"I don't know what I have to do," said Harrington, a qualified accountant who has left his calculator at home. "A few people have tried to tell me but I just know I have to play well." A second-round 64 took him to 14 under par, one ahead of the overnight leader, Fabrice Tarnaud.
The Irishman is 12th in the Ryder Cup points list and needs a top-five finish to overtake the injured Miguel Martin. But there are the others to consider. Of those holding positions in the top 10, Ignacio Garrido missed the cut, though he should be safe, Costantino Rocca came home in 31 to qualify on the five-under mark, and Thomas Bjorn scored a 65 to be 11 under.
The prime chaser, Jose Maria Olazabal, also only qualified at five under after a 72, which contained 34 putts. "It could not have been worse," he said of his day on the greens. This is the third time a cut this low has been seen on the European Tour, after this event in 1992 at the same Munchen Nord course and the German Open last year.
Despite a 66, Sam Torrance was on his way home, and giving up the dream of a ninth match, along with Joakim Haeggman and David Gilford. But still in with a chance are Peter Baker, at 12 under along with Colin Montgomerie, Mark James, at 10 under after a 64, and Paul Broadhurst, one further back. "If Peter can win and Padraig come second, they will be assets to the team. Ollie will get a wild-card," Montgomerie said. "They are both very good putters and that is always dangerous in matchplay."
Harrington and Bjorn were playing together with James, who could not recall playing in a three-ball that was 23 under par for the day and 35 under for the first two rounds. James played his first nine in 30 while Bjorn, who has not dropped a stroke in two rounds, was lagging behind until he had birdies at the last four holes.
James, whose appearance at Oak Hill was his seventh in the Ryder Cup, enjoyed his round with two stars of the new generation. "Thomas is very solid," James said, "hits the ball a long way and chips and putts well. Padraig hits a few more bad shots, but when his short game is on, it is one of the best on tour - in the class of Langer and Ballesteros."
Harrington holed from outside 15 feet for five of his nine birdies and in all had 11 single-putt greens. "It's going to sound strange but I didn't play as well as yesterday. I didn't feel great swing-wise and I was delighted to be three under after nine."
As a three-times Walker Cup player, Harrington has known this situation before. "With the Walker Cup selectors it was like waiting for exam results," he said.
"At least with the Ryder Cup you can see how you are doing on the points table. I haven't been happy with my game for two weeks and, with my coach here, I've been trying to think about my own game. That's all you can do." He added: "I'm making the effort to appear like I'm coping with it all well."
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