If Pádraig Harrington could bottle his closing rounds at Baltusrol Golf Club, the three-time major champion is convinced there are more glory days ahead.
Harrington, 44, shot a final-round 68, two under par, to reach six under for the tournament and close in on a top-10 finish at the PGA Championship last night.
It was potentially his best finish in a major since 2012, when he bagged a tie for eighth at the Masters and tied fourth at that year’s US Open.
His third round, a five-under 65, had fired Harrington up the leaderboard and given hope that he might regain the Wanamaker Trophy that had been his in 2008 after winning consecutive majors inside three weeks.
The soft conditions after two days of downpours in New Jersey, made that look unlikely with 14 golfers, including 54-hole leader Jimmy Walker at 11 under, yet to begin their final rounds, as Harrington signed for his last night.
Yet the Dubliner left Baltusrol in high spirits as headed to Connecticut for this week’s Travellers Championship before turning south for Rio and the men’s golf tournament at the Olympic Games.
“There were a lot of nice shots out there, a lot of nice playing,” Harrington said of his soggy final round, which featured three birdies and a bogey. “There was a lot of nice putting. I certainly was comfortable with my putting. There were two putts that came up short in the middle of the round, which would have been nice. I hit them fine, I putted well.
“I’d take putting like this every day. I’d take playing like this every day.
“I’m not second guessing anything. I’m very comfortable with the way I played. If I continue to play like this every day, there’s good days ahead for me.”
Those two top-10 major finishes four years ago preceded a tough couple of seasons as Harrington’s putting deserted him and although he bounced back to win in Indonesia in 2014 and again at last year’s Honda Classic in Florida, there is a pronounced spring in his step now to accompany the belief he can compete more regularly on Tour and in the majors especially.
“So many things are better. I’m happy with my swing, am getting a lot better with my putting, getting a lot better with my mental side. The only thing I’m not comfortable with (is) my short game. Then when I look at the PGA Tour (statistics), I’m number one in bunkers and number four in strokes gained around the greens, but I don’t see it so good. Maybe I need to change my attitude.
“Everything else is good. I feel good. I would like to take this into every day I play the next number of years. I’m going to take this attitude and I feel like I’m in a great place.”
Harrington had gone into the weekend looking to improve his FedEx Cup standing and work his way into the top 125 who will begin the play-off series on August 25 at The Barclays. He had started the week in 140th place but his strong performance looks likely to have moved into 120th with this week’s Travellers offering the chance for further improvement.
A missed birdie opportunity at the last yesterday might have seen him even better placed but his approach to a pin right of the green was pushed further right into the bunker beneath the hole.
“It would have been nice to birdie the last. If I birdied, I would have probably wanted to eagle it. Such is the nature of the game.
“I probably played my best on Thursday and shot the worst score (a one-over 71), which is interesting. Six under is probably a good return on the week. It’s obviously not good enough.
“If it hangs into top 10 territory, it certainly pushes me up in the FedEx Cup play-offs, which is nice to know my schedule. Happy about that. I get to sit and watch the golf this afternoon, hopefully blustery conditions.”
Harrington signed off with a smile as Walker was still on the practice range, Saturday’s third round having been interrupted by the threat of lightning which saw no play after mid-afternoon.
The 10 leading players could not begin their third round until yesterday morning with tournament officials deciding to keep those pairings intact for the final round in order to keep the players moving through a long day’s work with the intention to getting all play completed on schedule.
Given Harrington had started the weekend at one over par, his leap onto the leaderboard before the bad weather arrived on Saturday meant he was back out in mid-division for his final 18 holes as Walker and halfway co-leader Robert Streb were closing out their third rounds.
Walker’s two-under 68 kept him atop the leaderboard at 11 under but Streb fell back to seven under with a 72.
Walker’s nearest rival as the PGA of America switched to preferred lies for the final round, became world number one and defending champion Jason Day, who had carded a 67 to get to 10 under.
Brooks Koepka and Open champion Henrik Stenson were on nine under, with William McGirt and Hideki Matsuyama joining Streb on seven under and Branden Grace joining Webb Simpson at six under, Harrington already in the clubhouse at that mark.
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