MID-MORNING on day two of the Irish Open, another balmy day, and the huge crowd gathered around the sixth green groaned in unison as Paul McGinley’s putt just misses the hole, a dropped shot leaving the Dubliner on three under, one ahead of compatriot and playing partner Darren Clarke.
McGinley’s tap-in complete, the crowd moves en-masse to the seventh tee-box, leaving the yellow-capped green-side marshal with his ‘Silence’ sign all on his lonesome. To the sound of birdsong the threesome behind hit their tee-shots onto this difficult par-three, a smattering of polite applause drifting down from the score or so gathered around the tee-box.
It’s virgin green as the players make their way down the hill, only one ball visible, pin-high but in the first cut of rough, on the right. Given the lack of interest in their group, the faithful few followers, one would be forgiven for thinking that this was just one of the many journeyman trios that goes to make up the first two days of any Tour event, but it is far from that.
Bradley Dredge, remember him? He was the guy who brought Padraig Harrington to the brink last year before ending up on the brink himself, two hacked shots at a plugged ball on the edge of the Maigue on the playoff 18th, handing the Irishman the title. Afterwards the Welshman was grace personified.
A year later and Bradley is again in contention, was actually leading briefly at seven under after 10 holes, is now just one off the lead after dropping shots on the 2nd and 3rd, his 11th and 12th. And yet, hardly a sinner in sight — are the crowd aware of him at all, who he is, what he’s capable of doing on this course?
“I think they are,” he says. “I’m getting a lot of comments, people wishing me well, hoping I go one better than last year, which obviously I’m trying to do.”
He manages to par that sixth, a lovely lob shot from the rough dropping almost dead, about three feet from the cup — “Super shot Bradley,” says an Irish accent.
On to the par-5 seventh, a classic risk-reward hole.
Take on the dogleg right, across the lake, as Simon Dyson (one of his playing partners) does, and you’re in good position to get home in two, a good birdie opportunity. Play safe and you’re looking at convention, lay-up second shot, wedge in. Bradley does neither one or the other; his stance is saying ‘Go for it,’ his mind is saying ‘Ah ah, danger here.’ The drive is certainly long enough but pulled well left, avoiding the water but well short of the green, through the dogleg and into the penal rough. Nothing for it but to take your punishment, hack out, wedge in, hope to be close enough to have a chance of birdie. Easier said than done though given that he was looking at water in front, water behind on a near-island green — precision was called for.
“It’s intimidating to look at but you’ve got some room there, especially when you’ve got a wedge in your hands, you’d expect to knock a shot like that pretty close, really (which he does, makes a tap-in par) — it’s a lot different when you’ve got a three-wood, from way back there.”
I could have asked Dyson to confirm this but given that he put two balls in the water from exactly that position, ended with an eight on the hole when a three looked possible, ended his hopes of making the cut also, I passed.
Dredge again pulled his drive at the 8th, again finds the deep rough. This one is still a good distance from the hole, going to take some muscle to get anywhere near the green. His approach is a flier, forcing one of the few spectators behind the ropes to dodge the bullet. And you wonder, had that been Harrington’s ball, or Clarke’s, or McGinley’s, would they have taken one in the chest for the Irish cause? As it is, Bradley is faced with a difficult shot back, again from the heavy rough, makes bogey. “It was 175 yards, 6-iron, but it flew about 200 yards. It’s difficult to account for that. The rough is quite thick, it usually comes up a bit shorter, but that one came flying out.”
Onto the ninth, long par-five, his final hole, and he positively booms a drive down the middle. He still has around 300 yards to the green, and you can see — he’s tempted. “I thought about it but the best I could have done would have been about 10 yards short and then it would have been a really difficult chip up the green. I decided to lay up, wedge it close.” Right decision and he is close, about 15ft. Dyson and David Higgins are inside him, both would make birdie, but also miss the cut; Bradley misses, makes par, but he’s still in contention.
“Three under for the day after 10 holes was good, I wish I could have just walked in from there! I wanted to press on but you must be hitting the fairways around here and I wasn’t doing that. If you’re missing fairways, you’re in trouble, but I prefer to see a course set up like this than have the rough just a couple of inches thick.”
He likes Adare, you can tell — could this be the year he gets his revenge?
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