Harrington must take a ride on 'four-shot swings'

 

Augusta

The boy from Northern Ireland slipped on the down escalator yesterday and fell flat on his face. Passing him on the up escalator was the man from Dublin. Padraig Harrington fired off five birdies in six holes from the 13th while Rory McIlroy fizzled out with double bogeys at the first and fourth. Harrington is four-under after a third-round 68 and is poised to lead the Sunday charge from the chasing pack.

Starting the third round at even par, Harrington gave little notice of the fireworks display that he would ignite on the back nine. Until the 13th his round had been a damp squib of three bogeys and two birdies. Then just as everyone following him was drifting off to sleep, Harrington sent his rockets and fizz-bangs soaring into the sky. "Fortune favours the brave at times here," Harrington said.

It has been five years since the 40-year-old won the last of his three majors (the 2007 and 2008 Opens and 2008 US PGA) but he is not concerned by his drought. "Yeah, it's been a couple of years but I've won more majors than anybody else in the last five years, so in terms of it's been a while – not really. There are only two guys playing the game who have won more majors than me," he said. That would be Tiger Woods (14) and Phil Mickelson (four).

Harrington has been struggling with his putting this year but signs of a comeback in a Ryder Cup year were delivered with a 61 in Tampa recently. That's a score that won't be recorded in the final round here but he knows he must gamble and hope his risks are rewarded. He is four shots adrift of the three-time champion Phil Mickelson.

While Harrington knows the course can be brought to its knees, he also knows it can deliver a knockout punch. The deep-thinking accountant was spreading psychological mind games thickly on to those ahead of him. "We have seen leads disappear out there, and it's so easy," he said. "In a matter of holes, you can have four-shot swings and more. That's the beauty of this course. A guy can make an eagle and another guy can make a double bogey on the same hole with not a huge discrepancy on how they play it. And that's why this is the ultimate golf course to win on, and the toughest golf course in the game probably to maintain a lead."

The decline of Justin Rose was the ultimate example. The Englishman was blooming nicely at four-under until he bogeyed the 15th, four-putted 16 and bogeyed the 18th to plummet to even par.

"I asked him in the locker room how he finished and he said level. I was four-under and was thinking, 'wow, we put the two halves together, it would have been really good'. But I kept that to myself," Harrington said, to much laughter.

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