Padraig Harrington threw his hat firmly into the Order of Merit ring with a third-round three-under 68 at a windswept Carn-oustie yesterday to lie one shot behind Bradley Dredge in the Dunhill Links Championship. But despite clearly muddying the waters of the race to be crowned Europe's top golfer, the Irishman insisted his odds are of the lengthy variety.
"I knew it was a very long shot, and it still is," said Harrington. "There is a long way to go. Tomorrow is going to be another tough day at St Andrews and Bradley is obviously playing very well. I knew I was a long way behind in the Order of Merit, but with three events still to go I set myself a goal of trying to get into the mix. After the Ryder Cup it would be very easy to sit back and it's a bit of a downer after you win something like that."
The first prize of £427,000 could lift Harrington from fifth to second on the money list and, depending on the performance of the current No 1, Paul Casey, to within around £70,000 of his Ryder Cup team-mate with two events remaining.
The Mallorca Classic in 11 days' time and the season-ending Volvo Masters the following week will decide who succeeds Colin Montgomerie as European No 1. Paul Casey and his nearest challenger, his Ryder Cup team-mate David Howell, are definitely not playing on the Spanish island, but Harrington admitted he was seriously considering it. "I'm asking about it, so that tells you," he said. "We'll have to see how things go."
The former American Walker Cup player Edward Loar held third place on nine under, with Ernie Els and Vijay Singh sharing fifth a stroke further back.
Casey, on five under, enjoys a lead of £80,000 over Howell in the Order of Merit and was in with a chance of clinching the title here when he led after an opening round of 63 at Kingsbarns. However, the 29-year-old drove out of bounds on the 18th at St Andrews in a 74 on Friday and returned a 73 at Carnoustie yesterday to lie eight shots off the lead.
Howell birdied three of his last five holes at Carnoustie for a 70, but still missed the cut as he struggled with a recurring shoulder injury. "I think it was an event too far for me," the Swindon golfer said. Colin Montgomerie shot an 80 at Carnoustie, 16 worse than his course record, so will also miss the shootout at St Andrews today.