Harrington off to a good start in Texas Open as McIlroy struggles to make an impact

Dubliner shares early clubhouse lead on 68 as McIlroy has to settle for an opening 72

Rory McIlroy looks for his ball in the woods on the second hole during the first round of the Texas Open. Photograph: Eric Gay/AP Photo

Rory McIlroy looks for his ball in the woods on the second hole during the first round of the Texas Open. Photograph: Eric Gay/AP Photo


Pádraig Harrington carded a 68 in the first round of the Valero Texas Open with his day marred only by a bogey on the 18th. The three time Major winner had birdies at the 2nd, 10th, 11th, 14th and 17th to take a share of the clubhouse lead.

Harrington won the British Open in 2007, successfully defended it the following year and then won the US PGA Championship a few weeks later, but has not tasted victory on one of the major tours since – his last win came on the Asian Tour in 2010.

Harrington was joined in the clubhouse lead by American Billy Horschel, who carded six birdies and two bogeys in his 68, while fellow American Jason Gore and England’s Brian Davis were one behind after rounds of 69. Sweden’s Peter Hanson, who led going into the final round of the Masters 12 months ago, and Scotland’s Martin Laird were another stroke adrift.

Harrington admitted he had enjoyed his fair share of good luck in cold and blustery conditions, with his only bogey caused by three-putting the 18th. “It was cold and that really does affect the ball,” the Dubliner told reporters. “I didn’t have a great ball-striking round but my misses were either in the right places or I got slightly fortunate and then got up and down.

“I’m not walking away from this round thinking ‘wow, I hit a number of pure golf shots’ or anything like that. It was more mental fortitude than ball striking.

“This morning, early on, it was a battle of survival. Last week back in Ireland it was snowing and I didn’t feel this cold. There was a feeling of ‘let’s just hang in there and stay in the tournament’. Sometimes that lets you play a little bit more within yourself.”

At level par, Rory McIlroy was four shots off the early clubhouse target set by Harrington and Horschel as his last-ditch bid to find some form before next week’s US Masters stuttered after a promising start.

McIlroy only added the event to his schedule at the 11th hour after struggling to adapt to new equipment and recapture the form which brought him five wins in 2012, including a second major at the US PGA Championship.

But with caddie JP Fitzgerald advising him that he needed more competitive rounds under his belt, McIlroy travelled to San Antonio and initially looked set to be very happy with the decision.

Starting from the 10th on the difficult Oaks Course – the fourth most difficult on the PGA Tour last year – McIlroy opened with four pars before picking up a birdie on the par-five 14th and another on the 17th. However, a bogey on the 18th was the first of three in succession which dropped him back to one over par, not what the world number two was looking for after speaking of the need to cut out “silly mistakes” in his rounds.

The 23-year-old stopped the rot with pars at the third and fourth and then birdied the next two holes, but carded his fourth bogey of the day on the ninth and had to settle for an opening 72.

Shane Lowry is in the last group out today.

Anyone winning this week will have to defy the odds if they want to also claim a Green Jacket at the Masters, however. Only two players have won the week prior to the Masters and then gone on to win in Augusta: Sandy Lyle in the Greater Greensboro Open in 1988 and Phil Mickelson in the BellSouth Classic in 2006.