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Golf: Harrington's chance to improve Cup claim

PADRAIG HARRINGTON knows all about the pressure of trying to make the Ryder Cup. And he could be about to experience it again. The 27-year- old Irishman lies joint second at the half-way stage of the Italian Open here.

While the first-day leader Mats Lanner crashed from a 62 to a 77 and from three clear to seven behind, Harrington added a 66 to his opening 68. On the 10-under-par mark of 134, the Dubliner lies alongside Cambridge's Russell Claydon and two behind his playing partner on the first two days, the little-known Spaniard Francisco Cea. If he wins on Sunday he could jump from 27th to seventh in the cup standings.

Harrington just lost out to Jose Maria Olazabal in the battle for the final automatic place in Europe's 1997 side, but at the half-way stage in this year's race he had to be told of his position. "Two years ago I would have known exactly where I was," he said. "Now I have no interest at all. The simple fact is that I know I have to win before I have to think about it. You're not going to get the required points by finishing 20th in each event. You have to win first. I haven't looked at the table once."

Chasing a title worth almost pounds 120,000 Harrington turned in 34 and then had four successive birdies from the 13th. "I've never had three successive days when I've hit my irons so consistently well (he also shot 66 in the pro-am playing with the Italian Formula One motor driver Riccardo Patrese), but I was getting frustrated because for the first 12 holes I couldn't hole a putt. Then it just changed around."

Cea had already moved clear by then, however. Round in 67 in the first round, the 25-year-old from Malaga had a hat-trick of birdies from the second and another from the 11th. The 25-year-old from Malaga beat Europe's newest professional Sergio Garcia in the final of the 1995 Spanish amateur championship - Garcia was 15 at the time - but this is the first time he has led on the circuit.

Lanner still led after playing his first seven holes in one under, but then had six bogeys and the Swede admitted: "My confidence all went and towards the end I was just trying to hang on."