- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

Padraig Harrington arrived at the Booz Allen Classic weary from a week at Winged Foot that included two late-round fades on the weekend.

After a five-day sojourn around the TPC at Avenel, Harrington is rejuvenated as he begins his final push for a berth on the European Ryder Cup team.

Harrington, the top-ranked player in the Booz’s field at No. 23, completed a final-round 66 yesterday. He’s tied for second with Steve Stricker — who has two holes left when play resumes today — at 15-under. The event’s frequent delays and jumbled schedule afforded him the chance to catch up on some rest, but few were happier than Harrington to complete the tournament.

“There was a little worry that we wouldn’t get the end of this round finished,” Harrington said after his third top-10 finish of the year. “After having a good start, it made a big difference for me, especially when I was in sole second. I was trying to get those ranking points for the Ryder Cup, so if they pulled the round it would have been very disappointing.”

Harrington trailed Ben Curtis by nine shots when the final round began, and a solid push on Sunday left him eight shots behind when play was halted. A fifth-day rally seemed unlikely, but Curtis created the slightest possibility it could happen when he double bogeyed No. 12, his first hole of the day.

Although Harrington wasn’t paying attention to Curtis’ travails, he rolled in a 15-foot birdie at the 15th to pull within five. He never got closer, bogeying No. 17 after his tee shot at the par-3 veered into a muddy bunker to cede full control of second place.

“I was trying to make as many birdies as I could in the last five holes that I had and let Ben look after himself,” Harrington said. “Even after a few mistakes, it’s unlikely that he was ever going to come back. Eight shots is a lot.”

It was still an impressive round for Harrington, whose play improved as the week progressed and his Open exhaustion — and perhaps exasperation — declined. He shot 65 on Friday, his best score of the week, after struggling with his putting on his way to a 68 on Thursday.

It was quite the opposite in the final round, when he rolled in birdie putts of 30, 35 and 40 feet, and also added a short eagle putt at No. 6. He hit 33 of 35 greens at one point before missing his final two.

“They do even out over time, but I got very frustrated on Saturday,” Harrington said. “I hit a lot close and I would say some went in. I gave myself a lot of chances. If you’re continually on the green — and I hardly missed a green the last 36 holes, so I had a lot of birdie chances — some of them are going to drop eventually.”

Those that did certainly gave a slight boost to Harrington’s Ryder Cup hopes. The Irishman would barely miss qualifying as one of Europe’s 10 automatic selections if the team was finalized today, and sitting out the biennial event on his home soil at the K Club in Kildare would sting especially hard.

He’s played in the last three Ryder Cups, and plans to make a substantial push in the next two months. He won’t return to American soil until August’s PGA Championship, and he hopes for one or two impressive performances — and paychecks, since earnings on the European tour are a factor in determining the team — in the interim to solidify his position.

“It’s very hard to make a Ryder Cup team unless you make a big jump, win one tournament at least where you make a lot of points one week,” Harrington said. “It’s difficult to make it in small amounts. I’m knocking on the door with those small amounts, but I have got seven more events. I would really like it if I made one good event than trying to make it with seven small ones.”

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