Former champ Padraig Harrington boosted his season-ending Tour Championship qualifying credentials with a bogey-free 67 on the opening day of the Portugal Masters.
Harrington, winner of the event five years ago, ended the round in a six-way share of fourth place at four-under par on the Victoria course at Vilamoura.
Swiss-born Italian Nino Bertasio went within two shots oF matching England’s Ollie Fisher’s 2018 Tour milestone of a score of 59 with an impressive 10-under par 61.
Bertasio, 33, was four-under through 11 holes and then completed his closing seven holes in six-under par to end the day four shots clear of Spaniard Adri Arnaus (65) while Malaysia’s Gavin Green birdied the last in a score of 66 to grab third place.
Harrington arrived on the Algarve lying 68th on the Race to Dubai money-list and needs to be inside the top-50 at the end of next week’s season penultimate AVIV Dubai Championship to qualify the following week’s DP World Tour Championship. His Portugal opener is projected to lift him to 52nd place on the money-list standings.
Harrington has returned to ‘under-50s’ competition after contesting two events on the US-based Champions Tour last month soon after captaining Europe at the Ryder Cup.
The Dubliner was well down the field in his ‘seniors’ debut at the Constellation Furyk and Friends but muscled his way into contention a week later at the SAS Championship only for a third and closing round 72 dropped him back into a share 18th place in North Carolina.
Harrington has chosen to return to the Algarve every year since his 15th and last European Tour taste of success in 2016 and while missing the cut in his last two showings, his opening round is a best since a pair of 67s that he posted to kick-start his title defence in 2017.
“I have played two Champions Tour events where I hit the ball quite well but found myself lapped by the field, so that gave me a bit of a wake-up call that my strengths of the last couple of years have been weakened by my weaknesses,” he said.
“So, today was a good day in that sense, as I was a lot sharper with four-under a good score as I didn’t actually hit the ball great but then I hit my wedges better and gave myself a lot of chances.”
Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell was out from the 10th tee and had raced to four-under through 10 holes but had his progress checked when he sandwiched a 13th hole birdie in the middle of bogeys at 12, 14 and 16 for his score of a two-under par 69.
The reigning Scandinavian Mixed champion is lying 97th on the Race to Dubai and while he’s locked-in his Tour card for the next two seasons, he’s revealed he’s not focussing squarely on joining Harrington in the season-ended next fortnight in Dubai.
“No, not really thinking of the DP World,” said Caldwell. “I’m just looking to find some form and finish strong as I can. If I happen to find some decent form and have a couple of good weeks then who knows, but right now I’m not thinking about that too much.
“To get my first win was great but then I didn’t play particularly great after it. It sort of set me back a little bit but then I had my full membership status set for next year and I probably just took the foot of the gas we bit in terms of preparation and things like that. And I’ve sort of played everything as well. I haven’t had many weeks off so I have sort of worn myself out a little bit.”
Ardglass’ Cormac Sharvin, the only other Irishman in the Portugal field, signed for a disappointing five-over par 76 having played his first 10 holes in two-under.
- Full scoring HERE