Ireland must call in a few favours

 

It's time to call in some markers from our Celtic neighbours. Without Scottish help, Ireland would appear to have little chance of emerging from Group Three, after losing their opening match 2-1 to South Africa.

"One of the benefits of being in a tough group is that you always have a chance," said Irish skipper Paul McGinley, after a repeat of last year's defeat (which happened on the Saturday). "I've a feeling we're going to be counting match points on Saturday evening."

On past history in this particular tournament, however, it would be rather fanciful to bank on help from the Scots, given that they have beaten Ireland in all four meetings between the countries. But their captain, Colin Montgomerie, didn't discount the possibility. "Ireland are not out of it yet, by any means," he said.

For a few glorious moments, it appeared as if the Irish were being let off the hook. Darren Clarke was always going to lose to Ernie Els while Padraig Harrington was generally in control against David Frost. So, McGinley's match with Retief Goosen became critical.

Though the newly-crowned Irish champion was behind from the second hole, he finished most impressively to give hope of a great escape. Four strokes behind Goosen with three holes to play, he cut the gap to three with a birdie at the 16th. Then the gap became two, when the South African three-putted the 17th.

Down the last, McGinley pitched to four feet from the flag but Goosen mishit his approach into the Valley of Sin. But the hoped for, two-shot swing, which would have put Ireland into a play-off, never materialised. Though the Irishman would sink the four-footer for a closing birdie, it had become irrelevant when Goosen got the necessary par from eight feet.

"I made too many mistakes early on," said McGinley. "For instance, last year I wasn't in any bunker, whereas I drove into two traps today. Meanwhile, Goosen's only mistake was in three-putting the 17th."

Harrington closed out Frost with exemplary professionalism. Though the Dubliner wasn't putting particularly well, superb approach irons took the pressure off his short game. As a result, he had five birdies in the first 10 holes to be three strokes clear at that stage.

Frost then shocked him by drawing level at the 13th, but Harrington responded with a birdie and four straight pars to the finish. One of these happened to be at the 17th where he recovered from the Road Hole bunker to 15 feet past the target and then slotted the putt for the most difficult par in golf. That Frost three-putted for a bogey made it all the sweeter.

"I gave myself chances at almost every hole," said Harrington, who has now won three of his four matches in this event. "In the circumstances, a round of 67 wasn't a great return."

Clarke putted terribly when shooting 71 to a 66 from Els. Typical of the match was their play of the ninth where the Irishman was little more than three feet from the flag in two, whereas Els was 12 feet further adrift. Els holed and Clarke missed.

"We just have to pull out all the stops against Scotland today - it's a simple as that," said Clarke. As a seeded side, Scotland had the choice of naming the first pairing and they picked McGinley to play Raymond Russell. Then the Irish named Clarke to play Gordon Brand Jnr and the in-form Harrington to play Montgomerie in the anchor position.