The great survivors, each of them in their own way: for Shane Lowry, there was his sandy trek out onto the beach down by the 16th hole to play the kind of miracle shot that someone like Seve Ballesteros, in days of yore, would have conjured up; while, for Pádraig Harrington, his body reaching its 50th year, it was all about grinding out a score, just like the old days, in a Major championship.
The upshot of their endeavours? Well, Lowry signed for a second round 71 for a midway total of 144, level par, in the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island; while Harrington pencilled his signature to a 73, also for 144. In other words, the two are on the fringes of contention heading into the weekend and with a chance to make a charge. Stranger things have happened.
Lowry’s escapades were particularly noteworthy, if only for the fact he ventured where few others have gone after a drive on the Par 5 16th. In Thursday’s first round, he found the middle of the fairway; this time, his drive was 75 yards further right and so wildly right that it finished on the beach close to the erosion fencing.
“It’s funny, I seen a picture of Rory (McIlroy) out there in the practice rounds and I was trying to figure out where it was. Look, I got lucky there because where I hit my provisional (ball) was very good either. It could have been anything. I got lucky and managed an unbelievable par,” admitted Lowry.
In fact, it was something of a miracle par. And, having played his recovery shot from the isolated beach back into play, he picked up his bag like a Sherpa and carried it as far as his caddie Brian “Bo” Martin on the dunes who’d managed to use the range finder to work out distances back to safety. “I got lucky there, that could have been a 10,” said the player to the bagman without any hint of hyperbole.
His honesty in that self-assessment was replicated in his play of the course in a second round where the wind was always a factor. If truth be told, Lowry’s play was mainly solid from tee-to-green (with the notable exception of that wayward excursion on the 16th, his seventh hole of the round) and, but for a coldish putter, the Offalyman would have finished more advanced up the leaderboard. “Apart from that little trip to the beach, I didn’t hit many bad shots,” he conceded.
Lowry is one of the few who look up at the flags waving on flagpoles by the driving range and lick their lips in anticipation. “The thing is, I enjoy golf like this. I’m trying to make the most of it this week. I feel like my game is in a good place. I feel like I played great (in the first round). I feel like I scored great today. So if I can put those two together over the weekend, who knows what could happen?
“I think when I get to Major championship golf courses like this, I know it’s going to be difficult, so I kind of put myself in a frame of mind maybe different to other weeks where I accept that I’m going to make bogeys and I accept that I’m going to hit bad shots. My attitude has been pretty good. It’s going to need to be very good over the weekend because it’s probably going to get more and more difficult as the week goes on. Hopefully I can pull it all together this weekend and give it a bit of a run.”
In a second round of four birdies and four bogeys, Lowry made a move up the leaderboard to at least be sufficiently close to consider that, indeed, anything is possible over the remaining 36 holes as he goes in pursuit.
Lowry won’t be alone in adopting the role of pursuer, for Harrington - at 49 - has shown that the old fire still burns brightly.
Harrington’s three Major wins may have come in quick succession in 2007 and 2008, and he hasn’t achieved a top-10 since the US Open in 2012, but there is no diminishing of his competitive juices even if there is an acknowledgment that his mind and body has changed since his heyday.
“The disappointment for me now, and this really sums up how the game changes and the ebbs and flows, in 2008 it was inevitable I was going to win Majors, so it didn’t bother me if I didn’t have a good day. I knew I just had to turn up, play my game, and that would put me in position to win Majors and it would happen. Now I turn up at a tournament and I think everything has to go right. I can’t take as many punches. I can’t take as many mistakes. I feel on edge to compete.
“When I play well like today and leave shots out there, I’m thinking, ‘can I afford to do that?’ Whereas 2008 I would have gone, ‘yeah, I can afford to do that; I’m going to win’. It was just so much in your comfort zone, and as I said, then new kids come on the block and you’re looking over your shoulder and you’re wondering is your stuff good enough?”
Through 36 holes, for the most part, Harrington’s stuff has been certainly good enough. The challenge is for him to extend it through 54 holes and ultimately all the way to the finish and discover where it will take him.