Padraig Harrington was happy to be back in the saddle after he signed for a one-over par round of 71 to open his Irish Open account at Galgorm Castle.
James Sugrue shined with a three-under par 67 to head the Irish challenge on day one while Damien McGrane returned a rock-solid round of 70 and was the only Irishman to manage parity or better on a rough opening day for the home contingent.
Still, given Harrington’s been six-months away from the game, his report card made for pleasant reading after finding three birdies, two bogeys and a double in his opening salvo, but what did the three-time Major winner make of it?
“71 sounds good and it was a mixed bag,” he reflected. “It was messy in places, but I really enjoyed it. It was just a bit rusty. There was lots of good stuff and even the bad stuff I was more than happy with it, not shooting 71 but the golf.
“Clubbing was difficult, I hit a lot of shots long with a few irons going further than expected and a few coming up short. Ultimately it was the Par 5s that cost me, yesterday I played them in the practice round and was three under for them and today I played them in two over, that’s a five shot difference and the story of the day.”
It was the European Ryder Cup Captain’s first experience playing without spectators, a particularly strange experience given the boisterous following that would normally follow the crowd favourite at an Irish Open, however with cameras chasing his featured group on Thursday afternoon, the importance of the tournament wasn’t lost on the experienced campaigner.
“There was a few times I went to wave to the crowds and I had to stop myself but I did give off a wave when I finally made a putt for birdie on 15,” he said.
“Thankfully my group all day had a camera crew with us so it still had that tournament feel to it and we had great marshals so we were not struggling to find golf balls, the atmosphere was missing but hopefully people were watching at home and got a bit of a buzz out of it.
“Any golf I have had in the last 6 months I’ve had with no crowds so that would be normal. I was very aware the cameras were there all day. Conscious people at home were watching. It didn’t lack intensity in the sense I knew I was playing to the crowds, even though I wasn’t getting any cheers.”
And with Mallow man Sugrue, one of Ireland’s three amateurs on show this week, outshining his compatriots on day one, Captain Padraig was asked if he’d have any advice for the young Cork man for the rest of the tournament.
“He shot four shots better than me, what advice would I be giving him?!” Harrington smiled.
“He’s playing good golf, going the way he’s going. If I was him, expect to ride the emotions for the next three days, he’ll have some good runs, he’ll probably have some bad runs and if he’s encouraged to ride all those emotions then he could be there or thereabouts.
“Shane did it so why not him? He’s got to think like that, that an amateur has won an Irish Open so why can’t he go and do it.”
As for the rest of the Irish competitors, Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell carded five birdies in his own one-over par round of 71 while Holywood amateur Tom McKibbin managed one birdie in a three-over par round of 73.
Gavin Moynihan was at four-over alongside Kilkenny amateur Mark Power, the pair one shot better than a disappointed Shane Lowry after his 75. Colm Moriarty and Paul Dunne were also at five-over par after tough openings with Cormac Sharvin sitting at the foot of the board after a nightmare 83.
England’s Aaron Rai joined early pace-setters, Dean Burmester and Jordan Smith atop the board at five-under par.
Full scoring HERE
*note hyperlinks to full day one reports on Sugrue, Lowry and McGrane already published on site.