against a world-class field of 18 that moved him back into the top 10. Despite not winning on the PGA Tour since 2007, Furyk has done enough right to still be in the top 10.
Still, not winning and taking that trip to Kapalua with other PGA Tour winners gnaws at him.
“I’m bothered by it because it’s my fault,” Furyk said. “So I would really like to change that.”
Justin Leonard had a hole-in-one with a 7-iron on the 13th hole, while Adam Scott got back in the game with four birdies on the opening six holes on his way to a 66.