Harrington makes mockery of long-shot odds with opening 68

Dubliner one shot off leader Ryan Fox after morning tee-times

Pádraig Harrington hits out of a bunker on the eighth hole during the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at  Ballyliffin Golf Club. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

Pádraig Harrington hits out of a bunker on the eighth hole during the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin Golf Club. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

 

Pádraig Harrington still has that fighter’s instinct. The more he is pushed into a corner, the better he responds; and somewhat irked to be considered an outsider – with odds ranging from 66-1 to as high as 120-1 in the market ahead of the DDF Irish Open – the 46-year-old Dubliner produced an opening round 68, four under par, in Ballyliffin to reinforce his belief that he still has the game to contend and win.

A chip-in eagle – after an aggressive play to use driver off the tee on the 17th, his eighth hole – provided the impetus for his round but it was a number of par saves that also showcased all of Harrington’s old short-game magic as he kept in touch with clubhouse leader Ryan Fox. The New Zealander opened with a 67.

Harrington’s critical par saves came on the 18th, where his tee shot was pushed so far right into deep rough that he was entitled to line-of-sight relief due to the corporate hospitality by the green being in his way. He made par. Then, on the eight, his 17th, his tee shot plunged into the rivets on a fairway bunker which had a face akin to the cliffs of Malin Head.

Rather than take a penalty drop back into the bunker, he punched the ball forwards some 45 yards up the fairway and then hit an approach from 92 yards to six feet and rolled in the par save. Those displays of escapology were as important as any of the eagle and three birdies he produced, although his third eagle on the seventh – his 16th – brought about a cheer from the galleries that was reminiscent of Harrington in his prime.

“There was some good and bad but on a links golf course you could get away with that at times and I knew I could create some opportunities out there. Thankfully, my short game was good enough to handle the odd bad shot and I hit plenty of good ones,” said Harrington.

“It definitely plays into my strengths. There’s so many ways to play it, play a hole out there. You can carry trouble, lay up short of trouble. You can play to one side where you know even if you’re in the rough, you know you’re okay. There’s just a lot going on. And I don’t fully know this golf course, so I’m really relying on my links experience rather than my local knowledge.”

Graeme McDowell also posted a sub-par round, battling back from two over through 11 holes to sign for a one-under-par 71. “I scrambled, hung in there and managed to play pretty well coming in the last 10 or 11 holes. All in all, I’m happy enough with one under because it could have easily been a day that got away,” said McDowell.

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