RORY McIlroy missed the cut in his final Masters warm-up, but Pádraig Harrington flies high as he prepares to return to Augusta after a seven-year absence.
Veteran Harrington (50) opened with a five-under 67 to share the lead with Tim Herron in the Rapiscan Systems Classic at the PGA TOUR Champions, McIlroy followed a 72 with a one-over-73 to break the cut by two Missing shots Valero Texas Open – his first missed cut in the world since last summer’s Scottish Open.
The Holywood star skipped last week’s WGC Dell Technologies Match Play, opting to play the week before the Masters for the first time in eight years.
His goal was to play four competitive stroke play rounds and use the tournament as a “good guide to see where my game is, especially when you have to hit under pressure to try and win a golf tournament”.
If he was looking for a confidence boost en route to Augusta National, his plan backfired when he hit just four fairways and finished 101st for shots with an approach won and 103rd for shots with a putt won.
After opening on a 72, he needed a round of sub-par to see him through the weekend, but he bogeyed the second par-5 and struggled to hit the ball out of the rough, and missed another shot on the 12th . fall .
He nearly caught an eagle on the 17th for 366 yards, but after tapping from 5 inches to birdie back into the one-over, he hooked his drive into the hazard on the 18th and did well with a par 5 then getting away with a penalty drop.
If he wins the Masters, he’ll be the first player to do so in the week after missing the cut since Angel Cabrera in 2009.
Texan Ryan Palmer shot 66 to lead with two shots on 10-under at TPC San Antonio ahead of Kevin Chappell, Matt Kuchar and Dylan Frittelli, but Graeme McDowell missed the six-shot one-under cut and carded a 75 to to finish with five overs.
When McIlroy and McDowell struggled, it was all Harrington’s smiles as he hit 13 of 14 fairways and made an eagle three, four birdies and a bogey in a 67 to share the lead with Heron at Biloxi’s Grand Bear Golf Club .
The Dubliner has not had a top-10 finish from three starts since turning 50 last August, but he has used his power well on a less claustrophobic course than previously.
“I like the golf course, this course suits me,” said Harrington, who will be playing the Masters for the first time since 2015.
“It’s my fourth Champions Tour event and I found it interesting. I’ve certainly gone to some of the courses and said, well, kind of tough for me, but this one came out and said I like the look of it, it suits me.
“I have quite an advantage off the tee in places so I was confident going out there.”
Harrington excels on difficult courses, but finds scoring low on the PGA TOUR Champions more challenging, especially now that his long game is a greater strength than his wedge game and putting.
“Yeah, these guys are shooting 18 under par for three rounds most weeks, or at least 15 for three rounds, that’s a lot of birdies,” he said. “You know, somehow my game has become a bit anti-bogey.
“On the PGA Tour, I only make three or four birdies per round, with two or three being generous. I just have to get used to making a lot of birdies and some eagles again because the par 5s are a chance.”
As for the benefits of starting the week before a major, he had no doubts.
“Being above a shot and not having any mental disorders if I can do that under pressure this week would put me well into next week because I’m going to be nervous for the next two days now that I’m in the lead I have something to hold on to, something I don’t want to lose,” Harrington explained.
“So that’s great preparation, it’s great mental preparation. From my experience so far I like it that way. You can get mentally in shape no matter what golf course you play on.”
https://www.independent.ie/sport/golf/mcilroys-masters-preparations-derailed-with-missed-cut-in-texas-but-no-biloxi-blues-as-harrington-shares-champions-tour-lead-41513311.html McIlroy’s Masters preparations fell through with a missed cut in Texas but no Biloxi blues as Harrington shares the Champions Tour lead