FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- Padraig Harrington has been a stalwart on a European Ryder Cup team that has won four of the last six biennial matches. With a 9-13-3 record, the 40-year-old Irishman has won 10½ points for his side.
But now he's in danger of missing his first Ryder Cup since the 1997 Valderrama matches in Spain. At 27th in the standings, the fate of the three-time major champion lies solely with European captain Jose Maria Olazabal, who will make his two wild-card picks on Monday.
On Thursday in the first round of The Barclays, Harrington shot a 7-under-par 64 on the fabled Bethpage Black Course that included a 29 on the back nine to take the early lead in the first FedEx Cup playoff event of 2012.
But even if Harrington can hold on for what would be a very impressive win against a very strong field, it might not be enough to land him a position on his seventh Ryder Cup team. The Barclays is not a qualifying event for the European Ryder Cup, and Harrington's mediocre 2011 season didn't get him into any of this year's World Golf Championship events, which could have helped him get valuable world ranking points.
"I'm in a terrible place," Harrington said after his round. "Look, it's a tough situation I'm in. I didn't play enough -- not playing in the bigger events outside of those four majors hurt my cause."
In 2010, Colin Montgomerie made Harrington a wild-card pick on his team that defeated the U.S. at Celtic Manor.
But Harrington, who came into this week 62nd in the playoff standings, shouldn't have to beg. He is one of only 12 players to make the cut in all four majors. He had a tie for eighth at the Masters and a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open, where he had five birdies in 11 holes to ultimately finish 2 shots back of the winner, Webb Simpson.
So it's not as if his recent play doesn't merit attention from Olazabal. But then maybe Harrington's fate was settled long ago on the third green at the El Saler Golf Club in Valencia, Spain, during the 2003 Seve Trophy. In their singles match on the final day, Harrington questioned Olazabal's right to repair two pitch marks in his putting line. The Spaniard didn't like the suggestion that he was breaking a rule.
The minor incident set off a heated exchange at the close of their halved match that helped Great Britain and Ireland beat Europe 15-13.
Olazabal wouldn't hear Harrington's side of the story.
"It's not worth losing a friend over, but we had 15 very awkward holes after that," Harrington said after that match. "I was not trying to question his integrity, but that's what he thought and I can 100 percent see his side. I certainly won't be celebrating tonight, and it's not the way I would have liked to get a half [point]."
Nine years later, Harrington doesn't believe that Olazabal would let an old grudge get in the way of winning an event so important in Europe.
"I truly believe that he's interested in winning the Ryder Cup," Harrington said of Olazabal on Thursday. "From the character that he is, I believe he would put winning way above anything that's personal.
"The Ryder Cup means so much to Europe, particularly to Jose as a European player. Nobody, bar Seve, would understand in his mind what it means to Europe."
Before the PGA Championship two weeks ago, Olazabal put Harrington on notice that he needed to perform well in the major to have a real shot at the making the European team. But Harrington didn't make a huge splash, finishing in a tie for 18th. And when Ollie was asked recently about who he was considering for the picks, he didn't name Harrington.
Earlier this week, Olazabal's countryman, Sergio Garcia, didn't help Harrington's case when he was asked about the Dubliner's chances of making the European team.
"I'm sure that Jose is going to pick whoever he thinks is best for the team," said Garcia, who clinched his own spot at Medinah's matches with his win in Greensboro. "I mean, I don't know if that includes Harrington or not. I don't think he's a sure pick. He wouldn't be a sure pick for me."
At this point, Harrington doesn't know where he stands with Olazabal. All he can do is control what lies ahead for him over the next three days at Bethpage. If he wins on this golf course, no matter how benignly it compares to its U.S. Open condition, it would be a great win. If he can't convince Olazabal that he's worthy with a victory at Bethpage, then it was never meant to be.
"I'm either going to look like I'm pleading or I'm going to look like I'm incriminating myself, one or the other," Harrington said. "I'm going to plead the Fifth. I'm not going to build myself up or I'm not going to tear myself down.
"At the end of the day, it's up to him."