Ireland’s Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington dropped shots at the final hole at Firestone Country Club but still hold a strong position going into the weekend at the World Golf Championshups-NEC Invitational in Akron.
Clarke, the only European golfer to date to win one of the World Golf Championships series, shot a second round of 68 and Harrington a 66 for a six under par total of 134, just three behind halfway leader Jim Furyk and one adrift of Phil Mickelson and defending champion Tiger Woods.
At one stage during an exciting day’s play, Clarke was tied for the lead and Harrington one off the pace until both came unstuck behind trees at the fiendishly tricky 18th hole.
Clarke, who won the Accenture Match Play Championship last year, recovered well but pushed his second into the grandstand where he took a free drop. However he was left with an awkward chip and failed to save par.
Likewise, Harrington came to the last hole at seven under par and was blocked out by trees. He produced a stunning recovery to the front edge with a six iron, but fluffed his pitch and had to settle for a bogey five.
Meanwhile Furyk, who shared the first round lead on 65, tagged on a 66 for a nine under par aggregate of 131 with Mickelson carding a 66 for 133 and Woods compiling a ragged 67 to finish on the same mark.
Unlike Clarke and Harrington, however, Woods conjured up a last hole birdie to atone slightly for a double bogey at the 16th which dropped him from the top of the leaderboard into the pack.
Clarke, who eagled the second on Thursday, hit two impressive shots onto the heart of the green but three putted for a par. He then slipped quickly into gear with a hat-trick of birdies from the fourth with putts from 25 feet, 15 feet and a tap-in of nine inches.
“Everything was going fine but I lost it on the back nine” he explained. “I had to hole a lot of good putts for par. Overall it wasn’t good and I will have to play a bit better tomorrow."
Harrington’s 66 was one stroke outside his personal best at Firestone, which he shot in the second round last year. He had six birdies and two bogeys on his card to move into a threatening position.
He said: “I’m obviously pleased with the score but it was disappointing to bogey the last hole. I was steady all day and nothing too exciting was happening until the 13th.”
At that point, Harrington birdied four of the next five holes to sweep through the field – the longest putt of the four being from ten feet at the 14th. The others were from two feet at the 13th, one foot at the 16th and three feet at the 17th.
“I managed to turn an average score into a good one” he said. “To be honest the birdies came from hitting very good short irons. Although I recovered well at the 18th I didn’t hit the chip well at all. I can’t complain though. A 66 is a good round.”
Another player to fall foul of the 18th was Bernhard Langer. The German matched Harrington’s 66 for a total of 135 but his tee shot caught a poor lie in the fairway bunker and he spilled his only shot of the day.
“Today was a mixture of missed opportunities and good up and downs” he said. “I hit some very good shots which provided birdie chances and some wayward ones where I did well to save par. At least a round like that helps me move up the leaderboard.”
Colin Montgomerie produced a mixed bag in a second round of 71 for 137. The Scot bogeyed three of the first five holes and two more on the back nine in a card interspersed by four birdies.
It was the same story from Ian Poulter, who had begun so promisingly with a 67. Three bogeys in the first four holes gave the Englishman a difficult recovery mission but he fought hard and eventually shot a 72 for 139.
Sweden’s Niclas Fasth showed improved form with a 67, although he finished the day at one over par while Lee Westwood, the 2000 Volvo Order of Merit winner, was forced to withdraw after suffering an injury to his left wrist.
Westwood, who struggled round in 78 with an inward half of 40, jarred his wrist on the 13t tee. He completed his round and went straight to the physio unit where the wrist was strapped and ligament damage diagnosed. He may be out of action in the short term and flew home to England.