Harrington's perfect timing lines up Langer's ideal hat-trick

Graeme McDowell, possibly a Ryder Cup player of the future, could prevent a third successive victory for a member of Bernhard Langer's team, who head to the States tomorrow. Miguel Angel Jimenez and Luke Donald have won in the past two weeks and Padraig Harrington, in a timely return to form, could complete the ideal hat-trick.

Graeme McDowell, possibly a Ryder Cup player of the future, could prevent a third successive victory for a member of Bernhard Langer's team, who head to the States tomorrow. Miguel Angel Jimenez and Luke Donald have won in the past two weeks and Padraig Harrington, in a timely return to form, could complete the ideal hat-trick.

Harrington opened with a 66, slumped to a 75 on Friday, and then added a 64 in the third round of the Linde German Masters. The Irishman, whose game had not quite clicked in recent weeks, birdied four of the first six holes at Gut Larchenhof and then holed a wedge shot from 122 yards for an eagle at the seventh.

A three-footer for a birdie at the ninth, and an outward 29, lipped out, and though he had a quieter time on the back nine, two late birdies left Harrington at 11 under par.

If he is to claim a first victory of the year - there have been four of his trademark second places - Harrington will have to overcome a three-shot deficit to McDowell. The 25-year-old Ulsterman sprinted to the top of the leaderboard with his own 64 on Friday, and yesterday appeared to be showing few nerves as he continued to make the running. There were five birdies as he reached 16 under par, but two late bogeys at the 16th and 17th narrowed his advantage. A fine chip from beside the 18th green ensured a 69, leaving Harrington in second place and the newly married Raphael Jacquelin a shot further back, with Paul Casey five behind at nine under.

Casey can be a most aggressive player - one who should fare well in the fourballs next week - and, having made the turn in level par for the day, he was seven under for the first six holes of the back nine, with five birdies and an eagle at the 13th. He had chances to continue the run at the 16th and the 17th but then found the water at the last for a double bogey which took the gloss off the day.

Nevertheless, it added up to a 67, and although three members of the Ryder team missed the cut, Colin Montgomerie, Paul McGinley and Ian Poulter, there was plenty to encourage Langer, who, also having missed the cut, was on watching duty.

Harrington has had long sessions with the Bobs in his life, Torrance the coach and Rotella the shrink. "It was important for me to show some form this week," he said. "It's been frustrating recently because I've felt I've been playing the best golf ever on the range and the worst golf ever on the course. But I am beginning to take the game on to the course, and it has been a good experience to come through."

He spent four hours on the range on Friday, which aggravated his old shoulder problem. "It felt a bit tight," he said. "I had treatment this morning but the main thing is that it has not spread to the neck - that's when I'm in trouble. I just need to be careful next week not to spend too long on the range if it is cold weather."

Next week, however, can wait for the moment, but Harrington knows he has a difficult task today. "Graeme is an impressive front-runner, he showed that today," Harrington said. Like Casey and Donald, McDowell was schooled at college in America and played in the Walker Cup. In May he won for the second time as a professional and, having had an outside chance of making the Ryder Cup team this time, he is determined to make it in two years' time.

"After the Ryder Cup qualifying was over I sat down with my team - coach, manager, psychologist - and decided there was still a lot to play for until the end of the year," McDowell said. "There is a lot of money at stake and this is one of the better tournaments. I was sixth last week so I think I have responded well. There is a buzz about this event because of the Ryder Cup next week, but it was always one I was targeting because it rewards players who hit greens in regulation, and that suits my game.

"It was disappointing to drop a couple of shots late on but I stuck to my gameplan, and I'm glad I kept my nose in front even though Padraig went low. I'm in a good position, so nothing less than winning will do."

His fellow Ulsterman Darren Clarke is less enamoured of the course, something he remembered after four-putting at the 13th. But though this week has turned out to be a matter of marking time, he pronounced himself "raring to go" at Oakland Hills.

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