THREE birdies in the last five holes of his final round of the US Open at Torrey Pines yesterday were much too little and much too late to make any material difference to Pádraig Harrington but at least they brightened up to some degree what would otherwise have been a pretty dispiriting weekend for the Irishman.
An even par 71 followed rounds of 77, 68 and 77 for a nine over par total of 293, leaving Harrington on the fringes of the top 40.
That’s an awful lot less than a man who has publicly and repeatedly stressed that the major championships are what he focuses on from the beginning of each year was hoping for. Nevertheless, he also stressed that he felt his game was in good shape and he will now move on to the defence of his Open Championship in a positive frame of mind.
It was an even sadder day for England’s Luke Donald who had to withdraw from the championship as he played the 15th because of a damaged left wrist sustained after tangling with the rough at the previous hole. He had the wrist bandaged by paramedics and tried to play on but to no avail and shook hands with playing Carl Pettersson before walking off the course. He was level par for the round and six over for the championship at the time, tied for 22nd at the time.
Said Harrington: “I will obviously sit back when I have time and take a look at this week. I will appraise my mental side and my attitude and those areas of my game. I would say I got it pretty much right but it just wasn’t my week. I hit an awful lot of good putts that stayed on the high side but you’ve got to hit them on the high side on these greens. Another week I’d be dropping a few more putts and when you do that, you think you’re playing better — and you are playing better.
“It’s always nice to finish the way I did today. It was kind of a tale of two halves. I hit it nicely early on and didn’t get the putts. Then I struggled and made a few bogeys and then got a few breaks and made a few birdies. I don’t really know what to make of the week. I don’t walk away feeling I need to change anything. I just need to stay patient and wait for it to be my turn again. I worked hard and stayed reasonably good all week. After I made mistakes, I didn’t recover very well. Obviously, on day two and at the end of this round, everything went my way.”
In their wisdom, the USGA yesterday trimmed their course to 7,280 yards, almost 400 shorter than originally prescribed, and it certainly had the desired affect. “I think it was set up exceptionally generous today,” Harrington acknowledged. “They’ve set it up easy for the week-end but three under is still leading and that’s a sign of a good major course.”
Birdies and eagles were the order of the day with American Heath Slocum storming through the field with a 65 to finish the championship on four over par. How the massive, sun-drenched crowd of 42,500 loved every minute of a truly fascinating afternoon. Tiger Woods’s double bogey, bogey start and the fact that he hobbled off the second tee only served to add to the drama that was unfolding with almost every shot.
Slocum’s round, the lowest of the week ahead of Miguel-Angel Jimenez, 66, and Harrington, 67, demonstrated that there were birdies to be made. Unfortunately, they didn’t fall Harrington’s way until it was too late to matter. He managed only one gain on Saturday and yesterday had to wait until the 14th for another. After that, putting didn’t seem such a difficult business and a 40-footer rattled into the bottom of the cup at the 15th. And he again proved what he can do by finding the par five 18th green with two glorious shots and comfortably two putted for another birdie.
Harrington’s prospects of finishing within reach of the leaders after 54 holes looked reasonably bright after he had played the first five holes on
Saturday in strict par and knocked two fine shots to within 18-feet of the hole at the 6th. The four putts that ensued knocked the heart and soul out of his challenge.
“I hit a nice second shot in but I knocked the first one by and had a downhill putt and hit it about three or four feet past from about six feet and then missed the next one,” he recounted. “It is easily done but it certainly knocked the stuffing out of me, I wasn’t fully with it on the next tee and then that led to a double bogey there as well. So it took me a long time to settle the ship after that and I was struggling for the next six holes.”
Harrington went on to complete the round in 77 for nine over and with not a whole lot to play for yesterday. There has been a very apparent inconsistency in his game in recent months. He just can’t seem to string four rounds together and the six at the 7th on Saturday was his fifth double bogey of the championship. Mini disasters of this kind have become too common in his game in the major championships. It shouldn’t be forgotten that he twice took six at Carnoustie’s par four 18th in an Open Championship he subsequently went on to win!
“There is an element of trying too hard, no question about that,” he accepts. “The game is sound enough but I have to be more resilient. I need to ease off a little bit more and be a little bit more accepting and just go with it rather than always feeling that anything which happens against me on the course is knocking me back. I don’t have to be near perfect, I can manage to get it round fine without that.”
Phil Mickelson began the championship as the big local hope and ended as a bitter disappointment. He was already out of contention when running up a ghastly quadruple bogey nine at the 13th on Saturday — six more than Tiger Woods took at the hole — and while he played on gamely, was very much an “also ran” going into yesterday’s final round.
It was all the more ironic, then, that he should shoot 68 to finish on six over par but so far out of the mainstream of the championship as to be a non-event. Slocum’s 65 made him the early clubhouse leader on four over and there were other instances of low scoring from Stewart Cink and Retief Goosen, both 67 for five over but Paul Casey’s season continues to trundle along in a totally unsatisfactory manner and yesterday’s 73 for 14 over left him right at the back of the field.
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