Padraig Harrington continued his strong form on the PGA Tour Champions by kicking off the first senior Major of his career, the Regions Tradition at Greystone Golf & Country Club, with a three-under 69 to sit four shots off the early lead.
The 50-year-old, who has found a rich vein of form with two runner-up finishes in his last two starts, sits just outside the top-10 in Birmingham, Alabama after five birdies in his opening round to put himself in a tie for 12th.
However, he will rue a costly double-bogey on his seventh hole of the day, the par-four 16th, as without it he would have been two shots off Steve Stricker’s lead instead after the former US Ryder Cup captain shot a stunning seven-under 65 in his first round.
Still, it was a very positive start for Harrington, who leapt out to a fast start with three birdies in his opening five holes including a beautiful approach at the 12th and then a long putt for birdie at the 14th to take him into a share of second.
However, he wouldn’t stay there for long as that double-bogey arrived at 16 and, although he did halve the damage with a quick birdie at the par-five 18th, he couldn’t fully make up for that frustration as he only added one more birdie on his return nine with a birdie at the par-four sixth.
It is still a strong start to the opening seniors Major of the year for him, though, although he will be amazed he is already four shots back after an incredible performance from Stricker.
The 55-year-old, who opposed Harrington at Whistling Straits last year, was in peak form in carding a flawless seven-birdie seven-under 65 to pull two strokes clear of Miguel Angel Jimenez and Wes Short Jr after the opening day’s action.
Meanwhile, Darren Clarke had a slow start to his tournament but didn’t play himself out of contention either as three birdies and three bogeys led to a level-par 72 in his opening round in Alabama.
The former Open champion had looked to be heading for an over-par score on day one as he followed a birdie at the par-four third with back-to-back bogeys at the par-three fourth and par-five fifth, and then immediately cancelled out a bogey at the par-four eighth with a birdie on the par-four ninth.
But his solitary scoring hole on his inward nine was a birdie at the par-five 13th to get him back to where he started and still within shouting distance of the top, even if he has a fair bit of work to do to get there in a share of 37th.
Neither player will be looking at the cut line which, as it stands, is projected to be three-over-par.