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Friday, 19 March 2010

It is one of the oldest idioms in match play golf, namely that two up with five to play never wins, and Padraig Harrington proved its authenticity once again at the La Costa Resort & Spa, eroding that precise lead held by opponent Angel Cabrera to progress through to the third round of the World Golf Championships – Accenture Match Play.

The 34 year old Irishman looked in trouble at the hands last year’s BMW Championship winner, but produced a stunning finish at the Carlsbad course to move into the last 16 alongside four of his European Tour colleagues – Luke Donald, Retief Goosen, David Howell and Vijay Singh.

Harrington began his amazing finish with a birdie three to halve the 14th but then began to eat into Cabrera’s lead at the short 16th, holing from 30 feet for a winning birdie two. With the Argentine still reeling, Harrington landed another sucker punch at the 17th, this time rolling in a 27 foot putt for another winning birdie.

It left the match all square coming down the par five 18th but the big-hitting Cabrera used that to his advantage to find the green in two, his sublime second shot finishing a mere six feet from the pin.

So convinced was the young Californian student carrying the portable scoreboard that Cabrera would make the eagle putt, that he slipped the red ‘1 up’ sign into the slot next to the Argentine’s name as he stood over the ball. But he missed, and Harrington two putted for a birdie to take the match into extra holes.

Cabrera was soon to rue the missed opportunity, pushing his approach shot right of the first green into a horrid lie from where he could do no better than bogey five, Harrington’s regulation par being good enough to set up a third round tie with Singh.

“I’m working on a few things in my game and I’m definitely between two golf swings just now,” he said. “I’m basically hitting it at the middle of the fairway and hoping that I don’t draw or fade it too much.

“But over the last six holes I gave up on all that stuff and just knuckled down. The job was to just get it in the hole, regardless of how I swung it and I managed to do that. Making four birdies in the last five holes was nice.”

Harrington’s mettle will be tested severely again in the third round against Singh, who recovered from a shaky start against Miguel Angel Jiménez – where he was two down after two holes, to turn the match around. The Fijian made no more mistakes and six birdies in total saw him run out a comfortable 2 and 1 winner.

“The key for me is driving the ball,” said Singh, who reached the third round for the first time in seven attempts. “If I can drive the ball straight then I give myself chances for birdies and it also looks like I’m beginning to putt again the way I want to. I knew Miguel was going to be a tough match – he never gave up.”

Another two European Tour colleagues – Donald and Goosen – will meet in the third round too. Donald, who reached the third round on his debut last year, ousted Japan’s Shigeki Maruyama 4 and 3 while Goosen ended the run of Ben Crane by 2 and 1, despite the American holing in one at the 188 yard 16th with a six iron.

Donald produced some of the best golf of the day, being six under par for his 15 holes, and indeed ended the tie with matching birdie threes at the 14th and 15th. “That was very good and was the golf I like to play,” he said.

“I really didn’t give Shigeki any chance and I made him make the birdies if he wanted to win a hole. I’m very pleased with that. Everything was good today. I drove it well, hit pretty good irons and made some good putts as was shown at the last two holes to finish the match off. So very pleasing overall.”

Goosen’s form, in contrast, was not as good but he exhibited once again, that in match play you only have to be better than the man standing across the fairway from you. “We didn’t do much today, Ben or I,” he said. “I though about maybe just cruising in and then he made the one on me at the 16th – luckily for me he three-putted the 17th.

“As for tomorrow, Luke is going to be tough. It is pretty much guaranteed that he’s going to hit it down the middle of the fairway on every hole so I need to hit it nice and straight myself and get a bit closer with my irons, to give me a chance of a few birdies.”

Completing the quintet of European Tour hopefuls in the last 16 is David Howell who produced four birdies in five holes after the turn to gradually pull away from opponent Scott Verplank before closing out the match 3 and 2. The Englishman will again have to be at his best in the third round to see off another American, one of the tournament favourites, Phil Mickelson.

“I’ve never played with him actually but he is a great player,” said Howell. “I’m just going to have to go out and shoot a good score. You can’t look at it in match play terms, but if you get to five or six under par then anyone is going to struggle to beat you. I know the crowd will be with him but that’s not going to affect me. It’ll make it all the more fun if I win.”

While those five players marched on, it was the end of the road for eight European Tour Members alongside Cabrera and Jiménez; namely José Maria Olazábal, Adam Scott, John Daly, Carl Pettersson, Colin Montgomerie, Henrik Stenson, Bernhard Langer and Nick O’Hern.

At the top of the draw, Number One seed and World Number One Tiger Woods progressed albeit with a bit more of a struggle than in his 9 and 8 first round demolition of Stephen Ames. In the second round, Woods beat dogged Australian Robert Allenby on the final green and will now meet fellow countryman Chad Campbell.

The third round is completed with the ties featuring: David Toms versus Tom Lehman, Mike Weir versus Geoff Ogilvy, Chris DiMarco versus Davis Love III, and Zach Johnson versus Shingo Katayama.

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