Harrington leads Johor Open

Padraig Harrington surged into a one-shot, halfway lead at the Iskandar Johor Open thanks to some glorious putting.

Some glorious putting enabled three-time Major champion Padraig Harrington to secure a one-shot lead after Friday’s second round of the Azsian Tour’s Iskandar Johor Open at the Horizon Hills Golf and Country Club in Malaysia.

Chasing a first victory in two years, the Ryder Cup star, who was one of the early starters, battled to a five-under-par 67 to be one clear of late-starting Chinese Taipei’s Lin Wen-tang who is alone in second place with a 13-under-par 131 total.

Lin, a five-time winner in Asia, narrowly missed an eagle at the last that would have tied Harrington but nevertheless produced a highly credible, day’s best 65 in swirling winds.

Korea’s Lee Sung, who was born deaf and communicates by lip reading, shot a blemish free 68, which included a 50-foot birdie on 17, to lie three shots back in third position while Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Noh Seung-yul of Korea was a further stroke behind alongside Singaporean Mardan Mamat and Australia’s Scott Hend on 135.

Harrington, making his debut at the Iskandar Johor Open, turned in 35 with two birdies and a dropped shot, but holed a 35-foot birdie putt at the 3rd, his 12th hole of the day, which sparked another birdie at the following hole.

He then drained a 25-footer for eagle at the par five sixth.

“I didn’t play as well as a 67 and I got a few breaks on the back nine. I struggled quite a lot. I holed a long putt which got my round going a bit, hit two nice shots to make eagle but still had to hole a 25 footer which was a bit of a bonus to come back like that. After 11 holes, I would have settled for one or two under. Five under is certainly a bonus,” said the world number 22.

After yesterday’s fireworks where he opened with a superb 64 for the joint lead, Harrington struggled with his game, but reckons he has a quick fix to keep his title charge on track.

“I played pretty well yesterday but was horrible today. If anything, I lose a bit of my timing which goes off. My body gets ahead of my arms. I’m happy I know what it is and I’m happy to know where my bad shots are coming from,” said the Irishman.

“There’s no point being defensive out there. There are a lot of birdies to be made and I’ve made a few eagles. I’ve got to keep going like that. You’ve got to expect to get to around 20 under par tomorrow. I’ve got to keep moving forward, play well and take a lead into Sunday.”

Lin, who was ill earlier in the week, mastered the afternoon winds with nine birdies against two bogeys to surge into contention. He hit all but one fairway at Horizon Hills and peppered the flags with crisp iron play.

“The tee shots were very good, the short game was good. Seven under, I’m very happy,” said the 36-year-old, Asia’s second ranked player in 2008. “My city is very windy. I like the strong winds. I’m comfortable.”

Lin had to keep his focus in check after learning of the passing of fellow professional Lu Wen-hsiung back home on Thursday. “Lu is like my brother. I read about it in the newspaper and it was very scary. He was a good man. Everyone is sad,” said Lin.

Hend continued to show the kind of form that helped him to two fourth place finishes in his last four starts on the Asian Tour with a tidy 67. The big-hitting Aussie, who enjoyed two seasons on the US PGA Tour in 2004 and 2005, shot an eagle and four birdies against a lone bogey.

“I’m happy with my score and I’m up there. I’m playing like how I used to play,” said Hend, whose lone Asian Tour victory was in 2008. “I need a win. I need to keep the head screwed on. It’s just concentration. I’ve got to concentrate properly and play the percentages properly. I haven’t holed many putts this year but I’m starting to get everything together,” said Hend, who converted an eight foot putt for eagle on the 13th hole.

Mardan, Singapore’s first winner on the Asian Tour, said he got lucky as he fired five birdies for a 67. “I played well and got lucky. I kept trying my best and played to my own game. I did what I had to do. I’m happy with where I am going into the last two days,” said the 42-year-old.

Noh, 19, enjoyed a strong outward 33 as he was neck and neck with playing partner Harrington but dropped a few shots with some wayward iron play on his inward journey to settle for a 69.

“I was still hitting a few irons to the left although it was slightly better than yesterday. I’ve got a bit of work to do at the driving range,” said Noh, winner of the Maybank Malaysian Open in March.

“Four shots is nothing as there are two rounds to go. I feel confident playing with Padraig. Last week, I lost a five shot lead in Korea in one day, so there is plenty to play for this weekend.”

Title holder K.J. Choi of Korea shot a second straight 70 for tied 22nd place on 140 while South African Retief Goosen and Colin Montgomerie of Scotland were a further stroke back after a 73 and 71 respectively.

India’s Himmat Rai, third last year, shot the tournament’s first hole in one on the eighth en route to a 75 but missed the halfway cut set at even par 144.

The Iskandar Johor Open is shown live on the Asian Tour’s television platform which reaches over 40 countries worldwide.