Focused Harrington shows his resilient streak to good effect
Three-time Major has an eagle and three birdies in an impressive opening 68
Pádraig Harrington in action during the first round at Ballyliffin. “I know if I just stay patient, hopefully I’ll manage it well enough to get myself into position with nine holes to go [on Sunday]. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
The old warhorse still has a stubborn streak, and Pádraig Harrington managed to defy some logic when adventurously discovering parts of Glashedy Links that for others would have required a GPS to navigate a way to safety.
Harrington has done things his way for as long as he has been on tour, never one to take the boring straight route.
And the 46-year-old Dubliner – stimulated by a return to links terrain – demonstrated escapology along with short game wizardry, none more so than eagling the 17th, his eighth hole, in signing for an opening 68, four-under-par, as he manoeuvred into contention.
He showed wonderful artistry for that chip-in for eagle, his approach missing the green left only for him to rescue matters with a pitch played with soft hands. The roars came, and the smile appeared; and, his work done on the hole, he had time to nip under the rope to chat with wife Caroline and son Paddy as playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Chris Wood got on with matters on the green: the Thai bogeyed, the lanky Englishman parred.
Yet, it was Harrington’s refusal to yield to adversity which most impressed.
Two incidents stood out.
On the 18th, his ninth hole, the three-time Major champion’s tee-shot was pushed so far to the right that he missed the fairway by 20 yards. He hit a provisional off the tee, just in case it was lost. The ball was found after a brief search in a tuft of fescue rough but the player got a break. On walking up the sand hills to figure out the flight path to the green, Harrington discovered the corporate hospitality unit lay directly in his way.
“It was a great break where my ball finished up, the fact my ball was playable. If my ball wasn’t playable, it wouldn’t get the line of sight. It was a great break that it was playable. It could be anything when you hit it that far off line, you mightn’t find it.”
The referee was called. The referee agreed. And the player got a drop – “I probably got a 10 per cent better lie out of it” – and hit his approach to the green where he two-putted for par.
Then, on the eighth, his 17th hole, Harrington relied entirely on his own creativity. A poor tee-shot was punished when he plunged into a steep bank and stayed there. It was as if Harrington had taken an excursion to the nearby Malin Head and placed the ball on its steepest cliff-face. He had two options: to take a penalty drop, or to play it as it lay.
Which is what he did, somehow managing to move it 45 yards up the fairway, and with 92 yards left to the pin he successfully got up-and-down to save par. Typical, bloody-mindedness from the man!
There was magic in the air too for, apart from his eagle, Harrington conjured up three birdies. The loudest roar came on the signature hole, the Par 3 seventh. From the elevated tee, Harrington’s pitching wedge hit the ball 170 yards downhill. The six-footer was rolled in, and those gathered on the hill greenside let their voices remind him of their adoration.
He’s in the mix, but not getting carried away. Too soon for that. The old warhorse knows too much.
“I know in my own game, I see lots of good stuff all the time, but not all together consistently. So I know if I just stay patient, hopefully I’ll manage it well enough to get myself into position with nine holes to go [on Sunday]. I’d become a different animal in that situation, so that’s the goal is just to keep myself in position, so you know, with nine holes to go, I can have a bit of fun.”