Pádraig Harrington opens Portugal defence with 67

Irish golfer three shots off joint leaders Joost Luiten and George Coetzee

 Pádraig Harrington  tees off on the second hole  during the first round of the  Portugal Masters at  Victoria Golf Club  in Albufeira. Photograph:  Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Pádraig Harrington tees off on the second hole during the first round of the Portugal Masters at Victoria Golf Club in Albufeira. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

 

Defending champion Pádraig Harrington got off to a solid start at the Portugal Masters on Thursday as he looks for a strong end to the season.

After starting on the 10th hole, Harrington enjoyed a purple patch of four birdies in six holes in a bogey-free four-under 67 on the Victoria Course where he secured the title last October.

Harrington is presently 110th on the Race to Dubai standings and will need to move up inside the top 70 to secure an invite to the Turkish Airlines Open at the start of November, which kicks off the lucrative end of season events on the European Tour.

Harrington’s opening round left him in a share of 16th position, three shots behind joint leaders Joost Luiten of the Netherlands and South Africa’s George Coetzee.

“I’m pleased with it,” Harrington told Sky Sports. “I worked my way around the golf course very well. It was not my best ball-striking round but I didn’t get myself in trouble all day.”

Shane Lowry, winner of the event in 2012, carded a two-under 69 in his opening round, three birdies and a bogey leaving him in a share of 41st position.

Luiten bounced back from the disappointment of an early exit in defence of his home KLM Open title, carding seven birdies in a bogey-free 64.

“It was a tough week last week for me, missing the cut by one, but the good thing about golf is there’s always next week,” five-time European Tour winner Luiten said.

“I knew my game wasn’t far off and it’s good that today showed I’m getting in the right shape.

“I struggled a little bit with my old driver so I got a new TaylorMade driver with a slightly bigger head and lower ball flight, more forgiving in the wind hopefully, and that really helped me. I hit it lovely today and hopefully can keep it going.

“If you hit the fairways on this course you can be aggressive into the greens, they’re quite soft, so that was a good game plan.”

In contrast to Luiten, Coetzee finished joint third last week and admitted thoughts of the European Tour’s first 59 crossed his mind after carding six birdies in his first eight holes at a low-scoring venue.

“I read an article yesterday about the ‘59 watch’ and after eight holes I was thinking if I birdie the next and the next and the next, but I guess I shot myself in the foot a little bit with that,” Coetzee joked.

“You get a feeling if you can get off to a hot start you could maybe have a go at it but in the end I wasn’t even close.

“Last week I was always slow out of the blocks, the front nine didn’t really suit my game, but this week I started like a house on fire and thought I should do this more often.”

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