Pádraig Harrington gets in with superb 65 before play suspended

A Saturday of frustration as thunderstorms ended play before the leaders even teed off

Pádraig Harrington shares a joke with Danny Willett on the 18th green during the third round of the US PGA Championships at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

If sneaking in under the radar required some sort of special permit, Pádraig Harrington discovered it here on moving day at the 98th US PGA Championship in the township of Springfield, New Jersey.

A moving day, that is, where very little moving was done. With thunderstorms moving in over the area, play was suspended at 2.14pm local time.

Five groups are yet to begin their third rounds and, with more thunderstorms expected tomorrow, a Monday finish is looking likely.

Indeed that was the case the last time the PGA Championship was held at Baltusrol – Phil Mickelson triumphing on that occasion in 2005.


So it was then that Harrington was one of the lucky ones.

The 44-year-old Dubliner posted a bogey-free 65 third round for a three-under-par 206 total through 54 holes that saw him leapfrog up the leaderboard like a young whippersnapper.

The only Irish player from five to survive into the weekend, Harrington – who lifted the Wannamaker Trophy back in 2008, his third Major title in a stellar 14-month spell – wound back the years with an assurance and quality of shot-making that left US Masters champion Danny Willett, playing alongside him, in the shade.

Harrington shot 65 to Willett’s 74, testament to his focus on a cooler day that held the threat of a gathering storm which caused a suspension of play 2.15pm local time (7.15pm Irish) at which point five pairings had yet to commence their third rounds.

This was vintage Harrington, none so more than his approach to the Par-5 18th. On that finishing hole, Harrington's 3-wood tee-shot finished a yard beyond the plaque imbedded into the fairway to mark Jack Nicklaus's 1-iron approach on his way to capturing the 1967 US Open. This time, Harrington's hybrid – the equivalent of a 3-iron – floated beautifully onto the green where he two-putted from 20 feet for his fifth birdie of the round that moved him six shots behind tied-leaders Robert Streb and Jimmy Walker.

"I'd 235 yards, adjusted to the flag . . . we discussed it, after I hit my shot, how impressive hitting a 1-iron up the hill would have been in those days, seriously impressive," recalled Harrington of his on-course conversation with caddie Ronan Flood.

Having started the round in a share of 61st, Harrington’s endeavours moved him up to tied-10th when he signed his card. His efforts earned him a pat on the back from Willett, who’d been given a close-up reminder of the Irishman’s talents.

Harrington’s round – kick-started by a par save on the fourth which was followed by momentum building back-to-back birdies on the fifth and sixth holes – was one where he made the most of his play, claiming afterwards that he’d actually played better in Thursday’s opening round when he shot a 71.

Yet, that poor tee-shot on the Par-3 fourth was the only time he was out of position and the shouts of “Go, Paddy!” that accompanied him around the course where akin to the days when he entered these championship as one of the main contenders and confirmation of his continued popularity stateside.

“I probably made the most of the round, certainly played average but made the most of it and took my chances. I hit the right shots at the right time and any of the shots I did hit didn’t do me any harm. It was one of those days, nice when you score better than you play.”

Harrington, chasing FedEx Cup points (he is 140th in the standings) as well as entering the fringes of contention for the PGA, albeit with plenty of catching up still to do on the frontrunners.

“I am in a nice position. I just want to play good golf. I haven’t really played that much over here in three months, all the way back to San Antonio when I really got any points over here, so it has been a long time. I do need to push up on that but there’s no point in chasing it.

"In my head I'm hoping the scoring goes the same it did the last time the PGA Championship was here (in 2005) when the leaders come under pressure on the golf course and maybe some guys behind, namely me, get a bit of momentum early on and can push on. If you do get momentum in the early holes you feel good and feel there are opportunities to make birdies," said Harrington, who credited working with sports psychologist Bob Rotella for his improvement on the greens.

Harrington briefly held the clubhouse lead, before American Kevin Kisner equalled his 65 to move to 205 through 54 holes. Walker and Streb – on nine-under through 36 holes – were among those yet to start their third rounds when the weather front closed in to suspend play.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times