AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Augusta National giveth, and Augusta National taketh away.
In Saturday’s third round it gave to Padraig Harrington, who birdied five of the final six holes to climb to four-under-par, five strokes off the lead. What the course gave to the Irishman, it took from England’s Justin Rose, who dropped four shots over the closing four holes -- including a four-putt on the 16th -- to finish on even par.
“Fortune favors the brave at times here,” Harrington said after his 68. “But it can catch up with you, as well.”
Harrington, a three-time major champion but winless since the 2008 PGA Championship, has struggled with his putting this year but showed signs of form with a 61 at the Transitions in Tampa last month. That’s a number no one is likely to post Sunday at Augusta National, but Harrington knows he will have to play aggressively to make up ground on leader Peter Hanson and three-time winner Phil Mickelson.
On Saturday night, Harrington explained why the Masters is not over yet. “We have seen leads disappear out there, and it’s so easy,” he said. “In a matter of holes, you can have four-shot swings and more. That’s the beauty of this course. A guy can make an eagle and another guy can make a double bogey on the same hole with not a huge discrepancy on how they play it. And that’s why this is the ultimate golf course to win on, and the toughest golf course in the game probably to maintain a lead.”
The disasters that Rose encountered Saturday proved Harrington’s point. He stood at four-under-par for the day and in the thick of the tournament until he bogeyed the 15th, four putted the 16th and bogeyed the 18th.
“I asked him in the locker room how he finished and he said level,” Harrington said. “I was 4 under and I was thinking, wow, we put the two halves together, it would have been really good. But I kept that to myself.”
Rose was downbeat as he assessed a lost opportunity. “I hit a good shot into 15, caught a little gust and it dribbled back down into the water. That was a turning point. And from there, I just made bad decisions,” he said. “Hit the wrong club into 16, and ended up four-putting. And then I guess my mind was racing a little bit from that point.”
While Rose knows his chance has gone, Harrington is eyeing an outside chance of a fourth major title. “Yeah, it’s been a couple of years but I’ve won more majors than anybody else in the last five years, so in terms of ‘it’s been a while,’ not really,” he said. “There are only two guys playing the game who have won more majors than me. [Tiger Woods has 14, and Mickelson (4)]. The key for me is to let it happen rather than going out there desperately wanting to win.”