Harrington fails to close gap on Johnson

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The Independent Online

A tall order became a mountain to climb for Padraig Harrington when he three-putted the first two holes of his final round in the BellSouth Classic here yesterday.

In joint second three strokes behind the American Zach Johnson at the start of play, Harrington found himself six adrift after missing par putts of eight feet and then five feet on the lightning-fast Sugarloaf greens.

Johnson, playing only his 13th US tour event and like Harrington seeking his first victory on the circuit, stretched his advantage by making a nine-foot putt for birdie on the first.

Harrington finished second for the 21st time in his career at last week's Players Championship in Florida, covering the last 12 holes in a brilliant eight under par.

When he played the last 10 on Saturday in six under, the Dubliner was in perfect position to apply pressure on 28-year-old Johnson, winner of America's "second division" Nationwide Tour last season and 126th in the world. But Harrington did warn: "Zach Johnson won three times last year, I believe [actually it was twice] and that's lots of experience of winning, that's for sure.

"Doesn't matter where you win," the world No 8 added, "winning is winning. He's obviously good at being able to do it, a good gift, so I expect him to play strong. It looks like I probably need another charge, but I'm not expecting anything. I'll just wait and see."

His bogey-bogey opening sent him down to sixth place. Scott Hend, who started the day in joint second with Harrington, also dropped a shot on the second, but then holed for birdie on the next to return to 10 under, four behind.

The defending champion, Ben Crane, Brian Gay and Mark Hensby were joint third, while in the windy conditions England's Luke Donald had a fine outward 34 to move into a tie for 12th on five under. Donald birdied the third and fifth and parred the rest.

* In Portimao, Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez virtually secured his place in the Ryder Cup with victory in the Algarve Open de Portugal. Jimenez carded a final-round 67 to finish on 16 under par. This gave him a two-shot win over Australia's Terry Price, who equalled the course record set by Robert Karlsson two hours earlier with a 64.

BELLSOUTH CLASSIC (Atlanta) Leading early final scores (US unless stated): 290 P Perez 73 71 74 72. 291 B Bateman 73 70 75 73; B Quigley 73 71 74 73. 293 R Sabbatini (Rsa) 68 75 75 75. 294 D Briggs 70 74 75 75. 295 B Van Pelt 75 70 74 76. 297 D Chopra (Swe) 71 73 76 77. 298 H Miyase (Jpn) 70 73 75 80. 300 B Watts 71 73 77 79.