Old friend rounds on Harrington
The Players Championship: For some reason, Padraig Harrington had seemed immune to the whims of the 17th hole at the TPC at Sawgrass. No matter what hexes or curses befell others on this devilish short hole, the Irishman always escaped.
Until yesterday, that is. In a stop-start, up-and-down conclusion to his second round, Harrington finally discovered what it was like to find the water. He didn't like it.
What happened on the 17th - "a great hole", Harrington had offered as his opinion earlier in the week - compounded the problems experienced earlier as his anticipated charge failed to materialise.
After opening with a first-round 67 on Thursday, the Dubliner had to wait fully 48 hours to start his second round on Saturday. He'd played nine holes - moving to seven under par - when fading light caused play to be suspended.
Yesterday morning, though, witnessed a change in the weather. The deathly calm had been replaced by a swirling, gusting wind that accentuated the challenge.
Ironically, Harrington, who incurred four bogeys and just a solitary birdie in concluding his second round for 73, leaving him on four-under 140, remarked, "Today's actually the best I've hit the ball. But the gusting winds made me feel awkward. It was just one of those days. On another day, you probably wouldn't be hitting the ball as well but you'd manage yourself better."
The 17th hole, the most famous par three in golf, had never been a problem for Harrington, though. He'd never hit a ball into the lake in four previous appearances in the Players. But the odds were always against the stretch continuing. Some day, it had to end. Which is what happened yesterday, his 18th time to play the 17th in competition.
As he stood on the tee, the wind first abated, then swirled. The US flag atop the television tower seemed to indicate the wind was blowing left-to-right.
When Harrington pulled a nine-iron from his bag, it was with no fear that it was too much for a flag placement some 141 yards from the tee.
He was wrong. His tee-shot air-mailed the green, plunging into the water behind the green. Normally, a ball plopping into the lake is greeted with "oohs" and "aahs" and even ribbing from the crowds camped around.
For Harrington, there was simply deathly silence, a sense of disbelief. "As soon as I hit the shot, I stared it down . . . into the water," he said.
What it did force him to do was move to the drop zone for a shot that, in many ways, can often be more difficult than the tee-shot. He moved back in the zone to give himself a sand-wedge option rather than gap wedge. His shot from 97 yards finished eight feet from the pin, and he rolled in the bogey putt.
"You don't want to be in the drop zone - it was good to make bogey," he remarked.
That bogey was the fourth of his back nine, a poor return that moved him back in the title race.
"I certainly felt like I dropped some shots that I shouldn't have dropped," he remarked.
"If I'd made a birdie early on, I wouldn't be licking my wounds so much. I just got behind, put myself on the back foot (too much)."
His problems had started long before he reached the 17th, however. On the par-five 11th, with 245 yards to the flag, he went for the green in two, only to push his approach into the water.
"I planned on cutting it in from the left, but there was a tree in the way. I didn't even think about the water. I thought I could hold it up, but it drifted on the wind."
The result was a bogey six.
There followed a three-putt bogey on the 13th, where he found the wrong section of the green.
He then suffered another bogey on the 14th when his tee-shot was pulled left, just about managing to stay on the safety of the bank of the lake's edge. With no option other than to play to the fairway, it resulted in another dropped shot.
The only solace came with a birdie on the 16th - before the dreaded 17th, finally, eked out revenge on the player who hitherto had led a charmed life there.