Harrington cuts margin for error

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Padraig Harrington has discovered the secret of coping with Club de Campo's troublesome greens: to putt as infrequently, and over as little terrain, as possible. At the 17th he nearly eliminated the necessity to do so at all.

Harrington hit his eight-iron tee shot at the 163-yard par three to 10 inches, and so just missed out on a car, worth around pounds 10,000, from the sponsors. Did he know about the prize? "Well, there was a car at the back of the tee-box, and even I can put two and two together," said the 24- year-old qualified accountant from Dublin.

During five years of exams, while he played in three Walker Cup matches, the only practising Harrington intended to do was on a golf course. His second round 64 yesterday not only ensured the ninth successive made cut of his rookie season - the record is thought to be Lee Westwood's twelve in 1994 - but gave him a three-shot half-way lead in the Peugeot Spanish Open.

"I knew I needed to improve my game before I turned professional and it is easier to do it as an amateur," said Harrington, who has won pounds 40,145 to date to virtually secure his tour card. "On tour, every day you have to do your best and play with what you have."

Harrington, who uses both the conventional and the cackhanded putting method as he feels the need, required only 25 putts, five of them for single-putt pars on the front nine. "The eight birdies do not tell the whole story," he said.

"I struggled on the front nine, then everything seemed to click from the 12th. I am delighted to see my name at the top of the leaderboard, but the first two days are the easy ones. It will be tough over the weekend.

"It is nice to make my ninth cut in a row, but I know there will be a run of missed cuts sometime. I hope there will not be as many as nine. But I am not setting any more targets. I am not expecting great things."

And what of the greens? "I putted solid yesterday and well today, so what can I say?" Harrington missed from six feet at the last to match the course record, although it would not have counted because the tournament used preferred lies.

After his press conference, Harrington, eager to learn, lingered to listen to the comments of Seve Ballesteros. These proved to be nothing more than that he drove the ball well, his wrist was not troubling him and the improvement he seeks is coming slowly. A round of 70 meant he had made the cut for the only the third time in seven events this year.

Iain Pyman, the overnight leader, managed only three hours sleep before his 7.45am tee time after eating something that disagreed with him on Thursday night. A five-over 77, 11 shots worse than his opening effort, left Pyman nine behind Harrington.

His playing partner, the Welshman Marcus Wills, who has missed his last four cuts, was one of four men to improve to seven under par with a round of 70. He shares second place with Scotland's former Ryder Cup player, Gordon Brand Jnr, who shot a five-under 67, Australia's Peter O'Malley and Per Haugsrud of Norway.

Wills, 23, who regained the tour card he lost after the 1994 season at the qualifying school, missed three times from inside three feet to emphasise the unpredictability of the greens, despite the fact he was playing in the first group of the day.

Scores, Sporting Digest, page 27