CHARLIE MULQUEEN: Pádraig proves magic still there if only wand would behave

Pádraig Harrington may have failed to build on his career best 61 recorded in the opening round of the Transitions Championship in Florida but that Thursday display is a massive confidence booster for the three times Major champion who has slipped to 91st in the world rankings.

That 10-under-par effort proved the Dubliner is amongst the best in the world once his putter is in good health. He used the blade only 22 times and the 75-footer he sank on the 17th was the most memorable of the incredible round.

Significantly, however, he took 33 putts in a second round 73; 29 in Saturday’s 72 and 30 in Sunday’s even-par 71.

That’s an average of 28.2, a disappointing return given his opening day heroics.

I believe he can comfortably reduce that by at least two a round over four days and had he done so in the Transitions, Harrington would have finished 15 under par, two shots ahead of the four men — Luke Donald, Jim Furyk, Robert Garrigus and Sang-Moon Bae — who featured in the play-off won by the Englishman.

So write Harrington off at your peril. He’s back in the States next week before going on to make his 13th appearance in the Masters a week later.

Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell has his sights set on becoming the fourth successive European winner on the US PGA Tour when he tees it up in the prestigious Arnold Palmer Invitational beginning at Bay Hill, Florida, on Thursday.

The last three weeks have left Americans a little deflated as Rory McIlroy captured the Honda Classic, Justin Rose followed up with victory in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and Donald completed the rout on Sunday to oust McIlroy as world No 1.

Those rankings also make for grim viewing for US golf fans with just Steve Stricker (5th) and Webb Simpson (7th) the only Americans in the top 10.

It will be fascinating to see if the European dominance is maintained at Bay Hill. The field is a strong one in honour of one of the game’s greatest personalities, with much attention focusing on the fortunes of Tiger Woods, who makes his last appearance before the Masters, and Phil Mickelson, who is building up nicely to his defence of the coveted Green Jacket at Augusta.

McDowell has been performing nicely in recent weeks but has failed to make a seriousSunday impact. He is intent on putting that situation right at Bay Hill, while Rose will be all out to prove that his victory in the Cadillac Championship that sent him soaring him up to eighth in the rankings was no fluke. Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson are also in the field.

Meanwhile, the European Tour heads to the €1.5m Hassan Trophy in Morocco. The Golf du Palais Royal Agadir course is located within the palace grounds of King Mohammed VI and, since its inception in 1971, the title and the fabulous gold-encrusted dagger that goes with it has been won by such luminaries as Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Vijay Singh, Colin Montgomerie, Harrington and Ernie Els.

There’s a seven-strong Irish challenge that includes Waterville’s Mark Murphy, who has received a sponsor’s invitation. Also teeing it up in the presence of royalty are Michael Hoey, Shane Lowry, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane, Paul McGinley and Gareth Maybin. Simon Thornton has withdrawn for personal reasons.

Of this group, Lowry may have the best chance of returning to his new home in Carton House with the coveted dagger after he shot two rounds of 67 over the weekend in the Andalucia Open at Aloha.

He led for a short time on Sunday before running up a two late bogeys that pushed him back into a share of seventh. But it seems his first win as a pro cannot be too far away.


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