Harrington returns to European Tour in bid to stay in top 60

Dubliner heads a six-strong Irish contingent in European Masters

Rory McIlroy plays his second to the 13th during yesterday’s weather-affected final round in Boston. photograph: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy plays his second to the 13th during yesterday’s weather-affected final round in Boston. photograph: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Tue, Sep 3, 2013, 08:20

No matter which way he turns, it would seem that Pádraig Harrington finds himself on one sort of a bubble or another. Having narrowly failed to break into the FedEx Cup series on the US Tour for the first time in his career, the Dubliner – who celebrated his 42nd birthday on Saturday – resumes playing in regular events on the PGA European Tour this week in the Omega European Masters finding himself in a battle to remain inside the top-60 on the moneylist who will qualify for the Race to Dubai.

Now that he has increased his commitment to playing in Europe, Harrington – currently occupying 60th place, the final spot in the field for the megabucks showdown in the desert in November – has time and tournaments on his side. If, that is, he manages to regain his form. He has endured a disappointing summer-into-autumn, dating back to a missed cut at the Irish Open at Carton House in June, which has seen him drop to 89th in the world rankings.
May miss out
That drop behind Shane Lowry – who is currently 78th – could also mean that Harrington misses out on the World Cup at Royal Melbourne in late-November. Rory McIlroy has already intimated he won’t be playing in that tournament which has been remodelled to mirror the 2016 Olympics competition with a greater emphasis on the individual element.

World rankings points will also be awarded. As it stands, world number nine Graeme McDowell is a certainty for the first spot on the Ireland team with Lowry ahead of Harrington for the second place.

Of course, getting back into the world’s top-50, which would earn him an invite back to the Masters now that his exemption for winning the third of his Majors at the US PGA in 2008 has expired, is also another consideration for Harrington. But the more pressing one, it would seem, is to remain inside that top-60 on the Race to Dubai.

To that end, Harrington returns to the European Masters in Crans for the first time since he played in the Swiss Alps in 2000. He heads a six-strong Irish contingent that also includes Michael Hoey, winner of last month’s Russian Open, Simon Thornton, Peter Lawrie, Gareth Maybin and Damien McGrane.

McGrane, who eased many concerns about retaining his tour card with a tied-sixth finish in the Wales Open, will seek to take the momentum from the Welsh valleys with him into the Alps. The cheque for €67,988 he pocketed in Wales means he has moved up to 89th in the latest European Tour order of merit, comfortably inside the top-110 who retain full tour cards for next season.

Having bounced back from missed cuts in the Russian Open and the Johnnie Walker championship, McGrane produced the best performance of his season in Wales which left him “very satisfied” and, with the tour card safe, aiming to kick-on and bid for a place in the European Tour’s Final Series which takes in the BMW Masters in Shanghai, the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, the Turkish Airlines Open and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship (where the top-60 on the Race to Dubai compete).

Bad weather
Meanwhile, the weather-plagued Deutsche Bank championship at TPC Boston in Massachusetts limped to a finish, with yet further suspensions in play during yesterday’s final round. Sergio Garcia, who carried a two-stroke lead into the final day, struggled and saw Sweden’s Henrik Stenson move into a position of dominance instead. Stenson was four-under on his card through 12 holes (21-under for the tournament) to move three shots clear of Steve Stricker.

Tour rookie Jordan Speith and Matt Kuchar shot closing 62s to set the clubhouse target on 267, 17-under-par. Twenty-year-old Speith – a winner of the John Deere Classic earlier this season – had seven birdies and an eagle in his round.

McIlroy finished with a closing 72 for 277 and McDowell closed with a 70 for 277, seven-under-par. The two Ulstermen are safely into the third event of the US Tour’s season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs, the BMW in Illinois which starts on Thursday week. The top 70 in the FedEx table move on to Illinois, with McIlroy projected to be in 40th and McDowell projected to be in 50th. It means both players have work to do at the BMW outside Chicago if they are to make it to East Lake in little under three weeks, where the top 30 players compete in the Tour Championship.

An out of sorts Tiger Woods finished with a 73 for 280, to finish well down the field, but with the greater significance that he was projected to lose the number one spot on the FedEx Cup rankings to Stenson.