Martin holds off Couples as Irish falter on greens


AS Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley fell from grace in Perth yesterday, Irish hopes of a victory in the Heineken Classic disintegrated, with precious Ryder Cup points going with them.

Harrington rarely found anything like the form which had taken him to a course record 63 on Friday. And he not only plummeted from a two shot lead after two rounds, but failed to make even the top 10 behind Spaniard Miguel Martin, who held off America's charging Fred Couples to take the £107,546 first prize and Ryder Cup points.

But the Stackstown professional's chagrin was nothing to that of McGinley's, who reeled from the course like a punch drunk boxer after crashing to a final round 77 which contained five three putts.

They had led the tournament together by mid afternoon on Saturday. But they were only flattering to deceive as Harrington had to settle for only a share of 11th place. McGinley's humiliation on the greens saw him slump to a mere 29th place, a far cry from his runner up spot the year before.

Darren Clarke, despite three putting the last himself to inhibit his Ryder Cup spoils, went past McGinley to take 25th place and earn £4,884. That could not prevent him slipping back to fourth on the points table, however, as Martin surged up to second place.

While Martin birdied the last hole for a closing one under par 71 for 15 under par, to deny Couples a playoff chance, Harnngton's final day 72 left him five shots off the winning aggregate. He earned £11,113, hauling him up from 18th place in the Ryder Cup table to 14th.

"When you shoot 63 you don't expect to repeat it next day," said Harrington, who refused to be dismayed. "Golf's just not like that. Really, I'm not at all disappointed, although I was very disappointed with the way I finished."

His finish cost him the top 10 position as he found the bunker across the water on the last, escaped to six feet and shaved the hole with his birdie putt.

"I hit the ball okay, but too many shots went past the flag or in the middle of the green. I just wasn't close enough at the weekend to make the birdies. It was the lack of them that cost me, not dropped shots. I've performed better than I'd expected, even though there's lots of work to do still."

Harrington's birdie assessment was accurate. He had a meagre haul on Saturday, after the blister ing nine in 15 holes the day before, and yesterday found only two.

McGinley would have settled for that count. He slumped to only five under par by virtue of a front nine he will want to forget quickly. It mostly came from an errant putter.

After missing a short savings putt on the second, he ran into a wall of three putts. He repeated the feat on the last.

"It was just an horrendous day," groaned McGinley. "The worst I can remember for years. I three putted five times and it was just awful. But I got what I deserved and I'm not complaining." He picked up £3,689.

McGinley and Clarke, who finished up scrambling for a plane directly after his round, left for home, while Harrington flies to Johannesburg today for the South African Open, accompanied by David Higgins.

Higgins has not yet claimed a place in the event at Glendower, but is ever hopeful he is second reserve. He was heartened by a better day yesterday than his woes of Saturday, when he plunged out of the reckoning with a 76.

"The heat got to me in the third round," admitted the Waterville pro. "I just lost all my energy. With it being so hot, I didn't feel hungry and didn't have a lot to eat. Consequently I felt weak. So today I took out plenty of bananas. I'm pretty happy overall for my first event of the year.

Happiness came in the shape of a cheque for £2,927 for 37th place on four under par after his closing 70.