Harrington closes in on a nailbiter

Irishman leads the hot pursuit of Casey as Order of Merit threatens to go down to the very last putt

For a few extremely tense hours here yesterday there was increasing order and plenty of merit in the race to finish the season on top of the European money list. But then David Howell and Padraig Harrington lost ground almost as dramatically as they had made it up and Paul Casey was suddenly returned to overwhelming favouritism.

But if yesterday signified anything, it is that everything is possible at Valderrama.

The complexion of the day changed more than that of Casey has in the past few days; the young Englishman now pink again after being Kermit green in the outbreak of food poisoning that plagued the first two days here. There are casualties still being claimed - Jose Maria Olazabal, for example, was still on a drip in the locker room as his tee-off time approached - but with the bug seemingly running out of guts to occupy, it was Howell and Harrington who were left feeling the sickest. What chances they had given themselves to leapfrog the Order of Merit leader.

Indeed, when Casey finished off his 71 to lie at five-over and in 32nd place, the likelihood of his near £150,000 advantage being cosy enough was looking decidedly unlikely. At that stage Howell was only in the process of retreating from his march to the top of the leaderboard while Harrington was just speeding his up.

"There's not a lot I can do," Casey said, not so much resigned to a particular fate but fully prepared for any. "I'm going to be a spectator tomorrow, although I suppose if I play well I can make it harder for Padraig."

In fact, what Casey does in this final round could very well settle it. Harrington needs to win or come second to deny his 29-year-old rival, but with players of the calibre of Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson three shots ahead of him - who are in turn one behind the unheralded leader, India's Jeev Milkha Singh - the Irishman knows "it is some tall order".

Harrington might just fancy sneaking into third, however, but this is where Casey comes in. If he can stay in the top 35 then he would hang on. Just.

Howell and Robert Karlsson, meanwhile, must win or come second and at level par are still outside threats. But after seven holes yesterday, Howell was very much on the inside. At that stage he was at four-under, at the head of the field, and apparently striding clear after notching up his fifth birdie in succession on the treacherous seventh. But then came the eighth hole and if the wheels didn't fall off, the hubcaps rattled. "It was a case of momentum gone," he said. "I had an easy sand-wedge in, came up short and three-putted. I was in a nice little zone until that happened. After being five-under through seven it was obviously disappointing only to score 70, but I would have taken it before the start. Possibly."

Harrington bore a similarly unfulfilled expression after the putter jammed itself between the spokes to arrest his charge as well. On the 14th he was "going along very sweetly" on two-under, one behind the pace, when a series of bitter three-prods struck. The last left the ugliest taste, coming from just seven feet when a birdie was in the offing on the 16th.

"That probably cost me a birdie on the 17th as well as it really shook me," said the Dubliner who finished second in 2001 and 2002. "I will need to shoot five- or six- under to have a real squeak tomorrow. There's so many good players in front of me." As a Ryder Cup player, Harrington knows only too well how beneficial it might prove for Casey to have Garcia and Westwood on his side.

Nevertheless, there could still be a nail-biter in store, perhaps the closest since Colin Montgomerie beat Sam Torrance on the very last putt in 1995.

Of course, there will always be critics of season-ending jamborees and further evidence that they are not too high on the players' priority lists was provided by Tiger Woods withdrawing from the Tour Championship in Atlanta, joining Phil Mickelson on the sidelines. But there is no doubt they can provide excitement. When the pros can be as bothered as Casey, Howell and Harrington have been.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game