Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and his equally popular countryman and amateur partner, JP McManus, teed themselves up for a famous ‘Irish double’ when they led the professional tournament and the team event in the dunhill links championship.
Harrington, one of Europe’s Ryder Cup heroes at The De Vere Belfry last Sunday, fired a second successive 66 to move into a one stroke lead at halfway with a 12 under total of 132 after his rounds at Carnoustie and Kingsbarns with two rounds now facing him at St Andrews.
The Ryder Cup golfer is something of a thoroughbred in his chosen profession, while McManus – a shrewd judge of equine pedigrees judging by his ownership of National Hunt star, Istabraq – clearly knows something about golf as well. He and Harrington lead the team section with a 20 under par total.
Harrington, who temporarily broke his teetotal habit after the historic win in The Ryder Cup, proved he had restored his equilibrium with a wonderfully controlled 66 at Kingsbarns, the highlights being a clutch of five birdies in the last eight holes.
Lying in second place is Eduardo Romero of Argentina, chasing a second title on Scottish soil this year. Romero captured The Barclays Scottish Open in July and a round of 68 at Kingsbarns for 133 kept him in the running for another victory at the age of 48.
A 67 at Carnoustie propelled Swede Mikael Lundberg into third place on 134 while India’s Jyoti Randahawa, playing over the Old Course at St Andrews, climbed into joint fourth with another Ryder Cup player, Thomas Björn.
Harrington’s immaculate rounds were a tribute to his ability to focus so soon after the celebrations of four days earlier and he confessed that he tends to be a spring and autumn player. He said: “Every year I play better at the start of the year and the end of the year. It’s nice to be in this position but I haven’t won yet and there is not much time left.”
Currently third on the Volvo Order of Merit, Harrington can make serious inroads into the lead at the top held by Retief Goosen, the 2001 European Number One, and his fellow South African, Ernie Els.
“I knew if I was to win the Volvo Order of Merit I had to win an event or two. I started thinking the last few weeks either the US PGA Championship, the NEC Invitational or the dunhill links championship. I am just trying to win the tournament this week. Nothing else.”
Just one shot off the pace, Romero is relishing the opportunity to move to his third venue of the week at St.Andrews. He commented: “St Andrews is my favourite of the three and I can’t wait for tomorrow. My game is good and I feel very confident. I have played the course many times and it’s the best in Europe.
“I really enjoy being in Scotland. The courses are similar to my own country and there is so much history about St Andrews. When I go to st Andrews my concentration just goes up and up and up because I love playing there.”
Lundberg’s 67 pleased him immensely and he said: “I was very pleased today. I wouldn’t say I was an expert in links golf but we do play a lot in the wind on The European Tour so that helped me.”
Randhawa, with a 69 at StAndrews, forced his way into contention for the dunhill links title. The son of a retired brigadier in the Indian Army, golf was never really an option for the young Jyoti as he was growing up. However he didn’t pass his exams to enlist and concentrated instead on golf.
He explained: “I wasn’t brilliant at studying so I just stuck to golf. I had always thought I would be a soldier but when I couldn’t get through my exams I took up golf as a professional. In my heart or hearts I always wanted to be a soldier.”
Björn, round in 68 at Kingsbarns, admitted he played “solid but not spectacular” golf as he muscled in on the action at the top end of the leaderboard. Meanwhile Retief Goosen bogeyed the last to finished on 137, seven under.
The shot of the day was undoubtedly pulled off by Colin Montgomerie, who holed his second shot with a four iron from 209 yards at the third hole at Kingsbarns for the second albatross of his career and the first on The European Tour International Schedule in 2002.
He said: “My first albatross was in Switzerland in 1990. I shook Seve (Ballesteros’s) hand on the first tee then shook itr again four minutes later when I holed my second shot! That was a three wood. I got very lucky.”
England’s Miles Tunnicliff was disqualified for taking an incorrect drop from a bunker at the 16th hole at Carnoustie. Elsewhere, Olle Karlsson withdrew with a back injury.
In the team event, the leaders mirror the professional tournament with Harrington and McManus just a stroke ahead of Romero and Edinburgh lawyer, Neil Crichton.